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(John) Michael Crichton Biography

Pseudonyms: John Lange; Jeffery Hudson; Michael Douglas. Nationality: American. Born: 23 October 1942. Education: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, A.B.(summa cum laude) 1964 (Phi Beta Kappa): Harvard Medical School, M.D. 1969: Salk Institute, La Jolla, California (postdoctoral fellow), 1969-70. Career: Visiting writer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, 1988. Awards: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award, 1968, for A Case of Need, and 1980, for The Great Train Robbery; Association of American Medical Writers award, 1970, for Five Patients: The Hospital Explained ; George Foster Peabody Award, for ER, 1995; Emmy Award, best dramatic series, for ER, 1996; Life Career Award, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films, 1998. Agent: International Creative Management, 40 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

A Case of Need (as Jeffery Hudson). Cleveland, World, and London, Heinemann, 1968.

The Andromeda Strain. New York, Knopf, and London, Cape, 1969.

Dealing; or, the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost-Bag Blues (asMichael Douglas), with Douglas Crichton. New York, Knopf, 1971.

The Terminal Man. New York, Knopf, and London, Cape, 1972.

Westworld. New York, Bantam, 1974.

The Great Train Robbery. New York, Knopf, and London, Cape, 1975.

Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922. New York, Knopf, and London, Cape, 1976.

Congo. New York, Knopf, 1980; London, Allen Lane, 1981.

Sphere. New York, Knopf, and London, Macmillan, 1987.

Jurassic Park. New York, Knopf, 1990; London, Century, 1991.

Rising Sun. New York, Knopf, and London, Century, 1992.

Disclosure. New York, Knopf, 1994.

The Lost World: A Novel. New York, Knopf, 1995.

Airframe. New York, Knopf, 1996.

Timeline. New York, Knopf, 1999.

Novels as John Lange

Odds On. New York, New American Library, 1966.

Scratch One. New York, New American Library, 1967.

Easy Go. New York, New American Library, 1968; London, Sphere, 1972; as The Last Tomb (as Michael Crichton), New York, Bantam, 1974.

The Venom Business. Cleveland, World, 1969.

Zero Cool. New York, New American Library, 1969; London, Sphere, 1972.

Drug of Choice. New York, New American Library, 1970; asOverkill, New York, Centesis, 1970.

Grave Descend. New York, New American Library, 1970.

Binary. New York, Knopf, and London, Heinemann, 1972.

Plays

Screenplays:

Westworld, 1973; Coma, 1977; The Great Train Robbery, 1978; Looker, 1981; Runaway, 1984; Jurassic Park, with John Koepp, 1993; Rising Sun, with Philip Kaufman and Michael Backes, 1993; Twister, with Anne-Marie Martin, 1996

Other

Five Patients: The Hospital Explained. New York, Knopf, 1970;London, Cape, 1971.

Jasper Johns. New York, Abrams, and London, Thames and Hudson, 1977.

Electronic Life: How to Think about Computers. New York, Knopf, and London, Heinemann, 1983.

Travels. New York, Knopf, and London, Macmillan, 1988.

Twister: The Original Screenplay. New York, Ballantine Books, 1996.

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Film Adaptations:

The Andromeda Strain, 1971; The Carey Treatment, 1973, from the work A Case of Need; Westworld, 1973; The Terminal Man, 1974; The Great Train Robbery, 1978; Jurassic Park, 1993; Rising Sun, 1993; Disclosure, 1994; Congo, 1995; The Lost World, 1997; Sphere, 1998; The 13th Warrior, from the work Eaters of the Dead, 1999; Jurassic Park 3, from the works Jurassic Park and The Lost World.

Critical Studies:

Michael Crichton: A Critical Companion by Elizabeth A. Trembley. Westport, Connectitcut: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Theatrical Activities:

Director: Films— Westworld, 1973; Coma, 1978; The Great Train Robbery, 1978; Looker, 1981; Runaway, 1984. Television— Pursuit, 1972; ER (executive producer), 1994.

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Michael Crichton has an unerring instinct for the hot topic of the moment. His best-selling novels—most of them subsequently transformed into hit movies—tend to deal with the cutting edge of modern technology, the latest discoveries, the most exciting and terrifying innovations. Yet at their heart lies a far older theme evoked so memorably by Robert Louis Stevenson in his Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: the idea of the scientific discovery intended for the benefit of mankind that suddenly runs out of control to become a lethal threat. Whether the mutant plague virus of The Andromeda Strain, the homicidal android gunfighter of Westworld, or the dinosaurs recreated from prehistoric DNA who break out of Jurassic Park to spread death and devastation, all are testimony to the human pride that goes before a fall, the fumbling fingers that have released the imp from the bottle. This theme is at the core of his early works of the 1970s, a decade where disaster novels—and films—were the fashion. It's a point made to score more heavily by Crichton's skill in placing the latest technology within uneasy reach of mankind's basic instincts and the darker secrets of the mind. The pleasure electrodes of The Terminal Man, implanted in the brain of a potentially violent patient in order to render him manageable, end by driving him to greater violence as he becomes addicted to pleasurable sensations he can obtain only by assault and murder.

In The Terminal Man as elsewhere in his fiction, Crichton reminds us of the fragility of civilizing influences, our nobler impulses forever under threat from the atavistic animal brain beneath. "That cortex, which could feel love, and worry about ethical conduct, and write poetry, had to make an uneasy peace with the crocodile brain at its core. Sometimes, as in the case of Benson, the peace broke down, and the crocodile brain took over intermittently." The hightech security of the dinosaur wonderland in Jurassic Park is undone by old-fashioned human greed and an electric storm that between them let the dinosaurs loose on an unprepared bunch of humans. In Congo, the state-of-the art computers used by the scientists of ERTS to pinpoint the lost African city with its rare industrial diamonds are thwarted by a group of hybrid killer apes trained centuries ago by long-dead "primitive" masters. Again and again technology breaks down or finds itself helpless in the face of man's worst instincts, or the world's wild places.

One factor often overlooked in Crichton's career is his erudition. His background reading takes in a mass of scientific literature and business reports and extends to Norse legends and Arab traveler's tales. Most of his novels contain substantial end-bibliographies and a text peppered with footnotes and references to the relevant scientific report, e.g. animal training and behavior in Congo and "mind control" in The Terminal Man. The latter novel also contains diagrams of brain sections and what appear to be Xeroxed police reports. This formidable amount of confirmatory material adds weight to whatever imaginative leap is being made by the writer, whether killer apes or recreated dinosaurs on the rampage. The extent of Crichton's reading is shown in what might be regarded as his two "historical" novels, The Great Train Robbery and Eaters of the Dead (later revamped as The Thirteenth Warrior). These have fairly un-Crichton-like themes in that neither deals with a current topic, but both reveal their author's impressive knowledge of his subject. In The Great Train Robbery Crichton displays a remarkably thorough awareness of Victorian England and its criminal underworld, commenting with apparent objectivity on the ruthless behavior of the robbers and their eventual escape from justice with a fortune in gold. This dispassionate narrative overview is found in his other novels, where his characters suffer or prosper in a life-like random fashion, rather than in accordance with their previous actions. Eaters of the Dead/The Thirteenth Warrior is presented in the form of a genuine travel narrative recounted in the first person by real-life Arab emissary Ibn Fadlan. Using an understated style and the familiar corroborative footnotes, Crichton manages to work in his own version of the Beowulf legend and to suggest that some of the monsters the hero encountered may have been examples of Neanderthal Man.

Significant also is Crichton's mastery of technical jargon, which is heavily used both in dialogue and narrative. Evident in his earliest work, if anything this has increased to the extent that the reader may well feel he or she is being beaten over the head with techno-speak. The computerized location-finders of Congo, the minutiae of CDRom production in Disclosure, and the jargon of aircraft manufacture in Airframe are three examples of many. Sometimes Crichton goes too far in this direction—parts of The Great Train Robbery are virtually unintelligible through over-use of criminal slang—but while often baffling to the untrained reader there is no doubt that, like the constant footnotes, the jargon adds to verisimilitude. The author has a sure grasp of his subject, and narrative and speech have a convincing sound.

Recent Crichton novels have tended to forsake the wilder undiscovered regions of the world to bring the action closer to home. Granted in The Lost World the author returns to the island jungle of Jurassic Park to find more dinosaurs lurking in the foliage (this time infected by a B.S.E.-type disease from their sheep-offal feed) in a successful sequel to the original blockbuster, but more often the "jungle" is found in the workplace, the boardroom, or the factory floor. In Rising Sun competition over modern technology between Japanese and American corporations runs to outright murder, confirming the Oriental claim that "business is war." Elsewhere the action stops short of killing, concerning itself with the threat of job loss or the stigma of business failure. The ruthless, predatory female executive who threatens to destroy Tom Sanders with a phoney sexual harassment claim in Disclosure (power, Crichton is careful to point out, is neither male nor female) may be seen as a modern variant on the flesh-eating velociraptors of Jurassic Park. The author avoids any obvious "male-female" confrontation by balancing the scary Meredith with defense lawyer Louise Hernandez and other sympathetic female characters. In Airframe, where a plane-making firm is wrongly accused of bad design following an in-flight "incident," he has a female lead in executive Casey Singleton. Writing credible dialogue and constructing realistic backgrounds to his action, Crichton casts interesting light on the various shenanigans made use of by business organizations and the mass media to twist the facts to their own advantage. Reading his novels for this aspect alone can be a most informative experience! Accused of sexism by some readers of Disclosure, and (perhaps more justly) of chauvinism in Rising Sun, Crichton has also been criticized for writing books that are like embryo movie scripts, with a future film in mind. Given that Crichton is himself a film director and the creator of the successful TV series ER, he could scarcely be blamed if this was the case. In fact, there has been no obvious change in his style since the early 1970s, before his works made it to the screen. Brilliant descriptions and profound character studies are not his territory; Crichton doesn't need them. Rather, he writes to his strengths, hooking the reader immediately and carrying him or her along, pacing the action with great skill and constantly building tension to delay resolution to the last few pages. None too sure what's about to happen next and anxious to find out, the reader keeps turning those pages. The fact that his works translate so well to the cinema screen merely serves as a further tribute to the power of the novels and the ability of the man who has written them.

—Geoff Sadler

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