Michael Crichton

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Michael Crichton
Pseudonym(s): John Lange
Jeffery Hudson
Born: October 23 1942(1942-10-23)
Died: November 4 2008 (aged 66)
Occupation(s): author, film producer, film director, television producer
Nationality: United States
Literary genre: Action
Science fiction
Techno-thriller
Website: Michael Crichton

John Michael Crichton (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was an American author, film producer, film director, medical doctor, and television producer best known for his science fiction and techno-thriller novels, films, and television programs. His books have sold over 150 million copies worldwide. His works are usually based on the action genre and heavily feature technology. Many of his future history novels have medical or scientific underpinnings, reflecting his medical training and science background.

Contents

In addition to his literary output, Crichton also drew notoriety for his comments challenging the scientific basis of theories such as global warming and some of the more radical versions of environmentalism. As a committed rationalist, Crichton criticized what he considers the misuse of science to support popular theories.

Life

Crichton was born in Chicago,[1] Illinois, to John Henderson Crichton and Zula Miller Crichton, and raised in Roslyn, Long Island, New York.[2] Crichton has two sisters, Kimberly and Catherine, and a younger brother, Douglas.

He attended Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as an undergraduate, graduating summa cum laude in 1964.[3] Crichton was also initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He went on to become the Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellow from 1964 to 1965, and Visiting Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1965. He graduated from Harvard Medical School, obtaining an M.D. in 1969, and did post-doctoral fellowship study at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, from 1969 to 1970. In 1988, he was Visiting Writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While in medical school, he wrote novels under the pen names John Lange and Jeffery Hudson. A Case of Need, written under the latter pseudonym, won the 1969 Edgar Award for Best Novel. He also co-authored Dealing with his younger brother, Douglas, under the shared pen name Michael Douglas. The back cover of that book contains a picture of Michael and Douglas at a very young age taken by their mother.

His two pen names were both created to reflect his above-average height. According to his own words, he was about 2.06 meters (6 feet 9 inches) tall in 1997. Lange is a familyname in Germany, meaning "tall one" and Sir Jeffrey Hudson was a famous seventeenth century dwarf in the court of Queen Consort Henrietta Maria of England.

Crichton has admitted to having once, during his undergraduate study, plagiarized a work by George Orwell and submitted it as his own. According to Crichton the paper was received by his professor with a mark of "B−." Crichton has claimed that the plagiarism was not intended to defraud the school, but rather as an experiment. Crichton believed that the professor in question had been intentionally giving him abnormally low marks, and so as an experiment Crichton informed another professor of his idea and submitted Orwell's paper as his own work.[4]

Crichton has been married five times and divorced four times. He was previously married to Suzanna Childs, Joan Radam (1965-1970), Kathy St. Johns (1978-1980), and Anne-Marie Martin, the mother of his only child, daughter Taylor Anne. Crichton has been married to his fifth wife, Sherri Alexander, since 2005.

Literary techniques

Crichton's works are frequently cautionary in that his plots often portray scientific advancements going awry, commonly resulting in major catastrophes. A notable recurring theme in Crichton's plots is the pathological failure of complex systems and their safeguards, whether biological (Jurassic Park), military/organizational (The Andromeda Strain), or cybernetic (Westworld). This theme of the inevitable breakdown of "perfect" systems and the failure of "fail-safe measures" can be seen strongly in the poster for Westworld (slogan: "Where nothing can possibly go worng…") and in the discussion of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.

Contrary to certain perceptions, Crichton is not anti-technology. Although his works often portray scientists and engineers as arrogant and closed-minded to the potential threat a technology represents, there is always a well-educated author surrogate who balances the perspective and shows that failures are simply part of the scientific process and one should simply maintain a state of awareness and preparation for their inevitable occurrence. Crichton is not anti-science but anti-scientism, the view that science is the answer to every question and a scientific approach ensures success.

The use of author surrogate has been a feature of Crichton's writings since the beginning of his career. In A Case of Need, one of his pseudonymous whodunit stories, Crichton used first-person narrative to portray the hero, a Bostonian pathologist, who is racing against the clock to clear a friend from medical malpractice in a girl's death from a hack-job abortion.

That book was written in 1968, nearly five years before the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide in the United States, Roe v. Wade (1973). It took the hero about 160 pages to find the chief suspect, an underground abortionist, who was created to be the author surrogate. Then, Crichton gave that character three pages to justify his illegal practice.

Some of Crichton's fiction uses a literary technique called false document. Eaters of the Dead is a fabricated recreation of the Old English epic Beowulf in the form of a scholarly translation of Ahmad ibn Fadlan's tenth century manuscript. Other novels, such as The Andromeda Strain and Jurassic Park, incorporate fictionalized scientific documents in the form of diagrams, computer output, DNA sequences, footnotes, and bibliography. However, some of his novels actually include authentic published scientific works to illustrate his point, as can be seen in The Terminal Man and the more recent State of Fear.

Non-fiction

In addition to fiction, Crichton has written several other books based on scientific themes, including Travels, which also contains autobiographical episodes.

As a personal friend to the artist Jasper Johns, Crichton compiled many of his works in a coffee table book also named Jasper Johns. That book has been updated once.

Crichton is also the author of Electronic Life, a book that introduces BASIC programming to its readers. In his words, being able to program a computer is liberation:

In my experience, you assert control over a computer—show it who's the boss—by making it do something unique. That means programming it…. [I]f you devote a couple of hours to programming a new machine, you'll feel better about it ever afterward.[5]

To prove his point, Crichton included many self-written demonstrative Applesoft (for Apple II) and BASICA (for IBM PC compatibles) programs in that book. Crichton once considered updating it, but has never done so.

Movies and television

Pursuit is a TV movie written and directed by Crichton that is based on his novel, Binary.

Westworld was the first feature film that used 2D computer-generated imagery (CGI) and the first use of 3D CGI was in its sequel, Futureworld (1976), which featured a computer-generated hand and face created by then University of Utah graduate students Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke.

Crichton directed the film Coma, adapted from a Robin Cook novel. There was a natural affinity; both Cook and Crichton are physicians, are of similar age, and write about similar subjects.

Many of his novels have been filmed by others:

Year Title Filmmaker/Director
1971 The Andromeda Strain Robert Wise
1972 Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues Paul Williams
1972 The Carey Treatment (A Case of Need) Blake Edwards
1974 The Terminal Man Mike Hodges
1993 Rising Sun Philip Kaufman
1993 Jurassic Park Steven Spielberg
1994 Disclosure Barry Levinson
1995 Congo Frank Marshall
1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park Steven Spielberg
1998 Sphere Barry Levinson
1999 The 13th Warrior (Eaters of the Dead) John McTiernan
2003 Timeline Richard Donner
2008 The Andromeda Strain (TV miniseries) Mikael Salomon

He has written the screenplay for the movies Extreme Close Up (1973) and Twister (1996) (the latter co-written with Anne-Marie Martin, his wife at the time).

Crichton is also the creator and executive producer of the television drama ER. In December 1994, he achieved the unique distinction of having the #1 movie (Jurassic Park), the #1 TV show (ER), and the #1 book (Disclosure, atop the paperback list). Crichton has written only three episodes of ER:

  • Episode 1-1: "24 Hours"
  • Episode 1-2: "Day One"
  • Episode 1-3: "Going Home"

Computer games

Amazon is a graphical text adventure game created by Michael Crichton and produced by John Wells under Trillium Corp. Amazon was released in the United States in 1984, and it runs on Apple II, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and the DOS systems. Amazon was considered by some to be a breakthrough in the way it updated text adventure games by adding color graphics and music. It sold more than 100,000 copies, making it a significant commercial success at the time.

In 1999, Crichton founded Timeline Computer Entertainment with David Smith. Despite signing a multi-title publishing deal with Eidos Interactive, only one game was ever published, Timeline. Released on December 8, 2000, for the PC, the game received poor reviews and sold poorly.

Speeches

"Aliens Cause Global Warming"

In 2003, he gave a controversial lecture at Caltech entitled "Aliens Cause Global Warming"[6] in which he expressed his views of the danger of "consensus science"—especially popular but disputed theories such as nuclear winter, the dangers of second-hand smoke, and the global warming controversy. Crichton has been critical of widespread belief in ETs and UFOs, citing the fact that there is no conclusive proof of their existence. Crichton stated that "The Drake equation cannot be tested and therefore SETI is not science. SETI is unquestionably a religion." Crichton has commented that belief in purported scientific theories without a factual basis is more akin to faith than science.

Environmentalism as a religion

In a related speech given to the Commonwealth Club of California, called "Environmentalism as a religion" (Radical environmentalism), Crichton described what he sees as similarities between the structure of various religious views (particularly Judeo-Christian beliefs) and the beliefs of many modern urban atheists. Crichton asserts that the radical environmentalists have romantic ideas about Nature and the past which parallel the religious ideas such as an initial "paradise", followed by human "sins", and a "judgment day." He further insists that like the religious believer, the modern environmentalists clings stubbornly to elements of the faith in spite of evidence to the contrary. Crichton cites misconceptions about DDT, passive smoking, and global warming as examples.

Widespread speculation in the media

In a speech entitled "Why Speculate?"[7] delivered in 2002 to the International Leadership Forum, Crichton criticized the media for engaging in what he saw as pointless speculation rather than the delivery of facts. As an example, he pointed to a front-page article of the March 6 New York Times that speculated about the possible effects of U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to impose tariffs on imported steel. Crichton also singled out Susan Faludi's book Backlash for criticism, saying that it "presented hundreds of pages of quasi-statistical assertions based on a premise that was never demonstrated and that was almost certainly false." He referred to what he calls the "Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect" to describe the public's tendency to discount one story in a newspaper they may know to be false because of their knowledge of the subject, but believe the same paper on subjects with which they are unfamiliar. Crichton holds to the old Latin dictum, falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus ("untruthful in one part, untruthful in all").

Role of science in environmental policy-making

In September 2005, Crichton was called to testify at a Congressional hearing of the Environment and Public Works Committee on climate change by global warming skeptic Senator James Inhofe[8] Crichton spoke on issues such as the role of science in policy making, criticisms of climate-change researcher Michael Mann, and what Crichton claimed was the deliberate obstruction of research into the subject by some in the scientific community.[9]

Criticism

Many of Crichton's publicly expressed views, particularly on subjects like the global warming controversy, have caused heated debate. An example is meteorologist Jeffrey Masters' review of State of Fear:

[F]lawed or misleading presentations of Global Warming science exist in the book, including those on Arctic sea ice thinning, correction of land-based temperature measurements for the urban heat island effect, and satellite vs. ground-based measurements of Earth's warming. I will spare the reader additional details. On the positive side, Crichton does emphasize the little-appreciated fact that while most of the world has been warming the past few decades, most of Antarctica has seen a cooling trend. The Antarctic ice sheet is actually expected to increase in mass over the next 100 years due to increased precipitation, according to the IPCC.[10]

Peter Doran, author of the paper in the January 2002 issue of Nature which reported the above finding that some areas of Antarctica had cooled between 1986 and 2000, wrote an opinion piece in the July 27, 2006 New York Times, stating that "Our results have been misused as 'evidence' against global warming by Michael Crichton in his novel State of Fear." Crichton himself states in the book that though he uses a number of studies to support his stance, the authors of these studies do not necessarily agree with his interpretations. Additionally, some of the characters in the novel caution that they do not necessarily claim that global warming is not an issue, but only that more research is necessary before tjeu make any definitive conclusions.

Al Gore is reported as having said on March 21, 2007, before a U.S. House committee: "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor […] if your doctor tells you you need to intervene here, you don't say 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem.'"

Next controversy

In his 2006 novel, Next (released November 28 of that year), Crichton introduces a character named "Mick Crowley" who is a Yale graduate and a Washington D.C.-based political columnist. "Crowley" is portrayed by Crichton as a child molester with a small penis. The character is a minor one who does not appear elsewhere in the book.[11]

A real person named Michael Crowley is also a Yale graduate, and a senior editor of The New Republic, a Washington D.C.-based political magazine. In March 2006, the real Crowley wrote an article strongly critical of Crichton for his stance on global warming in State of Fear.

Legacy

Crichton's works have been enormously popular. Many of them have been made into even more successful motion pictures. Crichton is equally well-known for the controversies that have resulted from his remarks critical of what he considers to be "junk science," that is, science driven by an ideological agenda.

Awards

Crichton has won numerous awards for his writing. These include:

  • Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Novel, 1969 (A Case of Need; written as Jeffery Hudson)
  • Association of American Medical Writers Award, 1970 (Five Patients)
  • Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture Screenplay, 1980 (The Great Train Robbery)
  • The American Association of Petroleum Geologists Journalism Award, 2006 (State of Fear)

In addition, he has won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writers Guild of America award. A dinosaur, Crichtonsaurus bohlini, was named after him in honor of Jurassic Park.[12]

Bibliography

Fiction

Year Title Notes
1966 Odds On as John Lange
1967 Scratch One as John Lange
1968 Easy Go as John Lange
A Case of Need as Jeffery Hudson
though later re-released
in Crichton's name
1969 The Andromeda Strain
The Venom Business as John Lange
Zero Cool as John Lange
1970 Grave Descend as John Lange
Drug of Choice as John Lange
Dealing: Or the Berkeley-to-Boston
Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues
co-written with brother
Douglas Crichton;
published as Michael Douglas
1972 The Terminal Man
Binary as John Lange
1975 The Great Train Robbery
1976 Eaters of the Dead
1980 Congo
1987 Sphere
1990 Jurassic Park
1992 Rising Sun
1994 Disclosure
1995 The Lost World
1996 Airframe
1999 Timeline
2002 Prey
2004 State of Fear
2006 Next

Non-fiction

Year Title
1970 Five Patients
1977 Jasper Johns
1983 Electronic Life
1988 Travels

Films and television

Year Title Notes
1972 Pursuit A TV movie
1973 Westworld
1978 Coma
1979 The Great Train Robbery Directed/ wrote screenplay
1981 Looker
1984 Runaway
1989 Physical Evidence
1993 Jurassic Park co-wrote screenplay
1994 ER Creator/Writer/Executive Producer
1996 Twister co-wrote screenplay

Notes

  1. State of Illinois, Michael Crichton’s Mark on the Science Fiction World. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  2. Michael Crichton, For Younger Readers. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  3. Michael Crichton Official Site, Biography. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  4. The Observer, King of the techno-thriller. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  5. Michael Crichton, Electronic Life (Knopf, 1983, ISBN 0-394-53406-9).
  6. Michael Crichton Official Homepage, Speeches. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  7. Michael Crichton Official Hompeage, Speeches. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  8. Jame Inhofe Home Page,Climate Update. Retrieved August 4, 2008.
  9. U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Hearing Statements September 2005. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  10. Jeffery M. Masters, Review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  11. Felicia Lee, Columnist Accuses Crichton of ‘Literary Hit-and-Run’. Retrieved August 5, 2008.
  12. Michael Crichton Official Homepage, What's New. Retrieved August 5, 2008.

References

  • Crichton, Michael. Electronic Life. Knopf, 1983. ISBN 0-394-53406-9.
  • Lee, Felicia. "Columnist Accuses Crichton of ‘Literary Hit-and-Run.’" The New York Times. December 14, 2006.
  • Trembley, Elizabeth A. Michael Crichton: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Press, 1996. ISBN 0313294143.

External links

All links retrieved July 4, 2013.

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