In all the US election hubbub, the annoucement of the death of novelist Michael Crichton (Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Congo, and a host of others) today went largely unnoticed. Although he had apparently been in a long battle with cancer, his death yesterday at 66 was referred to by his family as "unexpected."
His prose never drew much attention, either positive or negative, to itself. But what an imagination! The guy practically invented "high concept." He could make a thriller out of anything that happened to intrigue him.
His blockbusters weren't my favorites of his works (though admittedly I haven't read everything he wrote). I think his two historicals, The Great Train Robbery and Eaters of the Dead, were the most fun. The former, of course, is based on real events, and the latter is an interesting speculation on the truth behind the Beowulf story. (Long after it was first published, Eaters of the Dead was made into a so-so film titled The 13th Warrior, but the movie failed to convey the interesting nuances of the novel.)
Michael Crichton wasn't one of my favorite novelists, but it's difficult to imagine a publishing world without him. He's been one of the monsters of the bestseller list since the Andromeda Strain back in 1969; I mean, we're talking pre-Stephen King here, folks. In publishing terms, he was an entire industry of his own.
But the real take-home lesson for writers is: Pick a slow-news day to die.
Crichton did better than Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis, though. Both of them died on November 22, 1963. The death on the same day of two literary figures of their stature would have been much remarked on--had they not chosen to die on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated.