As many you who read this blog already know, dinosaurs are more than a passing fancy for me. Of the many books that deal with dinosaurs, the best novel to do so is Jurassic Park. The man who wrote that book and went on to co-write the screenplay to the movie, Michael Crichton, died on Tuesday. After all the terrifying, visceral, bizarre ways he devised his characters to die, not only in Jurassic Park but in his many science fiction novels, he himself succumbed to cancer at the relatively young age of 66. It is that fact – something as simple and powerful as your own cells turning against you – that makes the death of one of my childhood heroes even more hard to take. I always imagined Crichton being carried away by Vikings, or zapped into another dimension. Not cancer. It’s an insult to such an imaginative man.
To say that I was influenced by Jurassic Park is like saying I was influenced by air. Jurassic Park is, without a doubt in my mind, the best dinosaur story ever written. The movie is among my favorites, although it only captured about 1/3 the story of the book. Crichton’s logical and somewhat cynical take on a man who clones dinosaurs for a theme park was softened by Steven Spielberg for the film version, although the special effects and Spielberg’s great sense of pacing an tension made the movie the seminal moment of my childhood.
Crichton’s other books left a big impression on me as well. The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Sphere, and Terminal Man are all stories so strange and so interesting that their main plots, if not every detail within the novels, still stick in my brain.
Crichton was a nerd; a tall skinny white guy who liked to do voluminous research on each story before writing a sentence. He was interested in time travel, other dimensions, history, and hard science. He was the successful grown-up a boy from Arizona could look to when the boy wondered about his future. Crichton showed that there was room in the world for nerds, not just in windowless research labs but in Hollywood, as well.
I’ll leave you with a page from the book The Making of Jurassic Park, by Don Shay. In it Crichton explains how the idea for writing a novel about dinosaurs came about.
Thanks for everything, Michael.