Michael Crichton, 1942 – 2008

In 1969, this kid who wanted to be a writer walked into his local library and was browsing in the adult section when he happened upon a book on the New shelf. The cover intrigued him. He picked it up, read the inside flap, read the opening sentence – and was hooked. He checked the novel out, took it home, plopped down, and read it.

Well, not only did he like the book. It also changed the way he looked at writing. He loved the way the writer added to the atmosphere of the book by including an appendix and a list of references to an assortment of documents and scientific papers. And the story, about science gone wrong and a handful of people in a desperate struggle to find a solution, he found riveting.

And when he finished it, he closed the book and said, “Wow. THAT is the kind of book that I want to write!” Then he picked it back up and started to read it again.

By now you’ve no doubt guessed that the kid was me, the library was in Gillette, Wyoming, and the book was Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain – and that intriguing 1969 cover is what you see over there on the right.

Those two reads wouldn’t be the last time I read the book. I eventually bought a copy when it came out in paperback and continued to revisit it as the years went by. It was a book that influenced me as a writer more than any other novel I read, and it’s an influence that stayed with me.1 It was so influential to me that when my first novel was published, I described A Death of Honor as “Casablanca meets The Andromeda Strain.” And I always hoped that someday I might cross paths with Dr. C so I could shake his hand and thank him for what he did for me.

Unfortunately, I never got the chance. My career as a novelist ran aground, and now Michael Crichton has passed away at age 66, after a private battle with cancer. He will no doubt be eulogized by better sources than me, so I’m not going to try. I just wanted to put these words out there in belated thanks to someone whose work appeared to a boy with a narrow view of a genre and then expanded it in a way he hadn’t imagined – and was the standard he was chasing with every word he wrote.

  1. 1. Kurt Vonnegut was also an influence for a time – I loved the way all of his novels seemed to be interconnected as part of some grand mega-story. I ended up outgrowing him early in college (I hit my Vonnegut period early, during high school). A good thing, because it wasn’t long after that that he devolved into sad self-parody, allowing his writing schticks to take the place of his imagination.
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