Murukesh Mohanan

Michael Crichton - A Great Author

  1. Literature

Jurassic Park and The Lost World are movies that almost everyone I know have seen. These movies prompted me to read the novels, and, out of curiosity and knowing that novels always contain more detail than movies, I did read them, laying my hands on a second hand copy of Jurassic Park, and later on The Lost World. Thus did I start reading books by Crichton, on of my favourite authors. It did shock (and dishearten) me to learn that he died on November 4, 2008, due to cancer (I learned it only a week after, when I checked the Wiki article on him).

[John Michael Crichton, M. D.][crichton] (October 23, 1942 – November 4, 2008) was a prolific American author, producer, director, and physician. His first book, Odds On, was released under the nom-de-plume John Lange. He followed it up with brilliant novels like The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, State of Fear, and Timeline. The Andromeda Strain was the first novel published under his own name. His last novel till date (there’s one waiting to be published) was Next, which was about dangers of genetic engineering.

Most of his novels followed a cautionary pattern and are techno-thrillers, like Jurassic Park, which dealt with cloning and control of living beings, or State of Fear, about problems created by violent pro-environment groups. State of Fear had an especially strong effect on me, so that I nearly stopped trusting mass media. Indeed, a friend was recently commending Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, when I responded that I’d watched it already, but it failed to convert me because of my suspicions.

“I want to state emphatically that nothing in my remarks should be taken to imply that we can ignore our environment, or that we should not take climate change seriously. On the contrary, we must dramatically improve our record on environmental management. That is why a focused effort on climate science, aimed at securing sound, independently verified answers to policy questions, is so important now.”

  • Testimony before the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (28 September 2005)

“Environmentalism needs to be absolutely based in objective and verifiable science, it needs to be rational, and it needs to be flexible. And it needs to be apolitical. To mix environmental concerns with the frantic fantasies that people have about one political party or another is to miss the cold truth — that there is very little difference between the parties, except a difference in pandering rhetoric.”

  • in Environmentalism as a Religion (2003)

For me, his best novel is Sphere, in which a group of scientists encounter an alien object within an American spaceship from the future. It grants the power to make what they think happen to those who enter the sphere. Indeed, the thoughts need not be conscious, but can also be subconscious. This made an interesting and gripping tale, which left me wondering about the consequences if I had entered the Sphere. I certainly recommend this book to my readers.

Now that another great science fiction author has passed on, I think that Fantasy’s time has come. Through the 1950’s to the 1980’s, science fiction was highly popular, and enjoyed a number of brilliant authors like Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and so on. Books in the Fantasy genre have become hugely popular now, what with Harry Potter and the Inheritance series, and the Wheels of Time. Its getting really difficult to get books by Asimov or Clarke, while I can’t remember when I last saw one by Heinlein. Now with Crichton gone, will his books vanish from the book stores of India? I hope not.

I want to mention in passing that punditry has undergone a subtle change over the years. In the old days, commentators such as Eric Sevareid spent most of their time putting events in a context, giving a point of view about what had already happened. Telling what they thought was important or irrelevant in the events that had already taken place. This is of course a legitimate function of expertise in every area of human knowledge.

But over the years the punditic thrust has shifted away from discussing what has happened, to discussing what may happen. And here the pundits have no benefit of expertise at all. Worse, they may, like the Sunday politicians, attempt to advance one or another agenda by predicting its imminent arrival or demise. This is politicking, not predicting.

  • “Why Speculate?” - speech at the International Leadership Forum, La Jolla, California (26 April 2002).

“We are all assumed, these days, to reside at one extreme of the opinion spectrum, or another. We are pro-abortion or anti-abortion. We are free traders or protectionist. We are pro-private sector or pro-big government. We are feminists or chauvinists. But in the real world, few of us holds these extreme views. There is instead a spectrum of opinion.”