When Michael Crichton died on November 4, 2008, the world lost a treasured creative genius. He was a writer, director, medical doctor and a
great thinker who challenged our belief systems. Regardless of whether you agreed with his philosophies or not, you had to respect him because he
collected so much information to support the points he was trying to make, and used those points to create the most extraordinary novels. And the point he
most often made mostly to the scientific community was "Don't fuck with nature because it will get you into a whole lot of trouble!!"
I have never been a huge fan of modern "best sellers," but one day I picked up a copy of Rising Sun and read it. I was impressed,
to say the least. I then read Jurassic Park, (I had already seen the movie), then its sequel, The Lost World, and
by that time I was looking for copies of his other books. In 2011, I went on a "Michael Marathon" and read all of his
fiction that I had not yet covered. My admiration—reverence almost—of him just grew and expanded with each book. And, of course, many of them had also been
made into movies. Therefore, I present them to you in the order published. They are still available to purchase and I hope that you will be awed and inspired
to read them.
There is all kinds of great information about Michael Crichton and his works on his official
website. Especially interesting
are the commentaries linking his novels with social and scientific issues of the day. And you can also watch clips from his movies on this site. Fascinating
I want to point out that Crichton wrote eight other books published under the name John Lange while he was in med school. They have finally been republished by Hard
Case Crime after decades of being out of print. (You may also order them as ebooks published by Open Road Media.) They are now published under Crichton's own
name, and the group is called the "Med School Years." Will I buy them and read them and review them? You betcha. There's more info on his website (see above).
I also want to point out that since I finished reading all his other fiction in 2011 (with the exception of Micro which had just been published), it has been a while
since I've been acquainted with these books. My memory, of course, is a bit fuzzy, though I have done research to refresh. I plan to gradually re-read them
all (they're worth it!!) and write more extended reviews as I do. Until then, here's a start.
Michael Crichton (rhymes with frighten!)
Fictional Books (published under the name Michael Crichton) in the order published:
1969—The Andromeda Strain
1972—The Terminal Man
1975—The Great Train Robbery
1976—Eaters of the Dead
1995—The Lost World
2004—State of Fear
2009—Pirate Latitudes (published posthumously)
2011—Micro (published posthumously)
The Andromeda Strain
This one was written when Crichton was only in his twenties and still in med school and it catapulted him into fame. It begins as a military satellite returns to earth.
However, the team sent to aid in its recover die, as does nearly everyone in the nearby town of Piedmont, Arizona. (They either died or went insane, then
committed suicide.) All except a geriatric drug addict named Peter Jackson and an infant. A team of specialists are sent to investigate at the top secret
underground facility called Wildfire in Flatrock, Nevada. Their hunch is that the satellite brought a deadly extraterrestrial organism back to earth that
kills instantly by causing massive blood clots. It is code named "Andromeda." The problem is that it mutates very quickly, and soon has eaten the plastic
door seals of the air-tight quarantine facility at Wildfire and makes its escape.
At the time of its publication, this novel made quite a stir. I wasn't aware of this, but on the Michael Crichton website, the
point is made that the book was published shortly before the first lunar landing, and there had been concerns of the astronauts returning with some
toxic bug. How timely! And of course this is one of Crichton's many novels to be made into a movie, first in 1971, then later in 2008.
Another interesting bit of information on his
concerns Crichton's futuristic visions of technology. Dubbed "The Father of the Techno-Thriller" by author Tom Clancy, The
Andromeda Strain utilizes "remote surveillance, voice-activated systems, computer imaging and diagnosis, handprint identification, hazmat suits, and
biosafety procedures," all which are commonplace now, but were exciting to '70s readers.
Crichton was known throughout his career to create political controversy, but he always denied this, saying that it was science that interested him. Again, a quote
from his website: "He intended to give a fictional example of a particular kind of scientific crisis—one that, once begun, can't be satisfactorily ended. He
argued that we need to understand there is a category of technological error—an oil spill is a good example—that is best dealt with by never letting it happen
in the first place. Once it starts, it will run its course and little can be done to alter or modify it." He was absolutely correct, of course, and here in
2014, we are seeing the devastating planetary consequences of those in power who have not taken heed of this wisdom. (Although Crichton believed that these
technological crises happen on their own, irregardless of who is in charge, a statement I personally disagree with, and
perhaps Crichton would, too, if he were still alive to finally witness the unfolding of government lies which is currently happening.)
I had been aware of this book for decades, but never read it, and didn't even realize it was a Crichton novel until I became immersed in his books. It was one of the
last ones I read, and although I liked it and can understand how it was so popular, I could also tell that this was from the pen of a budding writer whose
style had not yet developed. There is a world of difference between it and the polished excellence of, say, Prey,
which is also about a micro-organism gone awry, and one of my favorite Crichton books.
This thriller, written all the way back in 1972, way before computers were a household word, is about a man who
has been in an accident and suffered brain damage. He has seizures, and is becoming increasingly violent during a seizure, severely injuring a number of
people. A group of doctors at a hospital have been doing experimental brain surgery on animals—surgery that hooks up his brain to a tiny implanted computer
which supposedly will control the seizures and the violence. However, it cannot change the person's basic mind. In this case, Mr. Benson is a bit over the edge
anyways—he believes that machines are taking control over humans. Something goes very wrong, and the surgery does not have the expected outcome. Benson
learns how to control the brain computer, escapes from the hospital, and creates a rampage of terror. This book contains two of Crichton's favorite
themes: a good intention gone way out of control, and a supposedly beneficial development that has not really received a passing grade on ethical or moral
grounds, (specifically, tampering with stuff that should be left alone).
I couldn't help but chuckle when I read this book. The underlying theme is the dehumanization of humanity by machines.
Back in 1972! Have machines dehumanized us, here in the 21st century?? OF COURSE THEY HAVE! Yet hardly anyone seems to notice. This was one
of my favorite Crichton books—read it in less than two days.
Interestingly, on the Michael Crichton
he had written a note that in the 1970s, he actually witnessed a similar procedure performed on a patient without much public knowledge or approval, and
wrote the book to bring this information out into the open. But, fortunately, it did not become a commonly practiced means of treatment.
This story was also made into a movie in 1974.
The Great Train Robbery
This was one of the last Crichton books that I read. Up to that point, I thought I couldn't possibly be more impressed than I already was, but this one took me
over the edge in hero worship. And it also exemplifies the depth and versatility of his talent. Unlike his typical creepy scary futuristic sci-fi
Oh-My-God-How-Did-I-Get-Into-This-Mess books, this one is based on a true incident that happened in Victorian London in 1885. It was such a heinous
crime, even for the time, that it was known then as The Great Train Robbery, and also as The Crime of the Century and The Most Sensational Exploit of the
Modern Era. Much of Crichton's story is based on information obtained from court records. So, in effect, this is truly a historical novel.
The book is not just about a train robbery. It is about the working mind of what we today would call a mobster, and the workings of the criminal network that
existed then (and still does). That is where the fascinating reading comes in for this story—how Edward Pierce and his gang plotted and planned for a year,
obtaining minute details for each step of the process, making all the necessary contacts with both the criminals who would be needed to carry out the plan, and
inching his way into the lives of those who would be criminalized. Since Crichton often uses direct quotes from the court records, much of the story is
written in criminal slang, (a language in itself, kind of like gang language.) And not only is this an account of an infamous robbery, but a candid view of
Victorian England, which may not be the vision most of us have of that era. Absolutely amazing story! I don't know that I could pick a number one favorite
out of Crichton's books, but if I had to, this would be a contender.
This was made into a movie in 1979, starring Sean Connery. In his notes on his
website, Crichton talks about a day
of filming, where Connery has to jump from car to car on the train. Suddenly Crichton realizes his hair is on fire from the cinders of the train, and at the same
time, Connery slips and falls hurting his shin!
Eaters of the Dead
This is quite possibly the most bizarre of all Crichton's books. When his friend Kurt Villadsen wanted
to teach a course on "The Great Bores," important texts from the past that he felt were "tedious." Crichton held a different perspective. He believed the
great myths, such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and others were based on fact, but being retold in the oral tradition, developed "embellishments" which
made them less believable, even though the basic legend was factual. So Crichton wrote Eaters of the Dead on
a dare, that he could turn a saga into an exciting novel.
The first part of the book is drawn from the notes of Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a member of the court of the Caliph of Baghdad in 921 A.D.
He was sent on a mission as ambassador to the King of the Bulgars, but never made it. He was sidetracked by a company of
Norsemen who recruited him as The 13th Warrior (which was what this story was called when it was made into a movie
in 1999). The other story upon which Crichton drew ideas was Beowulf. The manuscript of Ibn Fadlan is real and familiar to scholars, and, of course,
Beowulf is one of those literature classics that Crichton's friend thought boring. Crichton provides quite a bit of material at the end of the book in
explanation of the basis of his writing.
The story is that there is this horrible monster who attacks the Vikings at night and eats them. That
is the goal of this expedition, though Ibn Fadlan is not aware until it is too late to turn back. There are those that believed the "mist monsters" were Neanderthals,
a name which has become synonymous with really stupid and uncivilized people. But Crichton seeks to debunk that myth also. He says we simply don't have
enough scientific evidence or remains to make an accurate judgment, but many scientists believe that there was little difference between Neanderthals and
us. Crichton quotes an anthropologist as saying, "You might think he was tough-looking, but you wouldn't object to your sister marrying him."
Neanderthals also buried their dead with supplies to take them into the afterlife.
Obviously, Crichton had more than one agenda with this book, but the description of the Vikings is
probably what supplies the most entertainment. Really gross, actually. Ibn Fadlan was appalled at the lack of cleanliness of these people. The women
disgusted him especially, "relieving themselves in public places, as suits their urge." He said even though they ate heartily, they looked emaciated,
"their bodies all angles and lumpy with bones." In any case, this is certainly the most unusual of all Crichton's fiction.
While most of Crichton's novels have that nail-biting quality, some are more terrifying than others—the kind where you're turning the pages almost faster
than you can read because you want some relief from the intensity. Others though, don't have quite the urgency, and, while still a great story, have a
sense of "lightness" about them. That is the way I found this one.
The story begins as a business venture—Earth Resource Technology Services, Inc.—is determined to claim rites to a supposedly rich deposit of diamonds deep in the
Congo jungle, at the lost legendary city of Zinj. It is a particularly urgent venture, since a rival consortium of Japan, Germany and Holland also seek to
lay claim. These are not gemstone diamonds, but ones to be used as semiconductors.
A man named Kruger, skilled in leading expeditions is chosen to guide the Americans to the site of the lost city. The natives are terrified of the
place—believe there are bad spirits there. Nonetheless, they set up camp and Kruger and another porter stand guard. During the night, Kruger keeps hearing a
wheezing sound, but soon dawn breaks, and the video camera beeps on its tripod from Huston. Kruger presses the button to connect it to satellite transmission.
As he goes to wake up the head geologist, something hits him lightly in the chest. Thinking it is monkeys throwing berries, he picks it up, horrified when
he realizes it is a human eyeball. The monkeys become very silent, and the wheezing begins again. Kruger now discovers the body of other guard, badly
maimed. Then Kruger screams. . . The entire team is soon dead.
The video camera does pick up enough of the scene to show a strange "man," who then knocks over the camera. By using computer imaging, Karen Ross and the others in
Huston determined that the killer was what appeared to be a grey gorilla.
Enter Amy. In 1973, Peter Elliot, then 23 years old graduate student in Anthropology, meets a young Mountain Gorilla named Amy who is at the San Francisco School of
Veterinary Medicine for treatment. Peter had been interested in teaching sign language to primates, and he and Amy soon begin their work. She has a
vocabulary of 620 words. In 1979, she begins to have disturbing nightmares, but is unable to talk about them. Eventually they hit on the idea of finger
painting, which Amy loves. But what is amazing, is that the pictures she drew matched the ancient ruins of Zinj.
When Earth Resource Technology Services, Inc. sends another expedition to the Congo,
Karen Ross is part of it. and so are Peter and Amy. And a terrifying trip it is!
A movie of the same name was made in 1995, loosely based on the book.
Crichton's novels are all unique in the emotions they generate from their readers. Most of his books mix humor with terror in an oddly satisfying way, some more to the
humorous side, and others more to the grip-the-edge-of-your-seat in fear side. This is one that's just pretty darn scary, more because it messes with the
minds of the characters, and even worse, messes with their sense of reality.
The story begins as a crew is assembled on a navy ship in the Pacific Ocean. No one is told what is going on or why they are there, but they soon discover that an
"alien" craft has been discovered under water, and the crew consisting of Norman Johnson, a psychologist who, during the Carter administration had
developed a ULF (Unknown Life Form) team and procedure in the event that communication would ensue. He, at the time, took it as a joke, but now, here he
is, and so is the team he had then proposed, consisting of Theodore Fielding, astrophysicist/planetary geologist; Elizabeth Halpern, zoologist/biochemist;
Harold J. Adams, mathematician/logician; plus there was added Arthur Levine, marine biologist/biochemist. Things get even more mysterious when they learn
that the ship crashed. . .three hundred years ago!
Once they go down into the deep, they discover the sphere, which apparently is extraterrestrial. They also discover that the crew of the ship wasn't alien at
all—it was American, and the spacecraft arrived 350 years into the future. . .whew. Now it takes on a sort of "time machine" quality.
And a metaphysical quality, too, because, as they unwittingly discover, when one enters the sphere, they become "gifted" with being able to manifest their
thoughts. Harry enters, but does not remember, and soon the crew begins to communicate with an alien called Jerry, who turns out to be a sort of alter-ego
of Harry. Harry is an arrogant African-American with a chip on his shoulder, and Jerry is childish and bratty, yet intelligent. And he starts to manifest
all kinds of horror. And add to that the fact that a storm has cut them off from the crew on the ship. Crew members begin to die, the manifested terrors
increase, and even worse, suddenly the remaining crew members begin to behave strangely and no one can be trusted. This one will certainly keep your heart
pounding until the end!
This one was made into a movie in 1998, starring Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, and Samuel L. Jackson.
This one is so well known that there's not much need be said about it. If you liked the movie, you will love the book, because as usual, the books are always
better than the movies. The movie didn't scare me too much, as I recall, but the book sure did. I had a nightmare about it the first night I started reading
The story begins, as is often the case with Crichton's books, removed from the main place of action, and with characters that become insignificant. In this case,
visiting physician Bobbie Carter is in tropical Costa Rica. She and her paramedic Manuel hear a helicopter, and it arrives with a man from InGen
Construction with a man badly mauled. The story was that a backhoe had run over him, but to Bobbie it looks more like an animal mauling. While cleaning him
they notice there is no dirt, but a saliva-like substance on his wound, and he mutters "Raptor." To the superstitious Costa Ricans there, they fear it is a hupia, a night ghost. He dies, and
Bobbie looks up raptor in the dictionary. A little girl is also attacked on the west coast on the beach while vacationing with her parents. There are other
strange attacks from what seems to be aggressive, biting lizards.
Meanwhile, paleontologist Alan Grant and his graduate student Ellie Sattler, a paleobotanist are digging at a site in Montana. They get a visit from someone
from the EPA wanting information about the Hammond Foundation, which supports Grant's work. Grant insists that John Hammond is just a rich old guy who likes
dinosaurs, but the EPA man disagrees, and he has some questions about a company called InGen, such as why they are so interested in amber, and why they are
leasing the Costa Rican island of Isla Nublar. And why do they want to know what juvenile dinosaurs ate? Grant said that a guy from that company called
about consulting—offered a large amount of money. He became a pest calling even in the middle of the night, asking
questions about dinosaur diet. Grant got tired of him and turned down the fee, and settled on a smaller one. After that, he began to receive money from Hammond.
The EPA thinks something illegal is going on, and it is.
What InGen (International Genetic Technologies) is really creating on the island is a park whose resident wildlife are dinosaurs, cloned from DNA found in
mosquitoes preserved in amber, with modern DNA to fill in the gaps. And John Hammond is InGen's founder and CEO. Soon Grant receives a packet of information
from Hammond about their insular project: a theme park. It sounds like a resort, but it isn't of course. Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler find themselves
headed for Costa Rica, and then the fun begins. And it gets pretty gory.
This is one of Crichton's many books that are a dire warning to the scientific community that there are certain things that one should not dabble in.
Dinosaurs are one of them.
Jurassic Park was made into a movie in 1993, adapted by Steven Spielberg.
All material on this site copyright © 2014 by Laughing Crow.
This site designed and written by Laughing Crow.