Thursday, November 6, 2008

Michael Crichton, 1942-2008

Author Michael Crichton passed away on Tuesday, dying of cancer at the age of 66.

Best known for his science fiction novels such as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Congo, Crichton was also a film and television creator/writer/director, having given the world the blockbuster medical drama "ER" and having written and directed 1973's Westworld. And if his writing wasn't necessarily great art, Crichton's writing in the worlds of science fact and science fiction were immensely popular, with his books selling a mind-boggling 150 million copies around the world.

Crichton's biggest professional success might have been that he was not categorized as a science fiction writer, despite the fact that he wrote about robotic societies, dinosaurs brought back to life, and communication with intelligent gorillas. A traditional definition of science fiction is a story extrapolating the effects of some scientific advance. (There's a never-ending dispute, of course, between purists who stick to that definition and others who want to include under the science fiction banner everything from a space fantasy such as Star Wars to magical fantasies such as Harry Potter. We'll spare you that discussion.)

Crichton, despite escaping the definition of a science fiction writer, stuck pretty close to the traditional definition of SF, producing stories exploring how people reacted individually and en masse to scientific developments. He certainly wasn't correct all the time in his predictions, but his career suggested a serious attempt to meet head-on the challenges that come about from our scientific progress (and occasional scientific transgressions).

In a famous speech delivered to The Commonwealth Club on September 15, 2003, Crichton attacked climate-change theorists as adherents of a new religion. (Read the entire speech.) Delivered as a defense of sound science and a critique of emotion-fueled pseudo-science, his speech has long been a milestone in the debate between people worried about the effects of man-made climate change and people who questioned the assumptions behind the other group's claims.

Crichton is survived by his wife and other family members.


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