As a writer, I have long considered Michael Crichton my nemesis. I first became disillusioned with him around senior year of high school when I decided he was lazy, had improbable characters and cut corners. Case in point: the ending of Sphere. In the novel, these scientists find an alien artifact that endows each of them with the power to manipulate reality with their minds, with generally terrible results. Their unpredictable subconsciousnesses wreak havoc. Okay, that’s an interesting premise. But then, when you’ve finally gotten to the end, Crichton’s resolution is to have the characters use their reality-altering powers to make themselves forget that they have any powers. Uh… okay. Then there is this exchange:
“…We won’t remember anything but this [made up] story.”When I was younger, this passage really bothered me and I suspect it was because it seemed so much like a deus ex machina. These characters spend the whole book unable to control their thoughts and now they're going to do it on command?
“And we won’t have the power any more?” Beth said, frowning.
“No,” Norman said. “Not any more.
“Okay,” Harry said.
Beth seemed to think about it longer, biting her lip. But finally she nodded. “Okay.”
All these gripes alone aren’t too annoying. Plenty of authors just aren’t good. But Crichton was different. Somewhere in there, I always knew there was a genuine talent. So why then did he try so little, so often? To me, it was disrespectful to the profession, especially considering how well his books sold and how hard it is for new authors to get published, regardless of their skill.
And then I found out he had died of cancer. And it was like I'd swallowed a marble. An old friend brought it up, figuring I’d appreciate the news. But I didn’t. Suddenly, I was forced to confront my long-held prejudices. I had never actually finished State of Fear or Timeline…
Perhaps Norman's certainty in Sphere that his final solution would work was meant to plant the idea of inevitability into his comrades’ subconsciousnesses. Perhaps I had simply missed the point. Perhaps, I needed to reread Andromeda Strain, or Sphere, or Airframe or the Lost World. Perhaps... it didn’t matter anymore.
At the time, this news was particularly resonant because I had fallen into a funk with my own writing and wasn’t really producing anything anymore. Suddenly, I felt like I had no purpose. But most of all, I just felt sad. Crichton obviously had a passion for writing. Sometimes… And now he could never write again.
Since then, I’ve been more tolerant with other authors. After all, they’re only human. As I finish this, I wonder whose ire I’ll inspire with my own idiosyncrasies, and what colleagues I’ll make in the process. I picked up a copy of Prey yesterday and got about a hundred pages into it. It’s pretty good.
Goodbye, Michael Crichton. My friend. My greatest enemy. Rest in peace.