"I don't want an epitaph. If forced [to come up with one], I would say, 'Why Are You Here? Go Live Your Life.'"
— Michael Crichton to Amazon.com.
Michael Crichton, who dominated bestseller lists and Hollywood in unprecedented fashion for nearly 40 years, died last week at the age of 66 after a battle with cancer that he and his family kept private until his passing.
Perhaps no author perfected multimedia success in the way Crichton did. While many of his novels were almost routinely adapted into movies, the same could be said of Stephen King. However, Crichton's unerring pop culture sense and cinematic eye are best understood by remembering that he was a film director of some note. His best films included his own work, Westworld and The Great Train Robbery, plus the adaptation of Coma. another science-based thriller written by Robin Cook.
Shock jock Howard Stern boasts that he's "the King of All Media," but Crichton was the real deal. As the creator of the hit television show E.R., Crichton achieved the unimaginable in the 1990s when he was responsible for the No. 1 movie, TV show and novel at the same time
He was best known for creating a sense of what might be coming Next — which, incidentally, was his appropriately named last novel — but I've always felt it was his skill at weaving time-tested elements of classic storylines into cutting-edge yarns that helped him to tap so successfully into the reading public's imagination.
While he had had moderate success as an author of provocative mysteries under various pseudonyms as he worked his way through medical school, Crichton enjoyed his first smash bestseller under his own name in 1969 with The Andromeda Strain, which could be viewed as an microbiological update of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. The specter of Frankenstein's monster looms large in many of his tales beginning with The Terminal Man, not to mention Jurassic Park (which also borrows from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, King Kong, and various Edgar Rice Burroughs adventures). Eaters of the Dead, which involves an Arab prince's travels with barbaric Norsemen, takes a second half detour through Beowulf by way of The Seven Samurai.
While most of Crichton's obituaries focused on his cautionary tales of technology gone haywire, that only scratches the surface of a complex thinker with an insatiable curiosity and a stubborn intelligence.
Crichton described himself in a 2004 interview with the Associated Press as having "a lot of trouble with things that don't seem true to me. I'm very uncomfortable just accepting. There's something in me that wants to pound the table and say, 'That's not true.'"
Among the things Crichton began pounding the table about in the last few years of his life, was environmental extremism. He was enraged by the folly of restructuring our lives around hypothetical scenarios and spending trillions of dollars on "solutions" to crises that have not occured as a feel-good substitute for tackling real world problems.
His 2004 novel, State of Fear, directly challenged the notion of global warming as a man-made phenomenon in signature fashion. Thanks to his scientific stature and the quality of his arguments, the book — consisting of two parts thriller to one part science — caused quite an uproar, .
But State of Fear is much more than a broadside against the emptiness of radical environmentalists' claims. It is an expose of the crisis industry, of which global warming is merely the most recent — albeit biggest -- scam. Big Government and Big Science need crises to separate us from our money and entice us to willingly give up control of our lives.
As Crichton described the problem, we now have a "near-hysterical preoccupation with safety that's at best a waste of resources and a crimp on the human spirit, and at worst an invitation to totalitarianism."
Crichton's 2004 superb speech to the National Press Club still stands as the best short refutation of the global warming myth I have ever seen and remains one of the most exchanged pages on the Internet.
He eviscerates global warming scenarios in detail, but the heart of his speech addresses the gullibility of the public to latch onto the latest fad:
(I)n my experience, we all tend to put a lot of faith in science. We believe what we're told. My father suffered a life filled with margarine, before he died of a heart attack anyway. Others of us have stuffed our colons with fiber to ward off cancer, only to learn later that it was all a waste of time, and fiber.
When I wrote Jurassic Park, I worried that people would reject the idea of creating a dinosaur as absurd. Nobody did, not even scientists. It was reported to me that a Harvard geneticist, one of the first to read the book, slammed it shut when he finished and announced, "It can be done!" Which was missing the point. Soon after, a Congressman announced he was introducing legislation to ban research leading to the creation of a dinosaur. I held my breath, but my hopes were dashed. Someone whispered in his ear that it couldn't be done.
But even so, the belief lingers. Reporters would ask me, "When you were doing research on Jurassic Park, did you visit real biotech labs?" No, I said, why would I? They didn't know how to make a dinosaur. And they don't.
So we all tend to give science credence, even when it is not warranted.
But this should have taken no one by surprise. Crichton had long protested the surrender of good sense and individual will to the high priests of science, who are as subject to greed, power seeking and trendy groupthink as any other human community.
And Andromeda Strain, like War of the Worlds, posited that there were checks and balances in the natural world that dwarfed human endeavor.
The prologue to Jurassic Park, his most popular book, set the stage. For fun, you can hear Charlton Heston read a passage at Rush Limbaugh's request, at Rush's website.
You think man can destroy the planet? What intoxicating vanity..This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can't imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven't got the humility to try. We've been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we're gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.
Speaking of extinction, Crichton counted the days of the mainstream media as numbered in "Mediasaurus," a 1993 article for Wired magazine. Beginning with a prediction that the media as it was then constructed would no longer exist in 10 years, Crichton concluded:
But the news on television and in newspapers is generally perceived as less accurate, less objective, less informed than it was a decade ago. Because instead of focusing on quality, the media have tried to be lively or engaging -- selling the sizzle, not the steak; the talk-show host, not the guest; the format, not the subject. And in doing so they have abandoned their audience.
While the MSM is crowing about its victory in the recent presidential campaign, it is just as likely that by ripping off the last vestiges off the mask of objectivity, the media, like the dinosaur at the end of The Lost World, has just gone on one last destructive rampage that will result in its death rather than its resurrection.
Crichton wan't the only popular novelist to pound on the table and protest that "this just isn't true." Dean Koontz, Andrew Klavan and Vince Flynn come immediately to mind as his comrades-in-arms. But perhaps no one else in pop culture could do the pounding with such authority and with such reach. Michael Crichton will be missed.