Thursday, November 06, 2008


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Whether you loved him or hated him, there is no doubt that Michael Crichton was one of the most important technological thriller writers of the last century. In my own case I loved him through most of his career, and in the later stages, if not hated at least was deeply disappointed with his writing, both in terms of style and substance. I was a little shocked when I heard about his death and was not aware that he was suffering from terminal cancer.

Crichton entertained us through blockbusters like Jurassic Park, Congo and The Andromeda Strain. His versatility was illustrated by Disclosure which tackled a totally different kind of theme. He was also the creator of the immensely popular TV show ER, which every doctor religiously tapes but no doctor believes actually represents reality. My personal favourite of his would always be The Andromeda Strain, its anticlimactic end notwithstanding.

However, it was through State of Fear that Crichton earned the scorn of many in the scientific community. The book is a classic example of rife cherry picking, selective reporting and misleading analysis, all pitched at readers as second-rate fiction. I was furious when I read it and wrote a post. My beef with the book was not just with the woefully misrepresented science, but with an insipid and poorly-written script filled with stock characters. In fact that was what deeply disappointed me, that Crichton has lost his bearings as a writer of engaging edge-of-your-seat prose. His next novel Prey somewhat made up for all that was wrong with State of Fear. I have not yet read Next yet, which is apparently a novel about the perils of genetic patenting. But even this novel and especially his views on genetic patenting came under fire when he wrote an Op-Ed in the NYT about them. Again, Crichton at best seemed to have oversimplified an important and complex scientific matter.

In the end however, I am not going to remember Crichton by his failures but by his successes, by the feeling I got when I first read about fractals in Jurassic Park, or the wonder I felt when the lethal pathogen in The Andromeda Strain finally imploded because of the simplest of biological principles. The Crichton I would always remember would be the one who entertained, informed and showed us visions of the future.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had no idea...I really liked Andromeda Strain and Congo.


2:43 PM  

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