Michael Crichton Leaves an Enduring Legacy
Nov. 11, 2008 — Among all of the news about Obama's election victory, one piece of news may have been lost. Bestselling author Michael Crichton recently died of cancer. He was just 66 years old. He is credited with popularizing thrillers about technology, but, to me, he was a hero and an inspiration.
Ironically, just before his death, I was planning to contact his publicist to request an interview. If I had known what would happen, I would have contacted him sooner. I want to know what he thinks about the state of science today and about his particular life experiences.
His last novel, "NEXT," describes many failings of the science world that happen in real life. The conniving principal investigator -- Rob Bellarmino -- convinces a junior investigator to put his name as first author on a paper when the credit is undeserved. The postdoc that opens the story does his evil deeds because of his low salary. Postdocs indeed get paid painfully low salaries, and junior investigators rarely get the credit that they deserve.
What Crichton did best was to present scientific and ethical quandaries that we face right now in a way accessible to the lay public. He did that better than anyone else. He deserves credit for popularizing and perhaps inventing the techno-thriller genre.
"Prey" describes nanotechnology gone awry, "Andromeda Strain" a deadly virus, "Congo" apes that attack humans, and "Jurassic Park" needs no explanation. I have enjoyed his books immensely, but I do have some criticisms. One is that his books never present science in a positive light. If I had a chance to interview Crichton, I would have liked to ask if he could write some positive science thrillers. If he had lived longer, maybe he would have.
I also would have like to have seen some romance in his novels. But when you consider that he was married five times, you understand why he chose to include wry comments about alimony in his books, rather than heartfelt romantic relationships.
Crichton received a lot of criticism for "State of Fear" because he questioned assertions that mankind is causing global warming. However, I have not read that particular novel, so I cannot comment on it.
Criticisms aside, Crichton achieved what few of us can. He had an MD from Harvard Medical School. He ran a software company called FilmTrack, winning an Oscar for technical achievement for "Westworld," the first feature film to use computer-generated special effects. He created the popular and award-winning television series "ER."
As his website states, "He is the only person to have had, at the same time, the number one movie, the number one book and the number one TV show in the United States." He directed Sean Connery in the film adaptation of his novel, the "The Great Train Robbery," and directed several other films. I could go on. But the point is that few of us mortals can achieve what Crichton did.
- The use of atoms, molecules and molecular-scale structures to enhance existing technology and develop new materials and devices. The goal of this technology is to manipulate atomic and molecular particles to create devices that are thousands of times smaller and faster than those of the current microtechnologies.
- The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
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