Sunday, November 22, 2009

Writing from beyond the grave

Michael’s Crichton’s latest novel, Pirate Latitudes, is being released this week. Presumably it’s his last novel — since he died a year ago — and will bring his heirs royalties from at least one more Spielberg movie.

As Amazon helpfully explains:

Michael Crichton's novels include Next, State of Fear, Prey, Timeline, Jurassic Park, and The Andromeda Strain. He is also known as a filmmaker and the creator of ER. One of the most popular writers in the world, he has sold over 150 million books, which have been translated into thirty-six languages; thirteen have been made into films. He remains the only writer to have had the number one book, movie, and TV show at the same time.

Pirate Latitudes was discovered as a complete manuscript in his files after his death in 2008.
His first novel, Andromeda Strain, really influenced me and provided a glimpse into the genius of this doctor-novelist who kept producing hits for nearly four decades. Most of his books touched on ethical dilemmas faced by intelligent individuals in complex situations, a plot element usually simplified away by other sci-fi authors.

The quality of his work was not directly proportion to its popularity. I loved Timeline which was made into a long-forgotten (but charming) movie. Meanwhile Jurassic Park turned provocative speculation on cloning extinct species — and theme park business models — into a bombastic blockbuster.

Crichton’s non-scifi social commentaries were less successful. Rising Sun titillated audiences at a time when fear of Japanese economic domination was greatest. State of Fear and its critique of environmentalism as religion briefly made Crichton persona non grata among the PC set, but was eventually forgotten as ER continued promoting Hollywood sensibilities every Thursday night at 10pm.

Airframe gave a rapier critique of corrupting influence of oligopsony demand upon public safety, but without Jack Nicholson shouting “you can’t handle the truth,” any hope of reform died with its author.

So having recently finished Sphere, I’m looking forward to Pirate Latitudes, even if a 17th century English pirate doesn’t appease my need for a science fiction fix.

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