Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Farewell, Michael Crichton

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.

8 comments:

Jamie Ford said...

It's sad when an icon of the industry passes.

With Doubleday reeling from Dan Brown not delivering a book any time soon, it's easy to see how publishing houses rely on these heavy hitters to prop up an entire season. Their books are the tent pole beneath which a ton of other authors are able to subsist.

Commodity Trading Account said...

Great writer!!!thanks for all and RIP

Polly said...

Another point of view: Michael Crichton dies

Jen Ster said...

I'd completely agree with the clunky dialogue in Crichton's novels, but the amazing plots more than make up for it. Which just goes to show something or other. One of the years I got conned into watching the Academy Awards, the guy who won Best Director (and who remembers; I couldn't even tell you what year this was) told young filmmakers to "go out there and find some great stories." "Big Steve" King also commented that he'd never yet seen a master's thesis titled "The Use of Plot In Stephen King's Fiction," and if anybody brought him one he'd eat it. Plot is not everything, but you just don't have nothin' without it. Are you listening, P.D. James?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jamie--

True enough--though I think it was a healthier publishing world before what Macwell Perkins bemoaned as 'the mad pursuit of the bestseller.'

That was back in the 1930s some time. I don't think he knew it was going to get even more extreme.

David Isaak said...

Hi, CTA! Nice handle!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Polly--

Very nice bio.

Nice avatar, too.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jen--

What I admire most about Crichton was how he could coax a storyline out of just about any idea that interested him.

There's lots of things I think are interesting, but I can't figure out how to morph them into stories.