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.


Narayan said...

what a fabulous and indepth study making a case for Micro. Seriously, Ms. Marla- are you a lawyer...they SHOULD make you the guardian of the Michael Crichton estate

Marla Warren said...

Thank you, Narayan, that's very sweet!

No, I am not a lawyer and I cannot even begin to imagine what it would like to be in charge of an estate. I'm sure Michael Crichton left his estate in wise and experienced hands.

Brent said...

Wow Marla, You never fail to impress. This was a very interesting post. I can't wait until November when we get to see how it turned out.

don said...

Who is the Crichton estate lawyer?

Marla Warren said...

Don, I'm afraid I don't know. I did read somewhere that the estate is in a trust titled "The John Michael Crichton Trust".