Earlier this week, one of my favorite authors lost his battle with cancer. While I was elated by the election results on Tuesday, I was saddened that I’ll never again know the joy of picking up Michael Crichton’s latest novel. A few months ago, in this post, I wrote about the summer I spent reading nothing but Michael Crichton novels and how I credit his books for fostering my love of the techno-thriller. However, while reading through all of the articles and announcements about his passing, I realized what an important role Crichton, and his novels, have played in my life (that sounded a lot more stalker-y and wingnut-y than I intended…but just bear with me).
When I read a book or watch a movie, there are two things I love (nay, demand!) to see. One thing is people obsessively doing their job. The other is a team of diverse folks, all experts in their field, being called together to solve a problem (preferably obsessively). Both of those stem from Crichton’s novels. Hell, he didn’t even stick with people: Amy in Congo is a gorilla who happens to be an expert in sign language. Take that, Koko! Not surprisingly, these are also the things I like to write about. If all of the planets align and the devils of the Outer Darkness don’t devour our plane of existence, then maybe at some point in the distant future, when people sit around talking about my books, one of the things they will talk about is my use of the “Experts-in-their-field-assembling-to-obsessively-do-their-job” theme. It’s a good theme. It works. It can work in a lot of different genres, too. Thrillers, sure. Action-adventure stories, duh. But, did you know it can work in sci-fi? And, if you’re feeling particularly sassy, you can make it work in fantasy, too. Regardless, I owe it all to Crichton.
But, ignoring the ways in which they eventually inspired me as a writer, Crichton’s novels have had a far deeper impact.
I first read Jurassic Park in the winter of 1992. The following summer, the one after my junior year of high school, I read almost everything else Crichton had written. About a year ago, I went back and re-read all of those old novels–Sphere, Congo, The Andromeda Strain, Eaters of the Dead–and, you know what? I’ll be damned if they didn’t bring back all sorts of memories. Memories like helping my mom go food shopping in the summer–the Pathmark where I bought Crichton’s novels was located in the same shopping center as the supermarket. Or sitting in our backyard on a Saturday afternoon reading in the shade. Or the week every July that me, my parents, and my older sister would spend in Lake George (I have very clear memories of reading The Andromeda Strain on the beach). So, Crichton’s books are always going to remind me of that particular summer, and what it was like being a kid.
Rest in Peace, Michael Crichton.