Thursday, March 15, 2007


What's wrong with Michael Crichton? At one point of time, he was a great and visionary writer, writing crisp fiction with engaging if somewhat dubious scientific fill-ins. The point however was that you never got the feeling that the science was absurd, because it seamlessly blended together with his fiction. Because the fiction was great, you could easily bypass the science and be satisfied. More importantly, you knew that the science was absurd, and Crichton did not make any attempt to justify it in the light of known, sane science. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park potentially came from technologies that did exist then, but Crichton did not make it try to sound as if such dinosaurs were just around the corner. And he did not cite articles from Nature or Science to prove such a point.

Alas. In the last few years, I don't know what Crichton is trying to do, but he seems to have taken up some self-declared responsibility to try to create public awareness through his works. Before, his science was just fantastic with no pretense to getting grounded in reality. But now, his science with its professed link to 'real' science, has quickly become dubious. The epitome of this is there for everyone to see; State of Fear, which climate experts and laymen alike have roundly criticised as being grossly misleading. In cherry-picking scientific facts and statements from journal articles, and by trying to sound scholarly by citing them in footnotes, Crichton has been inevitably compared to the Bush administration, taking a biased tack on science. These days, whenever naysayers of climate change are being criticised, it is sadly not uncommon to find Michael Crichton's name among them.

Not only climate change, but now genes, patenting, and genetic engineering have become the target of his latest book, Next. I haven't read the book, but I don't feel encouraged to do it based on reviews, although it does sound less inflammatory than State of Fear. Recently, Crichton also came under fire by experts for writing an article about gene patenting in the New York Times. Not only was he criticised for misrepresenting the real situation, but also for not even understanding the complexities for biotechnological patenting in the first place.

However, the real grudge I have against Crichton is that, in his efforts to include dubious science masquerading as serious science in his writings, he has compromised on his real strength; his supreme ability to write fiction. As I said before, you could easily bypass the science in Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain, because the fiction itself was so riveting. In fact, the fiction was so engaging, that it made the science sound real. However, for example in State of Fear, the fiction is so insipid and scripted, that it doubly reinforces the feeling of both poor fiction as well as poor science in the reader's mind.

I hope that Crichton recovers from the illusions which he is trying to perpetuate. There are many other ways in which he can do public service if he wants to. Compromising on his ability to deliver solid fiction, combined with misrepresenting science, is the worst way to do it.

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Blogger Niket said...

Are you at GaTech?

MC's fiction was never, as you said, grounded in sound science. He stretched science (you cite examples: Jurassic and Andromeda, but its quite common in a number of his novels) even in his better novels. But the problem is that now (if not earlier), he considers himself to be well-versed with science. He considers that his opionions on what science ought to say is what science actually says.

With that background... I guess we can say that he was always a closet pseudo-scientist... all he has done is just come out of that closet.

2:55 PM  

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