John Michael Crichton, M.D. (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was a bestselling American writer, most commonly working in the science fiction genre. He is known for his extremely technical writing style which openly favored scientific detail over character development and could be somewhat formulaic. The overall thrust of his books was the threat posed by blundering scientists who toyed with nature. Toward the end of his life, his stories were becoming more political and thus controversial.
His works often expressed a cynical view of corporate America and the scientific community. Many credited him with inventing the techno-thriller, although he himself acknowledged precursors such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle.
As a young man, Crichton wrote spy novels under the name John Lange to pay for medical school. However, after a more serious effort written under a new alias, called A Case of Need — a murder mystery which featured an in-depth analysis of the issue of abortion — received widespread attention and won him an Edgar Award, Crichton decided to focus on writing rather than medicine.
His first novel under his own name was The Andromeda Strain, a very spare science fiction thriller about a team of scientists isolating and analyzing an extremely deadly single-celled organism of extra-terrestrial origin. It was a surprising runaway success, establishing Crichton very rapidly. He compounded his success with popular novels such as The Great Train Robbery, a somewhat fictionalized historical novel about the Great Robbery of 1885, and Congo, a modern take on old-fashioned African adventure stories, as well as the less popular The Terminal Man and The 13th Warrior. All of the aforementioned were snapped up by Hollywood, although Congo and Eaters of the Dead were not filmed until the 1990s. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1970s Crichton was a very wealthy man.
After a long hiatus during the eighties, during which Crichton traveled extensively and became interested in mystical concepts such as ESP, he returned to fiction writing with Sphere, which combined his trademark hard-line science with more fanciful ideas about psychic powers. Many of Crichton's fans regard Sphere as his finest work.
In 1990 he released his most successful work, the novel Jurassic Park, about a theme park where dinosaurs are created using genetic engineering. Not only did it sell millions of copies worldwide and get adapted into a massively successful film by Steven Spielberg (in fact, the highest-grossing ever made at the time), it sparked a renewed interest in Crichton, his older books getting reprinted and bought on a large scale, including A Case of Need, the nonfiction Five Patients, and the John Lange-era Binary. Film adaptations of Crichton's works also became suddenly commonplace, including adaptations of Congo and Sphere, although all but Jurassic Park were met with mostly negative reactions.
Crichton realized that Jurassic Park provided him with significant Protection from Editors, and took advantage of this to begin writing more controversial fare: Rising Sun, which analyzed US–Japanese relations; most specifically the statement that "Business Is War". Those versed in economics point out that he broke several laws of the universe (including making the standard "export good, import bad" mistake) in order to set up the Japanese as the Big Bad poised to conquer the world, though this did not seem to detract from its popularity at the time. The point was rendered moot with the collapse of the Tiger economy, making Crichton seem rather paranoid in the process. He followed that up with Disclosure, a gender role reversal of a typical sexual harassment case set in an early-'90s technology company.
He returned to technothrillers for a while after that, calming his critics by writing The Lost World (1995), his only sequel; Airframe, a book ostensibly about an incident on an airplane but more substantially about irresponsible journalism; Timeline, a foray into Time Travel which subverted Ye Goode Olde Days in a memorable fashion, and Prey, about runaway nanotechnology.
His Protection thus restored, he wrote the most controversial novel of his career, the Global Warming-critique State of Fear, which severely divided his fan base. The controversy over this novel continues to this day.
As this backlash annoyed his editors, he followed this up with Next, a relatively comedic look at genetic research, technology and copyright issues. Unfortunately, his tendency to run off on author tracts remained, as he spent a full page talking about a Washington journalist named Mick Crowley who was on trial for raping a baby and "had a small penis". This character just happened to share the same name and profession as a journalist who had been critical of Crichton's State of Fear, was entirely unimportant to the plot, and never appeared again.
He also wrote nonfiction works such as Five Patients, Jasper Johns, Electronic Life, Travels, and many essays and articles published in magazines and on his website.
Crichton was also a director and screenwriter, most famously of Westworld, about a futuristic fantasy resort populated by robots who eventually break down and turn on the guests, as well as adaptations of Robin Cook's Coma and his own The Great Train Robbery. However, his first attempted summer blockbuster, Runaway, fizzled: With a multimillion-dollar budget, big-name actors and a world-famous author as both writer and director, it was planned as 1984's major science fiction draw. However, it was overshadowed by a low-budget feature, starring B-list actors, and written and directed by an unknown — James Cameron's unprecedented blockbuster, The Terminator. His directorial career essentially ended, and he would not succeed with a summer blockbuster for another twelve years until the movie Twister, which he co-wrote with his then-wife Anne-Marie Martin (who also played Dori Doreau on Sledge Hammer!).
He also created and produced the hugely successful TV medical drama ER.
Michael Crichton died at the age of sixty-six after a long and protracted battle with lymphoma on November 4, 2008.
The first of three posthumous works, Pirate Latitudes, was published on November 24, 2009. It is set in seventeenth century Jamaica and follows the adventurers of Captain Edward Hunter, a privateer in service to England's King Charles II, as he raids Spanish shipping.
A third posthumous novel, Dragon Teeth, based on the notorious real-life rivalry between paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh in the 1870s, is set for publication in May 2017.
Fun facts: He stood 6'9" (about 206 cm) tall. Before his illness, he was noted to look much younger than his actual age (here he is at 60◊). He has an uncredited cameo in the 1971 movie The Andromeda Strain as a doctor standing in the back of the operating room when Mark Hall is pulled from performing an appendectomy. He also climbed to the top of Mount Everest.
Books written by him:
- A Case of Need (1968)
- The Andromeda Strain (1969)
- Drug of Choice (1970)
- Binary (1972)
- The Terminal Man (1972)
- The Great Train Robbery (1975)
- Eaters of the Dead (1976)
- Congo (1980)
- Sphere (1987)
- Jurassic Park (1990)
- Rising Sun (1992)
- Disclosure (1994)
- The Lost World (1995)
- Airframe (1996)
- Timeline (1999)
- Prey (2002)
- State of Fear (2004)
- Next (2006)
- Pirate Latitudes (2009)
- Micro (2011)
His works contain examples of:
- Action Girl: In most of his works there's a woman in the band of protagonists who really can kick ass, to the point that she has a skill that ends up being critical to saving others.
- Micro: Karen is fully trained in martial arts, plus has extensive knowledge of weapons. When the main characters are turned into micro-humans, she's the best fighter in the situations they get in where they have to survive - better than the men.
- Timeline: Kate is an avid rock climber, a skill which turns out to save the characters when they are in the Middle Ages.
- The Lost World: Malcolm's daughter does cheerleading. She uses these skills to defeat a dinosaur.
- Artistic License: Lots of it, spread over multiple categories. Mostly justified in order for there to be a story, but considering how closely he tries to match real-life science and technology, some of it isn't.
- Asshole Victim: There's usually one character (either the outright Big Bad, or a minor (but crucial to the story) character who's betraying both the bad and good guys) that is a complete jerk with no redeeming qualities - and they usually get a Cruel and Unusual Death.
- Characters Dropping Like Flies: Most of his books start with a band of 6 to 8 "good" people, and only about 2 of them survive until the end. And make no mistake, "bad" guys drop like flies too.
- Critical Research Failure: State of Fear is considered a novel-length version of this by climatologists, who accuse the book of being a giant collection of Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics, half-truths and cherry-picking. See here for a rebuttal from experts.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: How the characters drop like flies is described in gruesome detail, and it's nasty.
- Decoy Protagonist: His books' first one or two chapters often follow a person, only to then switch to and introduce the real protagonists. Usually because they are killed or harmed (i.e. in The Andromeda Strain, the protagonists of the 1st chapter quickly die; in Jurassic Park they are attacked by dinosaurs).
- Gone Horribly Wrong: Rich men developing new technology often results in this: Hammond's dinosaur park goes horribly wrong in Jurassic Park when the dinosaurs break loose and even escape the island; the time travelling to the middle ages in Timeline also results in a disaster for all involved (well, except for Marek).
- Hoist by Their Own Petard: Frequently happens to the villains, or to well-meaning but reckless characters.
- Science Is Bad: A common theme in his novels - Malcolm in Jurassic Park in particular. Attentive readers will notice, however, that his arguments against science are often more about the exploitation of scientific discoveries by big business, rather than science itself.
- Science Marches On: A lot of what his novels considers cutting-edge or about to be realized in the scientific community would be subsequently disproven.
- Technology Marches On: A lot of it, but computers in particular. A lot of time is dedicated to discussing the incredibly powerful mainframe computers of the 70's and early 80's, and their capabilities - none of which could hold a candle to the processing power and capability of your average modern mobile phone.