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Michael Crichton was a bestselling and often controversial writer, most commonly working in the science fiction genre. Known for his extremely technical writing style which openly favored scientific detail over character development and could be somewhat formulaic. His works often expressed a cynical view of corporate America and the scientific community. Many credited him with inventing the technothriller, although he himself acknowledged precursors such as Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle.
As a young man, Crichton wrote trashy spy novels under the name John Lange to pay for medical school. However, after a more serious effort written under a new alias, called A Case of Need—a murder mystery which featured an in-depth analysis of the issue of abortion—received widespread attention and won him an Edgar Award, Crichton decided to focus on writing rather than medicine.
His first novel under his own name was The Andromeda Strain, a very spare science fiction thriller about a team of scientists isolating and analyzing an extremely deadly single-celled organism of extra-terrestrial origin. It was a surprising runaway success, establishing Crichton very rapidly. He compounded his success with popular novels such as The Great Train Robbery, a somewhat fictionalized historical novel about The Great Robbery of 1885, and Congo, a modern take on old-fashioned African adventure stories, as well as the less popular The Terminal Man and The 13th Warrior. All of the aforementioned were snapped up by Hollywood, although Congo and Eaters of the Dead were not filmed until the 1990s. Nonetheless, by the end of the 1970s Crichton was a very wealthy man.
After a long hiatus during the eighties, during which Crichton traveled extensively and became interested in mystical concepts such as ESP, he returned to fiction writing with Sphere, which combined his trademark hardline science with more fanciful ideas about psychic powers. Many of Crichton's fans regard Sphere as his finest work.
In 1990 he released his most successful work, the novel Jurassic Park, about a theme park where dinosaurs are created using genetic engineering. Not only did it sell millions of copies worldwide and get adapted into a massively successful film by Steven Spielberg (in fact, the highest grossing ever made at the time), it sparked a renewed interest in Crichton, his older books getting reprinted and bought on a large scale, including A Case Of Need, the non-fiction Five Patients and the John Lange-era Binary. Film adaptations of Crichton's works also became suddenly commonplace, including adaptations of Congo and Sphere, although all but Jurassic Park were met with mostly negative reactions.
Crichton realized that Jurassic Park provided him with significant Protection From Editors, and took advantage of this to begin writing more controversial fare: Rising Sun, which analyzed US-Japanese relations; most specifically the statement that "Business is War". Those versed in economics point out that he broke several laws of the universe (including making the standard "export good, import bad" mistake) in order to set up the Japanese as the Big Bad poised to conquer the world, though this did not seem to detract from its popularity at the time. The point was rendered moot with the collapse of the Tiger economy, making Crichton seem rather paranoid in the process. He followed that up with Disclosure, which took a shot at feminists with a fictional portrayal of a sexually harassed man.
He returned to technothrillers for a while after that, calming his critics by writing The Lost World, his only sequel; Airframe, a book ostensibly about an incident on an airplane but more substantially about irresponsible journalism; Timeline, a foray into Time Travel which subverted Ye Goode Olde Days in a memorable fashion, and Prey, about runaway nanotechnology.
His Protection thus restored, he wrote the most controversial novel of his career, the Hollywood Global Warming-denial State of Fear, which severely divided his fanbase. The controversy over this novel continues to this day.
As this backlash annoyed his editors, he followed this up with Next, a relatively comedic look at genetic research, technology and copyright issues. Unfortunately his tendency to run off on author tracts remained, as he spent a full page talking about a Washington journalist named Mick Crowley who was on trial for raping a baby and "had a small penis". This character just happened to share the same name and profession as a journalist who had been critical of Crichton's previous book State of Fear, was entirely unimportant to the plot, and never appeared again.
Crichton was also a director and screenwriter, most famously of Westworld, about a futuristic fantasy resort populated by robots who eventually break down and turn on the guests. He also directed adaptations of Robin Cook's Coma and his own The Great Train Robbery. He co-wrote the movie Twister with his then-wife Anne-Marie Martin, and created and produced the hugely successful TV medical drama ER.
He also wrote non-fiction works such as Five Patients, Jasper Johns, Electronic Life, Travels, and many essays and articles published in magazines and on his website.
Michael Crichton died at the age of sixty-six after a long and protracted battle with cancer on November 4, 2008.
The first of two posthumous works, Pirate Latitudes, was published on November 24, 2009. It is set in seventeenth century Jamaica and follows the adventurers of Captain Edward Hunter, a Privateer in service to England's King Charles II, as he raids Spanish shipping.
Fun facts: He stood 6'9" (about 206 cm) tall.