Friday, November 7, 2008

Michael Crichton, 66

I read my first real novel, Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, when I was a wee eight year old.

Watching a great movie at that age can have that kind of effect. And don't let the dinosaurs fool you, this is no kids book-- this is a hardcore 400-page grownups book. Sure, some of the other good kids had their own head start on reading at the time, with their Boxcar Children and their Goosebumps. But when you're in third grade and reading Michael Crichton... man, that's not just pulling ahead of the pack, that's playing a different sport.

Crichton was a physician with a degree from Harvard Medical School, and his intelligence shines through in his work. His writing style combines his knowledge of science with a knack for brewing suspense, blending page-turning entertainment with a scientific seminar-- and blurring the line between science and fiction while he's at it. Manchildren everywhere still believe that we can clone dinosaurs using the blood of mosquitoes preserved in tree sap (and I'm still holding out hope).

I reread Jurassic Park at least three times over the years, including once to write my high school senior term paper analyzing it. Maybe there's just something about being eight years old that leaves one vulnerable to lasting impressions-- among my favorite movies are The Lion King, Forrest Gump, and yes, Jurassic Park-- and there's a good chance that Jurassic Park also may just be my favorite book ever.

In love with reading but wary of other authors, I read other Crichton books-- Sphere, Congo, The Lost World, Andromeda Strain-- all brilliant techno-thrillers (and all adapted into less memorable movies). His more recent books-- Airframe, Timeline, Prey-- have been less magical, but still good in their own right.

I did not read State of Fear, which the news reports tell me is a thinly veiled and poorly constructed pseudoscientific farce. Disillusioned by the news, I never got around to reading his most recent book, Next.

And then just yesterday, buried under the avalanche of Obama victory news, was an announcement that Michael Crichton has died of cancer at the age 66. Very unexpectedly, at least to me! Did anyone know that he was sick? Did anyone even know that he was that old? I could hardly believe the news.

I haven't experienced any other books from authors with quite the same talent that he had, to blend scientific research with thrilling cinematic images and a compelling story. He's done his part to expand minds to the possibilities of science and potential dangers of technology, and he's left us with the ability to imagine dinosaurs roaming the earth, leaving all of us grown up kids to carry on his memory in our dinosaur dreams.