Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Micro Cover Revealed!

The cover of Michael Crichton’s upcoming novel Micro has been revealed:

Crichton’s name is at the top as usual, with the name of Richard Preston (who completed the unfinished novel) at the bottom.

The cover’s colors are red, black, and white—the colors that have been used for the covers of several Michael Crichton novels.

Now you know what inspired the colors on my blog.

Next (2006)

State of Fear (2004)

Prey (2002)

Timeline (1999)

Airframe (1996)

The Lost World (1995)

Disclosure (1994)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What Michael Crichton Said About Micro

Michael Crichton was reticent about whatever project he was currently writing. In a 1997 online discussion he said, “I never discuss what I am working on until it is done. It's a superstition of mine. Many writers share it.”

Prior to a Crichton book release, the only information readers usually had was the description provided by the publisher. (Speculation abounded, but that was part of the fun.)

After a book’s release, Crichton would give many interviews, and that is something I missed very much when Pirate Latitudes was published.

Now we’re awaiting the November 22 release of Micro, the technothriller Crichton was working on when he died, completed by science writer Richard Preston. Publisher HarperCollins has described the novel as "a high concept thriller in the vein of Jurassic Park."

HarperCollins isn’t just trying to market Micro by associating it with Crichton’s most popular work. Crichton himself made the connection in two interviews.

From a December 2006 interview with the Sunday Times:

As far as his next books are concerned, it's time to lighten up. "I've decided to do something that's just fun to do. I think I'm always concerned about becoming a scold. I'll just do something closer to Jurassic Park."

And in the March 2007 interview “Seven Answers From Michael Crichton” when asked what he was working on now, Crichton replied:

“An adventure story like Jurassic Park. I'm enjoying myself.”

In addition, we have valuable information from a Harper Collins press release:

In an unfinished introduction to MICRO, [Crichton] wrote, "Perhaps the single most important lesson to be learned by direct experience is that the natural world, with all its elements and interconnections, represents a complex system and therefore we cannot understand it and we cannot predict its behavior...Interacting with the natural world, we are denied certainty. And always will be."

To better understand the meaning of Crichton’s words, it is useful to examine what he said in his June 2008 radio interview with Dennis Miller. (This was the last interview Michael Crichton gave, so far as I have been able to discover.)

Miller asked about the topic of his forthcoming book, and Crichton said:

“The last few books have shown me how many people really don’t have good information about the environment. So I thought I’d try and write a book that wouldn’t rile everybody up but would be informative in a way that would be fun, and would give them some information about how our environment really is structured.” (Part 1 at 9:07)

Now let’s take a closer look at what Crichton wrote in his unfinished intro to Micro.

“…the single most important lesson to be learned by direct experience…”

Crichton’s autobiography Travels contains a chapter titled “Direct Experience” where he writes:

“One of the most difficult features of direct experience is that it is unfiltered by any theories and expectations. It’s hard to observe without imposing a theory to explain what we’re seeing, but the trouble with theories, as Einstein said, is that they explain not only what is observed, but what can be observed. We start to build expectations based on our theories. And often those expectations get in the way.” (p. 351)

“…the natural world, with all its elements and interconnections, represents a complex system, therefore we cannot understand it and we cannot predict its behavior.”

Crichton addressed this topic in a November 2005 speech:

We live in a world of complex systems. The environment is a complex system. The government is a complex system. Financial markets are complex systems. The human mind is a complex system. Most minds anyway.

By a complex system, I mean one in which the elements of the system interact among themselves such that any modification we make to the system will produce results that we can’t predict in advance.

In addition, a complex system is sensitive to initial conditions. You can get one result from it on one day, but the identical interaction the next day will yield a different result. We cannot know with certainty how the system will respond.

Third, when we do something to a complex system, we may get downstream consequences that emerge weeks or even years later. We have to be watchful for delayed and untoward consequences.

“Interacting with the natural world, we are denied certainty. And always will be."

Crichton wrote of this issue in his Author's Message from State of Fear:

“We know astonishingly little about every aspect of the environment, from its past history, to its present state, to how to conserve and protect it. In every debate, all sides overstate the extent of existing knowledge and its degree of certainty….I am certain there is too much certainty in the world.”

So will Micro create the controversy that State of Fear did? Will Crichton’s views on the environment come through clearly in the novel? With great anticipation, we wait and watch.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

John Lange Short Story?

In my July 1 post I listed the short stories Michael Crichton had written. One of the stories was published under the name “Jeffery Hudson”, the pseudonym Crichton used when he published A Case of Need.

Crichton also published eight novels under the name “John Lange”, but I had never heard of him publishing a short story under that name. Last year, someone contacted me to let me know of a story “Villa of Assassins” that was published by John Lange in the 1968 Stag Annual magazine.

The FictionMags Index, which catalogs short stories, lists “Villa of Assassins” as a short story by John Lange. But when I finally saw the story, I recognized at once. It was the novel Scratch One (1967), Crichton’s second published novel. (Odds On, published in 1966, was his first.)

While it was disappointing to discover that it wasn’t an original John Lange short story, it was exciting to see it in this format, with many illustrations. The 1970 John Lange novel Grave Descend was also published in a magazine, though with only one illustration at the beginning of the story.

“Villa of Assassins” (1968)
Disguised as a place of healing, it was a torture citadel ruled by a maniacal surgeon bent on turning the entire Mid-East into a nuclear inferno
by John Lange, Stag Annual, 1968, pp. 12-15, 99-129

A magazine adaptation of the novel Scratch One, billed as a book bonus.

“The Death Divers” (1970)
A sunken yacht sends diver James McGregor on a plunge that leads him to a mysterious millionaire and a sex-hungry starlet—one interested in having him die, the other interested in something else
By John Lange, Man’s World, December 1970, pp. 18-19, 89-101

A magazine adaptation of the novel Grave Descend, billed as a book bonus. Unlike “Villa of the Assassins”, the copyright notice on the first page of the story indicates that it is a reprinting of Grave Descend.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Michael Crichton — Short Stories

Michael Crichton is best known for his novels—16 under his own name and 10 under pseudonyms. Less well known is that Crichton published several short stories. He wrote in his autobiography Travels that he started sending short stories to magazines when he was 13 (p. 71). There’s no indication that he sold any of his fiction. Crichton did sell a travel article to the New York Times when he was 14, and he worked as a student journalist in high school and college. His interests changed when he decided to pay for his medical school education by writing. “Clearly I couldn’t make enough writing free-lance articles, so I decided to write novels.” (Travels, p. 73) Crichton’s first novel, Odds On, was published under the name John Lange in 1966. However, he didn’t abandon short fiction, publishing four short stories in all.

“How Does That Make You Feel?” (1968)
What TV star married to what sex symbol pulled a gun on what $100-an-hour shrink?
By Jeffery Hudson, Playboy, November 1968, Vol. 15, No. 11, pp. 115, 156-159

Crichton’s first published short story was written under the pseudonym Jeffery Hudson. There’s no doubt this story was written by Crichton. According to the Playbill page of that issue Jeffery Hudson is “the pseudonym of an American scientist who currently lives in London” who had recently published the novel A Case of Need." Even without that information, I would have recognized Crichton’s style. And one sentence in the story connects with something Crichton wrote in Travels.

“How Does That Make You Feel?”, a story about a famous actor’s confrontation with his psychiatrist, contains this observation about the doctor:

“It was a trick he had, repeating the last part of a sentence.” (Playboy, p. 156)

Crichton describes meeting with his training analyst during the psychiatry rotation of his medical school training at Harvard:

“This was a psychiatrist’s trick, repeating your last phrase to keep you talking.”(Travels, p. 30)

In 1970, “How Does That Make You Feel?” was republished in the book Crime Without Murder: An Anthology of Stories by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Dorothy Salisbury Davis. The acknowledgments section contains this:

“How Does That Make You Feel?” by Jeffery Hudson, pp. 125-133
Copyright ©1968 by Michael Crichton. First published in Playboy (November 1968). Reprinted by permission of the author c/o International Famous Agency, Inc.

Perhaps having his story included in the collection inspired Crichton to write more short stories.

“The Most Powerful Tailor in the World” (1971)
You’d better not call this screaming nut a screaming nut to his face—because he does seem to possess the ultimate power.
By Michael Crichton, Playboy, September, 1971, pp. 153, 190-192

This story was released in audio (cassettes) in 1996 as part of the collection Best of Playboy Fiction. While stories by Frederick Forsythe and Joseph Heller are also included, Crichton’s name and the title of his story are the dominant elements on the cover. “The Most Powerful Tailor in the World” is read by David Dressel.

“Mousetrap: A Tale of Computer Crime” (1984)

A fictional tale of computer crime, the new trend in white collar larceny, in which a young genius tries to byte the hand that feeds him.
By Michael Crichton, Life, January 1984, Vol. 7, No.1, pp. 116-126

This story can be thought of as a fictional companion to Crichton’s 1983 book Electronic Life: How to Think About Computers. While the technology in the story is obsolete, I wonder if some of the ideas about computer security could still be applied effectively to today’s machines.

“Blood Doesn’t Come Out” (2003)
A man can only be pushed so far—especially when his mother is the one pushing.
by Michael Crichton, McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales, pp. 191-201.

The treasury’s editor, Michael Chabon, commissioned the short stories for this collection. In addition to Crichton, Stephen King, Harlan Ellison, Elmore Leonard, and Neil Gaiman contributed stories.

“Blood Doesn’t Come Out” is very different from Crichton’s previous short fiction. His other short stories follow the same general pattern: a greedy villain is outsmarted by the hero in a clever twist to end the story. In “Blood Doesn’t Come Out”, the main character is not very heroic. While the writing is good, the story is dark and brutal. I found it somewhat disturbing.

One other interesting aspect—“Blood Doesn’t Come Out” is written in first person. The only other creative works by Crichton in first person are the novels Eaters of the Dead, Rising Sun, and Prey.

In addition to his four published short stories, some of Crichton’s earlier work can be read in First Words: Earliest Writing from Favorite Contemporary Authors. Editor Paul Mandelbaum solicited many contemporary writers to share samples of their early work, along with some photographs. Crichton commented, “As you will see from the selection,” he notes, “I have been unflinching.” (p. 48)

There is a poem “Johnny at 8:30” circa 1957, when Crichton was 14. Like many of his works, it has a surprising twist at the end.

Three short stories are included in First Words. The first is untitled, written in 1960 when Crichton was 17. It’s not so much a complete story as it is a fragment, consisting solely of dialogue between two people, with no description or exposition. A comment in the margin reads: “Crichton no longer remembers what this story is about.”

“Life Goes to a Party” was written in 1961 when Crichton was 18. There’s not much of a plot to this story. It’s about a college student attending a Christmas party back home with the people he knew in high school. I wonder if Crichton was describing his own experiences.

“The Most Important Part of the Lab” was also written in 1961. This story has more of a plot, and a stronger narrative voice. The writing reflects the author’s thinking and insights. Crichton’s instructor encouraged him to submit this story to a magazine.