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Thank You, Michael Crichton

November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton is dead, lost to cancer. And the world just got stupider.

I’ve read most, if not all, of his novels, and liked them all. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan; in fact, if you’d asked me yesterday I would have said “sure, he’s okay.” But as I was putting this together in my head just now I found myself smiling as I thought about his work, and realized how much of an effect his books have had on me over the past 25 years or so since I first read The Terminal Man. And I just recently read Next, which rocked my DNA.

One thing I always liked about Crichton’s books was the science. Crichton wrote fast-paced action-packed thrillers, but his science was hard and he backed it up as best he could. Take, for instance, the opening to Timeline: It’s a layman’s explanation of quantum mechanics that opened my eyes to a whole new galaxy of physics theory. I’m the guy who can’t explain how a radio signal works, but I can now talk you through quantum teleportation.

I know, I know, you hated the Timeline movie. So did most people. I liked it enough, but it wasn’t great; the book, though, is one of the best time-travel novels ever written, and I suggest you read it if you haven’t.

What else did Michael Crichton bring us? Well, cloning, for one. He single-handedly re-ignited the dinosaur craze with Jurassic Park. Nanotech? Check out Prey. Viral outbreaks? The Andromeda Strain. Forgotten barbarian history? Eaters of the Dead. Even his more mainstream novels, like Airframe, Disclosure and Rising Sun, were smarter than their contemporaries.

A lot of them were made into movies. In fact, pretty close to all of them. That’s a remarkable achievement, as it means Crichton’s work reached people who don’t read (and there’s a lot of them out there). Not all of the films were great, but they’re all watchable. And Crichton’s scientific ideas, whether realistic or far-fetched, spread out into the mainstream, became part of us.

Michael Crichton leaves an amazing body of work. If you were to go read through his bibliography, you’d see more than just some good books. You’d see one man mapping the science, the changes and the fears of this amazing time we live in. We thought we were just being entertained, but we were learning, too. He has left a significant legacy.

If you’ve never read his books, now’s the time to start.

Thank you, Michael Crichton.

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