As the United States waited in line in what will be forever known as a historic presidential election, we also saw the passing of one of our great authors. Michael Crichton, best known for his work on Jurassic Park and as the creator of ER, passed away on November 4, 2008. (New York Times; CNN )
Crichton was one of my preferred authors in high school and into college. His books had depth and research to them that appealed to a young teenager who didn't really go for the whole "coming of age" books. Perhaps I was most impressed by his bibliographies--tucked in the back to remind us that these well crafted stories did not merely come out of his imaginings but also out of meticulous research.
My favorite of his works is Timeline, which offers the supposition that we might one day be able to create an ability to move through time and witness for ourselves great events of the past. That the chosen destination of his characters was the medieval time period might have had something to do with why I was half-frantic to grab a copy.
Crichton wrote fiction in an informational way well based in research and non-fiction tomes but with the liveliness and story that captivated readers. Here was not just information about how one could possibly find a way to recreate dinosaurs after finding mosquitoes in petrified tree sap0--here was the idea that we could do it, and thoughts on how it might turn out if we did. Crichton had an amazing imagination for what humans might be capable of creating and a strong sense of the pragmatic as he showed how it might very likely go wrong.
I had the pleasure of using Crichton's Timeline, paired alongside Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, for a honors student conference round table in Chicago in 2001. The argument I was presenting was that these were two authors we would teach our children and grandchildren. Some of Crichton's "outlandish" ideas we might bring forth as sparking research and awareness. Though Crichton may not have liked the idea, he might one day be required reading. And I can only think that those students will enjoy his stories better than I enjoyed some of the tomes I was required to read in the name of "good literature."
This weekend, in memory of Dr. Crichton, I think I might revisit Timeline. Thank you sir, for the stories.