Best known as a writer of science-fiction thrillers with compulsively page-turning plots, Michael Crichton (KRI-tuhn) also wrote nonfiction books on a variety of topics: Five Patients: The Hospital Explained (1970), an exposé of the inner workings of a big-city hospital; Electronic Life: How to Think About Computers (1983), an introduction to computer programming; Jasper Johns (1977), a biography-cum-portfolio of the artist; and Travels (1988), an autobiography-cum-travelogue. He also frequently contributed opinion pieces on scientific topics to newspapers and magazines.
Other than as a novelist, however, Crichton is best known as a screenwriter. He wrote the script for the popular science-fiction film Westworld (1973) as well as the script for the film adaptation of his novel The Great Train Robbery (1979); he also directed both of those motion pictures. He also, with the help of collaborators, worked on the screenplays for the adaptations of Jurassic Park (1993) and Rising Sun (1993). Along with his then wife, Anne-Marie Martin, he wrote the script of one of the most popular films of the 1990’s, Twister (1996). In addition to his work in films, Crichton created the hugely popular television series ER, drawing on his own experiences as a doctor. He served as an executive producer for the show, which premiered in 1994, and he wrote the first three episodes.
A doctor and research scientist, Michael Crichton began writing mystery novels under pseudonyms as a way to support himself while he was in medical school. His first novel under his own name, The Andromeda Strain, became an immediate best seller and was promptly made into a big-budget Hollywood film—a pattern that was to be followed by many of his subsequent novels. None of his principal works of long fiction ever failed to make the best-seller lists in the United States, and Crichton has enjoyed similar success in world markets. His immensely popular novel Jurassic Park, and its subsequent film version and sequels, brought to science fiction a fresh approach to one of its favorite tropes, that of modern humans encountering prehistoric species: the re-creation of extinct life-forms via reclaimed DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). The success of Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World, inspired a generation of science-fiction thriller writers to employ a similar “hard science” approach.
Crichton twice won the Edgar Award, the highest prize awarded by the Mystery Writers of America: first in 1968 for his abortion-themed novel A Case of Need, which he originally published under the name Jeffrey Hudson, and again in 1980 for the screenplay for The Great Train Robbery. The Association of American Medical Writers gave a best-book award to Five Patients in 1970. With other producers and writers, Crichton shared the George Foster Peabody Award for ER in 1995 and an Emmy for Best Drama Series the following year. In 1998, the American Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films presented him with its Life Career Award.
Jaynes, Gregory. “Pop Fiction’s Prime Provocateur.” Time 143, no. 2 (January 10, 1994): 52-54. A colorful profile of the author based on interviews.
Nurka, Camille. “Exposing Power in Michael Crichton’s Disclosure.” Continuum 16, no. 2 (2002). Analysis of the film based on Crichton’s novel, focusing on the representation of sexual harassment and issues of power between the sexes.
Terry, Valerie S., and Edward Schiappa. “Disclosing Antifeminism in Michael Crichton’s Postfeminist Disclosure.” Journal of Communication Inquiry 23, no. 1 (1999). Analyzes Disclosure as part of the antifeminist backlash of the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Trembley, Elizabeth. Michael Crichton: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Biography and critical analysis of all of Crichton’s novels through Disclosure.
Yoke, Carl B. “Michael Crichton: Overview.” In St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, edited by Jay P. Pederson. 4th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996. A thorough analysis of Crichton’s work.
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