Famous Like Me > Writer > C > Michael Crichton
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Profile of Michael Crichton
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|Date of Birth:
||23rd October 1942
|Place of Birth:
||Chicago, Illinois, USA
Dr. John Michael Crichton (born October 23, 1942, pronounced [ˈkraɪtən])) is an author, film producer and television producer. His best-known works are science fiction novels, films and television programs. His genre can be best described as techno-thriller which is usually the marriage of action and technical details. Many of his novels have medical or scientific underpinnings, reflecting his medical training and science background.
Michael Crichton was born to John Henderson Crichton and Zula Miller Crichton and raised in Roslyn, Long Island, USA. He attended Harvard University, where he graduated summa cum laude in anthropology. He went on to teach anthropology at Cambridge in England, later returning to Massachusetts to gain an M.D. degree from Harvard Medical School.
Crichton has admitted to once plagiarizing a work by George Orwell and submitting it as his own. The paper was received by his professor with a mark of "B-". Crichton admitted to plagiarizing when he was on the stand in the course of a lawsuit trying to defend the authenticity of Twister, a movie which one individual claimed was based on their story entitled "Catch the Wind". Crichton has stated 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.
While in medical school, he wrote novels under the pen names John Lange and Jeffrey Hudson (under which pseudonym A Case of Need won the 1969 Edgar Award). He also co-authored Dealing with his younger brother Douglas Crichton under a 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 206 cm (6'9") tall in 1997 . "Lange" (adverb) means "for a long time" in German and Sir Jeffrey Hudson was a famous seventeenth century dwarf in Queen Henrietta Maria's court.
Crichton has two sisters, Kimberly and Catherine, and a brother, Douglas. He is married to Sherri Alexander and has a daughter, Taylor, with ex-wife Anne-Marie Martin.
His best known novels include The Andromeda Strain (1969), which deals with a mysterious extraterrestrial virus-like pathogen, and Jurassic Park (1990), which postulates a world in which cloning can bring the dinosaurs back to life.
Other notable novels include Prey (2002), in which a swarm of nano-robots run out of control; Congo, about the search for semiconductor-grade industrial diamonds and a new breed of gorillas; Timeline, which deals with space-time travel and the 14th century; and State of Fear (2004), which deals with eco-terrorism.
One prominent theme of his work is that of irresponsible or misguided scientific achievement. Scientists or technicians who discover a marvellous but dangerous thing are not always to blame. It is the system that lets one acquire power that causes problems.
His works of fiction are:
- 1966 Odds On – written as John Lange
- 1967 Scratch One – written as John Lange
- 1968 Easy Go – written as John Lange
- 1968 A Case of Need – written as Jeffery Hudson
- 1969 Venom Business – written as John Lange
- 1969 Zero Cool – written as John Lange
- 1969 The Andromeda Strain
- 1970 Grave Descend – written as John Lange
- 1970 Drug of Choice – written as John Lange
- 1970 Dealing: or the Berkeley-to-Boston Forty-Brick Lost Bag Blues – written with his brother Douglass Crichton as Michael Douglas
- 1972 Binary – written as John Lange
- 1972 The Terminal Man
- 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
Crichton has been introducing breakthroughs in science and technologies with his books. Many of the ideas he used were novel to the average person, despite having quite a solid scientific base.
Before Jurassic Park, Robert T. Bakker's theory of "warm-blooded" and athlete-type dinosaurs was unimaginable to ordinary people, who were accustomed to seeing stop motion clay dinosaurs crawling sluggishly over the volcanic prehistorical terrains. However, Crichton's version of highly intelligent man-eating dinosaurs was also criticized by scientists:
- The scientific scheme is not completely outrageous; unless one looks too closely, ... Although they are dinosaurs ..., they could have been any death-dealing automata ... substitute hostile extraterrestrials, lunatic Nazis, or predatory androids and it would have been the same film with a different title -- Aliens, Raiders of the Lost Ark or Terminator 2: Judgment Day. (Henry Gee, "Jaws with Claws," Nature 363:681, 1993.)
From time to time, Crichton has recycled a well-known story's structure for his own story. For example: The Andromeda Strain was influenced by H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds. However, rather than reusing the early twentieth century plot devices, Crichton introduced the idea of an imaginary microscopic pathogen's evolution of virulence with his own story.
Most of his stories tend to be somewhat open-ended, including Jurassic Park, Sphere and Prey.
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 pseudonym whodunit stories, Crichton used first-person narrative to portray the hero, a Bostonian pathologist, who is running against the clock to clear a good friend's name from medical malpractice in a girl's death from a hack job abortion. That book was written in 1968, long before Roe v. Wade of 1973, the landmark case that partially legalized abortion in the U.S. 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. For example, Eaters of the Dead is a fabricated recreation of the Old English epic Beowulf in the form of a scholastic 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.
In The Terminal Man, Crichton created a dialog between two computer programs, good-natured Saint George and evil-minded Martha, variations on ELIZA. In the end, the Charlie Brown-like Saint George shouts "GO TO HELL I WILL KILL YOU:::::::::::::: ..." at the provocative Martha, foreshadowing a killing spree conducted by the ill-fated hero, a nice person implanted with an experimental computerized device to control his epilepsy.
Sphere contains a similar dialog, in which a panicked scientist in an underwater lab tries to talk the omnipotent but innocent "extraterrestrial life" out of manifesting beautiful aquatic creatures that are harmful to human beings.
A common criticism of Crichton's novels is that they are generally based on the conceit of a "false revolution" -- while the novels describe potentially world-changing concepts such as alien plagues, cloned dinosaurs, and time travel, the books always end with the threat destroyed or the scientific breakthrough lost. In other words, the events described in the novels might as well never have happened in the context of their fictional universes. This allows Crichton to avoid having to describe how, for example, time travel or cloning of extinct animals would change society.
Apart from fiction, Crichton has written several other books based on scientific themes, amongst which is Travels, which also contains autobiographical episodes.
As a personal friend to the "Neo-Dadaist" artist Jasper Johns, Crichton compiled many of his works in a coffee table tome 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. (p. 44)
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 the project seemed to be cancelled.
His non-fiction works are:
- 1970 Five Patients
- 1977 Jasper Johns
- 1983 Electronic Life
- 1988 Travels
Movies and television
Crichton has directed several motion pictures:
- 1972 Pursuit (a TV movie)
- 1973 Westworld
- 1978 Coma
- 1979 The Great Train Robbery
- 1981 Looker
- 1984 Runaway
- 1989 Physical Evidence
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.
Many of his novels have been filmed by others:
- 1971 The Andromeda Strain
- 1972 Dealing
- 1972 The Carey Treatment (A Case of Need)
- 1972 The Terminal Man
- 1979 The Great Train Robbery
- 1993 Rising Sun
- 1993 Jurassic Park
- 1994 Disclosure
- 1995 Congo
- 1997 The Lost World: Jurassic Park
- 1998 Sphere
- 1999 The 13th Warrior (Eaters of the Dead)
- 2003 Timeline
- 200? Prey
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 of 1994, he achieved the unique distinction of having the #1 movie (Disclosure), the #1 TV show (ER), and the #1 book (Disclosure, atop the paperback list).
- Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allen Poe Award, 1969 (A Case of Need) – as Jeffrey Hudson
- Association of American Medical Writers Award, 1970 (Five Patients)
- Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allen Poe Award, 1980 (The Great Train Robbery)
"Aliens Cause Global Warming"
In 2003 he gave a controversial lecture at Caltech entitled "Aliens Cause Global Warming" in which he expressed his views of the dangers of consensus science and junk science—especially with regard to 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 of ETs and UFOs, citing the fact that there is no conclusive proof of their existence. Crichton has commented that belief without a factual basis is more akin to faith. Faith alone is not a proper foundation for scientific belief.
Environmentalism as a religion
In a related and equally controversial speech given to the Commonwealth Club, called "Environmentalism as a religion" , Crichton describes what he sees as similarities between the structure of various religious views (particularly Judeo-Christian dogma) and the beliefs of many modern urban atheists who he asserts have romantic ideas about Nature and our past, who he thinks believe in the initial "paradise", the human "sins", and the "judgement day". He also articulates his belief that it is the tendency of modern environmentalists to cling stubbornly to elements of their faith in spite of scientific evidence to the contrary. Crichton cites what he contends are misconceptions about DDT, second-hand smoke and global warming as examples.
Widespread speculation in the media
In a speech entitled "Why Speculate?" , delivered in 2002 to the International Leadership Forum, Crichton took the media to task 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 used the Latin expression "falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus", which he translated as "untruthful in one part, untruthful in all", to describe what he thought a more appropriate reaction should be. The speech also made several references to Crichton's by-now-familiar skepticism of environmentalists' assertions about the possible future ramifications of human activity on Earth's environment.
Many of Crichton's publically-expressed views, particularly on subjects like the global warming controversy, have caused heated debate. As pointed out in Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters' review of the book "[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 in increase in mass over the next 100 years due to increased precipitation, according to the IPCC (although recent findings by NASA call this result into question). Additionally, Crichton correctly points out that there has been no rise in hurricane activity in the Atlantic over the past few decades (a point unchanged by the record four hurricanes that struck Florida in 2004)."
- Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters - Chief Meteorologist, The Weather Underground
- Iain Murray - senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute
In September 2005 Crichton testified at a Congressional hearing on climate change, having been called by Senator James Inhofe.
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