Sunday, October 31, 2010

Michael Crichton – ER Staff Say "Good-bye"

Michael Crichton created the incredibly successful TV series ER. He also served as executive producer.

When Michael Crichton died, there was a brief tribute to him that aired at the beginning of ER on Nov. 13, 2008. It featured Eriq La Salle, who played “Peter Benton”.

After a 15-season run, the show’s final episode aired on April 2, 2009. In the documentary ER Retrospective which preceded it, actor Noah Wyle, who played “John Carter” said:

I would love to have him there when we have our finale party, be able to shake his hand and thank him for the life I lead.

But you know, I always felt he was watching, I was always aiming to please.

Michael Crichton, in response to the question “Have you ever made a character in one of your novels represent yourself?”, said:

They all represent me, in a way. And they all don't represent me, in a way. But I was aware of the Noah Wyle character in ER, and the Anthony Edwards character in ER, being close to me because they were close to my life experiences.

Anthony Edwards, who played “Mark Greene” on the show said:

Michael Crichton was the original creator of E.R. He really based E.R. on his life as a young medical doctor. Michael was always really proud of the fact he had created something and passed it on. He was the starter of it all. He will be greatly missed.

In the Associated Press story about Crichton’s death, John Wells, also an executive producer of ER, shared his thoughts:

…an extraordinary man. Brilliant, funny, erudite, gracious, exceptionally inquisitive and always thoughtful.

No lunch with Michael lasted less than three hours and no subject was too prosaic or obscure to attract his interest. Sexual politics, medical and scientific ethics, anthropology, archaeology, economics, astronomy, astrology, quantum physics, and molecular biology were all regular topics of conversation.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Michael Crichton – Tributes from Other Writers

When Michael Crichton died, science fiction legend Ray Bradbury said:

He was a nice man, and he died too young — too young.

Journalist James Fallows, in his tribute A Thought for Michael Crichton said:

…I was honored to have met him 20 years age, when I was living in Japan, and to have been a friend since then. He seemed unassuming, funny, charming in every way -- the unusual famous person who was genuinely considerate of one's spouse and kids. Very earnest about his political causes, including a very prescient argument fifteen years ago about the impending decline of the "Mediasaurus," now known as MSM. And, there is no way around it, incredibly talented.

Michael Crichton wrote a review in 1994 for Washington Monthly of James Fallows’ book Looking At The Sun: The Rise Of The New East Asian Economic And Political System

In the 2008 Year-End Special issue of Entertainment Weekly (sorry, no link), Stephen King wrote of Michael Crichton:

As a pop novelist, he was divine. A Crichton book was a headlong experience driven by a man who was both a natural storyteller and fiendishly clever when it came to verisimilitude; he made you believe that cloning dinosaurs wasn’t just over the horizon but possible tomorrow. Maybe today.

And in an article detailing his 2009 wish list, King said:

I wish for the last Michael Crichton novel to be published, and for it to be the best Crichton. One 2008 Web post (on Yahoo! Answers) suggested that the last one was in the Jurassic Park mode. It might not be true, but if it is, how cool would that be?

We got Pirate Latitudes in 2009, and we still have Crichton’s last novel to look forward to in 2011? 2012?

I’ll let you know when I hear anything.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Harvard Remembers Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard College in 1964 with a degree in anthropology. In the student newspaper The Crimson’s obituary, Crichton’s freshman roommate shared some memories:

“Michael always liked to stand with his heels on the fireplace so that he could get up a couple more inches above everybody else,” said Joseph W. Esherick ’64, Crichton’s freshman year roommate.

Though the pair differed in academic interests—Crichton studied physical anthropology and Esherick studied Chinese studies—Esherick said he “always thought we were put together as freshmen by height.” The three residents of Weld 17 were all over 6’4”, with Crichton standing the tallest….

Esherick, who is now a professor of Chinese studies at the University of California, San Diego, said Crichton was an “incredibly smart guy” who did not have the patience for “scholarly type of smarts.”

In 1969 Michael Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School. In the Spring 2009 issue of the Harvard Medical Alumni Bulletin, a fellow medical student, William Ira Bennett, reflected on Crichton’s many talents:

Briefly Michael’s “patient,” I could easily imagine him as an academic physician, the sort exemplified by the chiefs of service in Harvard hospitals. His manner was self-contained but not aloof. Rather, his style was affably imperturbable.

While in medical school, Crichton was already writing paperback thrillers under the name “John Lange” and Bennett was not surprised that he ended up a writer rather than a physician. When Crichton published the medical thriller A Case of Need, he chose a different pseudonym— “Jeffery Hudson”— the name of a dwarf in the court of Charles I. Bennett recalls:

Michael often made small jokes about his height. I wasn’t surprised that he would know about seventeenth-century royalty; I always took for granted how much he knew. It would have been overwhelming to ask him where he had gleaned the tidbits that were regular and entertaining parts of his conversations. Although he had a gift for fiction, his delight often seemed to be in small facts, which peppered his writing much as they did his talk.

Change of Plans

In my post on October 23, I wrote:

To honor him, I am going to share some of the best tributes to Michael Crichton, complied from various sources. I will be running the tributes every day starting today, October 23, and ending on November 4, 2010, the second anniversary of Crichton’s death.

Now I’ve decided to extend that. There’s so much to cover, and I don’t want the individual posts to be too long. In addition, some people need more time to get back to me.

When I think about it, there’s no reason to end the tributes on November 4. Michael Crichton has passed away, but his legacy, influence, and impact are still very much alive. And I really want to honor him the best I can. So whenever tributes come in or I discover them, I’ll feature them on this blog. I think it would be nice to have the many of best tributes gathered in one place.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Michael Crichton Tributes – Ronald Bailey

Reason magazine’s science Ronald Bailey did not agree with what he saw as Michael Crichton’s anti-technology alarmism. But Bailey’s tribute shows his respect for Crichton’s intellect and an appreciation of Crichton’s significance.

Michael Crichton, R.I.P.

Over the years Crichton and I had a number of friendly interactions as our paths crossed at various conferences. In Next, Crichton even kindly mentioned my book Liberation Biology (2005), praising it as "the clearest and most complete response to religious objections to biotechnology." Nevertheless, I have long been annoyed by the Luddite and Frankensteinian themes of his novels. I was particularly exasperated by Jurassic Park's misguided portrayal of biotechnology as being inherently dangerous.

Eventually, over drinks at a conference at Cold Spring Harbor a couple years ago, I got to tell him how I thought he could have gotten the same narrative bang for his buck if he had instead celebrated the achievement of bringing dinosaurs back to life. In my alternative plot, a kindly old paleontologist, using the miracle of biotechnology, conjures dinosaurs back into existence to delight the world's children. Things go wrong only when a cadre of evil anti-biotechnologists led by Jeremy Rifkin break into the peaceful island zoo to kill the dinosaurs. This revised scenario would provide Crichton with all of the gunfire, gore, chase scenes, and satisfying explosions without the Luddite baggage of the original.

Crichton, slightly miffed at my presumption, asked why I preferred my alternative plot. I answered that I worried that his novels were helping to promote a technophobic attitude among the public that could unnecessarily slow the development of new technologies. He responded that I must be kidding. He doubted that anyone paid any attention to his novels other than to be momentarily entertained by them. I still think he was wrong. After all, two centuries later we're still reading Mary Shelley's thinly plotted potboiler and worrying about mad scientists.

Crichton fans (of which I am definitely one) can look forward to one more novel from HarperCollins. It will close out his published oeuvre but certainly not his presence, either in the world of letters or in public policy debates.

Ronald Bailey reviewed three of Crichton’s novels:


State of Fear


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Michael Crichton Tributes – Time Magazine

Time magazine featured Michael Crichton on its cover for the September 25, 1995 issue. Lev Grossman wrote a fitting tribute to Crichton, published November 5, 2008.

Michael Crichton: A Master Storyteller of Technology's Promise and Peril

Crichton was never a literary stylist, but his skills as a storyteller were enormous. His plots have a crystalline perfection that has been much-copied, by The Da Vinci Code's Dan Brown among many others, and his sense of pacing and his ability to weave diverse plot strands into an elegant braided whole are virtually unmatched. His oeuvre is among the most-filmed of any author in history….

Crichton is best known, of course, for Jurassic Park, his novel about a scientist who clones dinosaurs from their fossilized DNA, with disastrous results. It may be the most effective showcase for Crichton's gifts as a novelist, but even setting that aside, its predictive power remains astonishing to this day. Just this week, Japanese scientists announced that they had successfully cloned mice from tissue that was frozen for 16 years. Can the resurrection of the woolly mammoth be far off? Crichton probably wouldn't have approved, but it's a shame nonetheless that he didn't live to see it.

Other Time stories on Michael Crichton:

Meet Mister Wizard - September 25, 1995

Pop Fiction’s Prime Provocateur – January 10, 1994

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Michael Crichton Tributes – Newspapers – Part 3

We continue our series of tributes to Michael Crichton with two more highlights from newspapers.

Michael Crichton: Science Inspired His Fiction
By Bob Minzesheimer, USA TODAY, November 6, 2008

At his best, he was a master at blending fact and fantasy. He was as much a researcher as a novelist who popularized technical topics and put the science back into science fiction.

"I don't want to just make it up," he told USA TODAY in an interview in 1996. "I'd rather have something with the awkward contours of real events."

Michael Crichton's Legacy
By S. T. Karnick, Weekly Standard, November 7, 2008

Bestselling author and TV producer Michael Crichton, who died of cancer Tuesday at the age of 66, had an ambivalent view of science but an unfailingly benevolent attitude toward humanity. His writings are particularly important for having brought an intelligent, nuanced view on science to a popular culture much more inclined toward ignorance and political shibboleths in its treatment of scientific issues….

Love for knowledge--philosophy in its basic sense--was clearly what drove him and is most evident in his writings. And that has been all too rare an attitude in contemporary American popular culture. There was never anything cynical about Crichton's works. His acknowledgment of the ills people can bring through science and technological advances need not suggest that science or technological change is intrinsically bad. In fact, his attitude looks rather like a scientist's puzzled acknowledgment of original sin.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Michael Crichton Tributes – Newspapers – Part 2

We continue our series of tributes to Michael Crichton with more highlights from newspapers.

The Seer of Science
By Jim Slotek, Toronto Sun, November 6, 2008

As Tom Clancy is to war, Michael Crichton was to science -- almost transcendant in his knowledge of the state-of-the-art, and his ability to transform it into reader-friendly potboiler thrillers.

Case in point: In 1986, an eccentric scientist/surfer named Kary Mullis perfected an idea he'd come up with (reputedly while on LSD) -- polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a method of replicating tiny amounts of DNA into large amounts.

From DNA fingerprinting to cloning, PCR has changed the world. But Crichton was onto PCR as material for a horror story immediately.

His novel Jurassic Park -- in which PCR is used to extract dinosaur DNA from mosquitos fossilized in amber -- was released in 1990. Mullis was awarded a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1993, just as Steven Spielberg's movie version of Jurassic Park was breaking box-office records.

If Crichton had been any more on top of Mullis' discovery, he'd have received the Nobel himself.

Mourning a Techno-Prophet
by Kelly McParland, National Post, November 7, 2008

President Kennedy once addressed a White House reception for Nobel laureates with the quip, "Gentlemen, this may be the widest gathering of talent that the White House has ever seen -- with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone." By a similar token, Michael Crichton's unexpected death from cancer on Tuesday takes away a man of so many distinctions that it would almost take a plane crash to match the loss…

It is often forgotten that Crichton did believe in global warming on empirical grounds; it was our confidence that we understand its causes, and the right course of corrective action, that stirred him to fury….

Would that he had lived longer so that he could go on demanding intellectual honesty -- a virtue that can never have enough defenders.

The Crichton factor
By Paul Whitelaw, The Scotsman, November 7, 2008
(obtained through Lexis Nexis, no link)

Crichton had pioneered the use of CGI in Westworld in 1973, in Brynner's robotic point-of-view shots. His pivotal role in the development of the CGI art cannot be underestimated.

Another area in which he was a pioneer was in raising our awareness of medical and scientific issues - drawing on his background in the field, Doctor Crichton arguably did more to raise our awareness of issues including cloning and global warming than any other populist fiction writer of the 20th century….

Although his work often proved controversial, particularly among the scientific community and environmental activists, he never tired of his quest to make complex scientific arguments understandable by the masses.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Tributes to Michael Crichton – Newspapers – Part 1

We continue our series of tributes to Michael Crichton with a few highlights from the newspapers.

The Man Who Turned the T-rex into a Superstar
By Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune, November 6, 2008

Crichton, though, was much more than a science fiction writer. He never met a fact he didn't want to question, never found a topic he wasn't willing to take on, never came across a windmill at which he didn't want to tilt. He relished holding a contrarian opinion on topical issues such as global warming…

At his best, Crichton was part of the great tradition of American storytellers, those who gauge their success not by yachts or by dollars, but by a simple measure: Did you keep turning the pages? Did you keep watching?

With Crichton's work, there is a simple answer: You did.

An Appraisal - Michael Crichton: A Tireless Craftsman
By Charles McGrath, New York Times, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton, who died on Tuesday at the age of 66, was like a character in a Michael Crichton novel. He was unusually tall (6 feet 7 inches), strikingly handsome and encyclopedically well informed about everything from dinosaurs to medieval banquet halls to nanotechnology. As a writer he was a kind of cyborg, tirelessly turning out novels that were intricately engineered entertainment systems. No one — except possibly Mr. Crichton himself — ever confused them with great literature, but very few readers who started a Crichton novel ever put it down…

But a deeper source of their appeal was the author’s extravagant care in working out the clockwork mechanics of his experiments — the DNA replication in “Jurassic Park,” the time travel in “Timeline,” the submarine technology in “Sphere.” The novels have embedded in them little lectures or mini-seminars on, say, the Bernoulli principle, voice-recognition software or medieval jousting etiquette. Several also came with extensive scientific bibliographies, as if the author, having learned all this fascinating stuff, couldn’t help sharing it with his reader.

Why Readers Loved Michael Crichton and Critics Didn't
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, November 6, 2008

Michael Crichton once compared writing a novel to being deep in the bowels of a ship. "All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room, and you have to assume the ship's exterior," he said, adding that the role of an editor is to stand on the dock and say, "Hi, I'm looking at your ship, and it's missing a bow, the front mast is crooked, and it looks to me as if your propellers are going to have to be fixed."

Despite that admission, Crichton, a physician turned author who died of cancer this week at age 66, was a master of narrative structure. Fans loved the way he mixed fact (especially science) into his fiction.

Related Posts:
Tributes to Michael Crichton - Charlie Rose

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tributes to Michael Crichton - Charlie Rose

Today would have been Michael Crichton’s 68th birthday. To honor him, I am going to share some of the best tributes to Michael Crichton, complied from various sources. I will be running the tributes every day starting today, October 23, and ending on November 4, 2010, the second anniversary of Crichton’s death.

After Michael Crichton died on November 4, 2008, I felt that because of the timing of his passing, Crichton’s death did not receive the attention it deserved, being greatly overshadowed by the presidential election. That’s why I was very pleased that Charlie Rose did a brief tribute to Michael Crichton on his show on November 5, 2008, followed by a longer appreciation on Wednesday, November 12, 2008.

So we begin with Charlie Rose’s tribute (taken from the show transcript):

Michael Crichton died of cancer last week. He was only 66. And we
did not have time to pay proper appreciation at the time that he died. And
so we do now. Michael was the author of more than a dozen blockbusters,
including the Jurassic Park trilogy, "Twister" and "Congo" and others. His
books sold more than 150 million copies. Many were adapted into film.

He also created the hit television series, "ER," and at one time had
the number one book, the number one movie and the number one television
series. Stephen Spielberg, the great director, said Crichton was the
greatest at blending science with big theatrical concepts, which is what
gave credibility to dinosaurs again walking the Earth…

… A personal note about Michael Crichton, he was one of my most favorite guests. He could talk about anything, architecture, and art, and
science, and medicine, and movies, and books, and writing. He knew so many
interesting people. And he can tell you about them in so many interesting
ways. He was, in fact, one of the most interesting conversationalists I
knew. And he will be deeply missed by his family, his readers, his
viewers, and people who knew of his remarkable gifts.

Charlie Rose did six interviews with Michael Crichton and I find them to be the most in-depth and revealing interviews Crichton ever did.

February 19, 2007
An hour of conversation with Michael Crichton, one of the best-selling authors in American publishing. Crichton discusses his new book, "Next", about DNA, biotechnology and the ownership of disease. Crichton likens the human to a cloud interacting with the environment. He also talks about global warming, where he take a number of controversial positions, including the stance that carbon dioxide is not the primary driver of increasing world temperatures.

November 26, 2002
An interview with novelist Michael Crichton about his life, technology, and his latest book, "Prey", a thriller involving an attack of microscopic machines.

November 16, 1999
A dialogue with best-selling author Michael Crichton about his love of storytelling, huge success with the "Jurassic Park" series, and work on the television show "E.R." He also introduces his book "Timeline", in which characters employ quantum teleportation to journey to the time of the Hundred Years' War.

December 26, 1996
An interview with author and screenwriter Michael Crichton about his book about an airline accident, "Airframe". He also talks about the role of the media during wartime and during accidents such as the one portrayed in his book.

September 22, 1995
Acclaimed novelist Michael Crichton talks about "The Lost World", his sequel to the bestselling "Jurassic Park". He also discusses his background as a novelist and physician, his television show "E.R.", and his plans for future projects.

January 14, 1994
In an hour long interview, Charlie Rose and Michael Crichton discuss Michael's novel "Disclosure".

Related Posts:
On the Day Michael Crichton Was Born

Friday, October 15, 2010

Not “Mike” — “Michael”

I remember something interesting from the message board on Crichton’s official website in March 2005. (No longer, so no link) When a new member kept referring to Michael Crichton as “Mike”, the administrator posted this:

…he really doesn't like the "Mike" thing. His name is Michael. Just a little FYI. [As his publicist, I get people calling me everyday saying, ‘Ya, this is Mike's good friend, so-and-so.’ That's a HUGE red-flag that they've never met him. It's usually pretty funny when I say, "Actually, I don't think you are." Then the sputtering starts. It just makes me laugh.

When I participated in a November 2005 online discussion with Crichton through Barnes & Noble, the moderator started the discussion out by calling him “Michael”, therefore setting the tone.

I tended to address him as “Dr. Crichton” because I prefer to be more formal with people I don’t know personally. And as a sign of respect. But I addressed him as “Michael” during the discussion.

Crichton did go by “Mike” when he was younger. According to the book First Words, Crichton was known as “Big Mike” in high school.

And Crichton’s sophomore high school yearbook—the 1958 Harbor Hill Light—lists him as "Mike Crichton". He was a sophomore class officer and in the Rocket Club at Roslyn High School.

Crichton played basketball at Harvard and three articles in the student newspaper Crimson refer to him as “Mike Crichton”. (The articles also wrongly put his height at 6’8”—one inch short.)

December 15, 1960

March 8, 1961

March 21, 1962

In the 1964 Harvard College yearbook (Crichton’s senior year) he is listed in the index as “Crichton, John M.” His full name was John Michael Crichton but as his father was named John, I’ve seen no evidence that he was ever called John.

Before The Andromeda Strain was published in 1969, when he wasn’t writing under pseudonyms, Crichton wrote under the name “J. Michael Crichton.” One article, a 1968 review of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, was reprinted in the book The Critical Response to Kurt Vonnegut.

Many people, when they get older, decide to drop nicknames. But family has its privileges. Crichton’s brother Douglas called him “Mike”. From a New York Post article after Michael Crichton’s death:

Douglas Crichton recalled watching the sci-fi classic "Forbidden Planet" with his 6-foot-9 big brother, who used that inspiration to build a robot at their childhood home in Roslyn, LI.

"Mike was remarkable from the day he hit the ground," Doug Crichton said.

In his autobiography Travels, Michael Crichton recounted a conversation with his brother in which Douglas called him “Mike”. (p. 175, hardcover edition)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Pirate Latitudes Now in Paperback

On the home page of Michael Crichton’s official website is this announcement:

Michael Crichton’s Pirate Latitudes
Paperback Now Available and Online

Very exciting news. The paperback edition was released in US bookstores September 28.

But what’s very interesting is that the paperback edition of Pirate Latitudes was, according to Amazon, available on April 1 for the UK, France, and Germany. It was also available in Canada as of April 30. I do know the paperbacks did in fact come out then, because I started seeing secondhand ones for sale on Ebay early in May.

As I mentioned in my post on October 20, 2009, the hardcover edition of Pirate Latitudes was released in Europe on November 16 – eight days before the US release on November 24.

The paperback release is not as big of a deal (as I’m assuming the die-hard fans have already read the book by now), but the question remains:

When it comes to Pirate Latitudes, why are US book buyers being treated like bastard stepchildren?

Let’s just hope Europe doesn’t get to see the Pirate Latitudes film first.

Links and more info on Michael Crichton at:
Kahlessa's Corner