Friday, January 28, 2011

Wondering about: The Andromeda Strain

As I wrote in my Nov. 29 post, I decided to read The Andromeda Strain again after reading The Great Influenza by John M. Barry. There are two questions concerning Michael Crichton’s 1969 novel that intrigue me.

1. Did the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 inspire The Andromeda Strain?

In his autobiography Travels, Crichton mentioned that his grandfather, a soldier, had died of influenza during the outbreak (p.193). I never gave it much thought until I read The Great Influenza and discovered how horrific the pandemic was. I remember reading a review of the book that compared the story of influenza to “something out of The Andromeda Strain”.

When I read The Andromeda Strain again recently, I noticed several connections to the story of the influenza pandemic. I’ll explore those later in another post. But for starters, Barry devoted a large portion of his book to the efforts of the scientists who researched the disease, trying to develop a vaccine or cure. Their efforts reminded me of the scientists in The Andromeda Strain.

Michael Crichton surely heard the story of his grandfather’s death from influenza. I wonder if it inspired him to go into medicine. That’s a question I may never be able to answer, but I can examine the connections between influenza and Andromeda.

2. The dedication for The Andromeda Strain reads: “For A.C.D., M.D. who first proposed the problem”. What is the meaning of that statement?

First of all, who is “A.C.D., M.D.”? My friend Jiet suggested that the initials probably stand for “Arthur Conan Doyle”, creator of Sherlock Holmes. Doyle was a physician, and Crichton said that he had “strongly identified with Conan Doyle” (Travels, p. 190). I think that the assumption that the initials refer Arthur Conan Doyle is a safe one (which doesn’t mean it’s correct, of course).

Assuming the dedication is to Arthur Conan Doyle, then what do we make of the phrase “who first proposed the problem”? What is “the problem”? And when and where did Conan Doyle propose it? I just finished reading Conan Doyle’s The Lost World and there is nothing relevant in the novel. (Unless I missed it, always a possibility).

I have some research to do.

Does anyone have any thoughts?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Michael Crichton Speech Videos

Just found some of Michael Crichton’s speeches and public appearances online.

National Press Club - November 28, 2006
Crichton discusses some of the issues raised in his novel Next.

Students and Leaders - March 16, 2005
Crichton takes questions from students at Cleveland High School in Reseda, California.

Science Policy in the 21st Century - January 25, 2005

National Press Club - April 6, 1993
This was Crichton’s famous Mediasaurus speech. In May 2008, Slate declared Michael Crichton Vindicated in his predictions for the media. The article by Jack Shafer was based on an email interview.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael Crichton on Futuristic Sci-Fi

I made a marvelous discover recently. The 1984 book Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinema contains a nine-page section titled “When Men and Machines Go Wrong: An Interview with Michael Crichton by Danny Peary”. (pp.250-259)

Peary asked Crichton why his science fiction works are set in contemporary times, rather than far in the future. Peary said:

Your films and novels are fairly cautionary. Perhaps if you set them in the future they’d have to be more pessimistic…

Crichton replied:

…Futuristic science fiction tends to be pessimistic. If you imagine a future that’s wonderful, you don’t have a story. There has to be some kind of conflict. Someone once said something I believe is true: If you live in the past, you’re depressed and if you live in the future, you’re anxious, so the only way to feel okay is to live in the present.” (p. 250)

I don’t think Crichton was as interested in predicting the future (though he certainly did numerous times), as he was in examining the present. The farther in the future a story is set, the less real it feels to us, and the less we connect it to our own times, beliefs, and actions. Crichton’s work does not allow us to escape far into the future; it keeps our feet on the present ground so we can question, analyze, and hopefully understand where we are now. And, more importantly, where we might be heading.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Michael Crichton Highlights 2010

Happy New Year!

Today we’re taking a look back at some of the Michael Crichton highlights of 2010.

In January, I explored the name Matanceros in Crichton’s posthumously published novel, Pirate Latitudes.

In June I shared my discovery that in 1979 magazine interview, Crichton mentioned working on a novel about Caribbean pirates.

Pirate Latitudes came out in paperback in September.

In March, gene patents were ruled invalid by a U.S. district court. Crichton explored the use and abuse of gene patents in his novel Next, and he advocated the abolition of gene patents. As time goes by, I think we will see that Michael Crichton was right about more and more things.

Also in March, I discovered Janet Berliner’s blog post Travels of Michael Crichton, which shared excerpts from her week-long interview with Crichton in 1993.

In August, three of Michael Crichton’s novels made the NPR list of Top 100 Killer Thrillers.

But easily the most exciting event in 2010 was the Christie’s auction of Michael Crichton’s art collection in May. Not only was it exciting, but it was surprisingly informative. Christie’s published a magnificent 290-page catalogue Works from the Collection of Michael Crichton. I highly recommend it for dedicated Crichton fans. Christie’s no longer sells the catalogue, but copies can be found on Ebay.

Christie’s featured a video about Crichton as an art collector. The auction house’s website also published a transcript of Michael Crichton’s last public lecture In Search of an Artist: "Gray is my Favorite Color", given at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in April 2008.

The May 2010 issue of W magazine contained an article on Michael Crichton and his art collection.

Crichton’s beloved Flag by Jasper Johns sold for 28 million.

The art auction inspired me to write a post about the epigraphs in Crichton’s books.