Michael Crichton Essay - Crichton, Michael (Vol. 2)

Crichton, Michael (Vol. 2)

Crichton, Michael 1942–

An American novelist and physician, Crichton is the author of The Andromeda Strain and The Terminal Man. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 25-28.)

Michael Crichton's novel has almost nothing conventional going for it. Forgettable characters. No passions burning up mattresses or blowing psyches. No parents, little kids, or lovers stirring up pots of guilt or finding evil wearing a funny-face. Everyone knows exactly who he is; no "identity problems" here. Only five days' time. Rigid, unscenic setting. Tedious circumstances.

But no matter. "The Andromeda Strain" is a reading windfall—compelling, memorable, superbly executed. Everything hangs on plot, and the plot is inspired. Which means the book probably cannot last as "literature." But Crichton's narrative line is so strong, and his resources for sustaining it are so abundant, that "The Andromeda Strain" can't miss popular success…. [And] it achieves something important. It transmits intelligence. It expands our knowledge of the world we live in….

"The Andromeda Strain" raises questions as often as it raises the hair. Questions about elected-official versus appointed-expert control of nuclear weapons, questions about the evolution of higher intelligence toward smaller organisms in space, questions about the power of wisdom and imagination in contrast to the power of information—all rise from events within the novel.

The point is that the author continually presses his story for meanings. What he writes is knowledge fiction. His book is both a backward look to the 19th-century realistic novel (written to transmit social and industrial information) and a projection, I suspect, into the future, when the novel will organize and synthesize the findings of technology and science. As art, "The Andromeda Strain" lacks human heat. As craft, it's pure stainless steel.

Webster Schott, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1969 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 8, 1969, p. 5.

Five Patients, the actual histories of that number of cases observed by Dr. Crichton during seven months at the Massachusetts General Hospital, pulses with the drama of hospital life. The accounts are by turns exciting, inspiring and heartbreaking. More importantly, they capture faithfully the atmosphere of a large urban hospital….

Dramatic as the individual case reports are, they are no mere framework for slice-of-life popular reportage. Dr. Crichton uses them as starting points for an analysis of the medical training and health care obtainable at one of America's most famous hospitals. The observations are occasionally parochial but generally applicable to American academic medicine….

In this book the physician-writer takes us into a massive, faceless hospital and brings us out vastly better informed about—and better disposed toward—U.S. academic medicine.

Louis Lasagna, M.D., "A Doctor Views a Giant Hospital," in Life (courtesy Life Magazine; © 1970), June 19, 1970, p. 12D.

Michael Crichton operates from the very heart of an area called "verisimilitude." Comparisons with James Bond's adventures are inevitable; they remain, however, comparisons and not similarities. Dr. Crichton does not mention as many scientific advances as Ian Fleming does brand-names, and his priapic preoccupations are far, far less. Should Bond dynamite a tree, you just know it's going to fall precisely where he wants it; with a Crichton protagonist one is, happily, not quite so sure. Crichton's beat is in the interface between fact and invention, certainty and possibility, the established and the extrapolated. He shifts so expertly between these areas that a number of potential cavils become diluted, diffused—and defused….

Crichton's work, [in The Terminal Man] as in [The Andromeda Strain], is crammed glossy-full with expertise: in medicine, psychiatry, administration, police procedure and especially computer technology…. [But] Dr. Crichton's verisimilitude locks itself to technology, not especially to living…. One regrets that so careful a piece of work should thereby remove itself from art into the area of entertainment.

Theodore Sturgeon, "In Harry's Temporal Lobe, a Dreadful Storm," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), April 30, 1972, pp. 32-3.

The measure of good science fiction is whether its vision awakens some feeling of menace in the reader. Michael Crichton's knowledge of medicine and its technological gimcracks imparts a chilling verisimilitude to The Terminal Man. Although Crichton fails to weave this knowledge smoothly into the narrative, and although its characters are peculiarly flat, this new novel grips us with its gelid intelligence, inventiveness, and sheer terror.

Arthur Cooper, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1972 by Saturday Review; first appeared in Saturday Review, May 6, 1972; used with permission), May 6, 1972, p. 89.

The trouble with Harry Benson, in Michael Crichton's latest medical thriller ["The Terminal Man"], is that his brain has been damaged in an automobile accident and is subject to seizures that cause Harry to black out and get violent. What the presumptuous team of neurosurgeons at University Hospital in Los Angeles proposes to do about it is to implant a computer the size of a postage stamp and a tiny plutonium pack to power it beneath the skin of Harry's neck and shoulder, and to connect them to electrodes buried in his brain. What will happen then, the reasoning goes, is that whenever Harry's brain gets ready to seize, the computer will detect the signs and electronically jolt a pleasure zone, thereby aborting the attack….

Predictably enough, the system doesn't work, just as the good guys in the story feared it wouldn't…. [Harry] convulses and goes berserk with anger. People die. Harry must either be rewired or destroyed, depending of course on whether he can be caught, for by this time he has escaped from the hospital and is running around stabbing people with screwdrivers and smashing them with lead pipes….

The only trouble is that instead of adding up to a philosophical thriller with implications that resonate, "The Terminal Man" declines into the sort of monster-at-large-that-must-be-destroyed potboiler that Universal Studios used to churn out. For as soon as Harry "tips over," there's nothing much to do except follow the bouncing psychopath. As for why the clever team of scientists can't follow his bounces more astutely—especially after he practically broadcasts what he intends to do as his mad valedictory—I don't know, but I suspect that the failure has more to do with bad plotting than with bad technology.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, in The New York Times (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 9, 1972.