All the Crichton books depend to a certain extent on a little frisson of fear and suspense: that's what kept you turning the pages. But a deeper source of their appeal was the author's extravagant care in working out the clockwork mechanics of his experiments—the DNA replication in Jurassic Park, the time travel in Timeline, the submarine technology in Sphere. The novels have embedded in them little lectures or mini-seminars on, say, the Bernoulli principle, voice-recognition software or medieval jousting etiquette ... The best of the Crichton novels have about them a boys' adventure quality. They owe something to the Saturday-afternoon movie serials that Mr. Crichton watched as a boy and to the adventure novels of Arthur Conan Doyle (from whom Mr. Crichton borrowed the title The Lost World and whose example showed that a novel could never have too many dinosaurs). These books thrive on yarn spinning, but they also take immense delight in the inner workings of things (as opposed to people, women especially), and they make the world—or the made-up world, anyway—seem boundlessly interesting. Readers come away entertained and also with the belief, not entirely illusory, that they have actually learned something"— The New York Times on the works of Michael Crichton
John Michael Crichton was born on October 23, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, to John Henderson Crichton, a Journalist, and Zula Miller Crichton. He was raised on Long Island, in Roslyn, New York, and showed a keen interest in writing from a young age; at 14, he had a column related to travel published in The New York Times. Crichton had always planned on becoming a Writer and began his studies at Harvard College in 1960. During his undergraduate study in literature, he conducted an experiment to expose a professor who he believed was giving him abnormally low marks and criticizing his literary style. Informing another professor of his suspicions, Crichton submitted an essay by George Orwell under his own name. The paper was returned by his unwitting professor with a mark of "B−". His issues with the English department led Crichton to switch his undergraduate concentration; he obtained his bachelor's degree in biological anthropology summa cum laude in 1964 and was initiated into the Phi Beta Kappa Society. He received a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship from 1964 to 1965 and was a visiting lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom in 1965.
Odds On was Crichton's first published novel. It was published in 1966 under the pseudonym of John Lange. It is a 215-page paperback novel which describes an attempted robbery in an isolated hotel on Costa Brava. The robbery is planned scientifically with the help of a critical path analysis computer program, but unforeseen events get in the way.
In 1967, Crichton published Scratch One. The novel relates the story of Roger Carr, a handsome, charming and privileged man who practices law, more as a means to support his playboy lifestyle than a career. Carr is sent to Nice, France, where he has notable political connections, but is mistaken for an Assassin and finds his life in jeopardy, implicated in the world of terrorism.
In 1968, he published two novels, Easy Go and A Case of Need, the second of which was re-published in 1993, under his real name. Easy Go relates the story of Harold Barnaby, a brilliant Egyptologist, who discovers a concealed message while translating hieroglyphics, informing him of an unnamed pharaoh whose tomb is yet to be discovered. A Case of Need, on the other hand, was a medical thriller in which a Boston pathologist, Dr. John Berry, investigates an apparent illegal abortion conducted by an obstetrician friend, which caused the early demise of a young woman. The novel would prove a turning point in Crichton's Future novels, in which Technology is important in the subject matter, although this novel was as much about medical practice. The novel earned him an Edgar Award in 1969.
Most of Crichton's novels address issues emerging in scientific research fields. In quite a few of his novels (Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Next, Congo), genomics plays an important role. Usually, the drama revolves around the sudden eruption of a scientific crisis, revealing the disruptive impacts new forms of knowledge and Technology may have, as is stated in The Andromeda Strain, Crichton's first science novel: "This book recounts the five-day history of a major American scientific crisis" (1969, p. 3).
As an adolescent Crichton felt isolated because of his height (6 ft 9 in, or 206 cm). During the 1970s and 1980s, he consulted psychics and enlightenment gurus to make him feel more socially acceptable and to improve his karma. As a result of these experiences, Crichton practiced meditation throughout much of his life. He was a deist.
The first film based on one of his works was The Andromeda Strain (1971), based on his first professionally published novel of the same name, released in 1969. Crichton then wrote three episodes for the television series Insight in the early 1970s. He made his directing debut with Pursuit (1972), a TV movie based on his novel Binary.
In 1972, Crichton published two novels. The first, Binary, relates the story of a villainous middle-class businessman, who attempts to assassinate the President of the United States by stealing an army shipment of the two precursor chemicals that form a deadly nerve agent. The second, The Terminal Man, is about a psychomotor epileptic sufferer, Harry Benson, who in regularly suffering seizures followed by blackouts, conducts himself inappropriately during seizures, waking up hours later with no knowledge of what he has done. Believed to be psychotic, he is investigated; electrodes are implanted in his brain, continuing the preoccupation in Crichton's novels with machine-human interaction and Technology. The novel was adapted into a 1974 film directed by Mike Hodges and starring George Segal. However, neither the novel nor the film was well received by critics.
He wrote the screenplay for the films Extreme Close-Up (1973), Jurassic Park (1993), Rising Sun (1993), and Twister (1996), the latter co-written with Anne-Marie Martin, his wife at the time. While Jurassic Park and The Lost World were both based on Crichton's novels, Jurassic Park III was not (though scenes from the Jurassic Park novel were incorporated into the third film, such as the aviary).
Crichton was also the creator and executive Producer of the television drama ER. He had written what became the pilot script "24 Hours" in 1974. Twenty years later Steven Spielberg helped develop the show, serving as a Producer on season one and offering advice (he insisted on Julianna Margulies becoming a regular, for example). It was also through Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment that John Wells was contacted to be the show's executive Producer. In 1994, Crichton achieved the unique distinction of having a No. 1 movie, Jurassic Park, a No. 1 TV show, ER, and a No. 1 book, Disclosure.
In 1975, Crichton ventured into the nineteenth century with his historical novel The Great Train Robbery, which would become a bestseller. The novel is a recreation of the Great Gold Robbery of 1855, a massive gold heist, which takes place on a train traveling through Victorian era England. A considerable portion of the book was set in London. The novel was later made into a 1979 film directed by Crichton and starring Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. The film would go on to be nominated for Best Cinematography Award by the British Society of Cinematographers, also garnering an Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture by the Mystery Writers Association of America.
In 1976, Crichton published Eaters of the Dead, a novel about a 10th-century Muslim who travels with a group of Vikings to their settlement. Eaters of the Dead is narrated as a scientific commentary on an old manuscript and was inspired by two sources. The first three chapters retell Ahmad ibn Fadlan's personal account of his journey north and his experiences in encountering the Rus', the early Russian peoples, whilst the remainder is based upon the story of Beowulf, culminating in battles with the 'mist-monsters', or 'wendol', a relict group of Neanderthals. The novel was adapted into the 1999 film The 13th Warrior directed by John McTiernan, who was later removed with Crichton himself taking over direction of reshoots.
Other films written and directed by Crichton were The Great Train Robbery (1979), Looker (1981), Runaway (1984) and Physical Evidence (1989). The middle two films were science fiction, set in the very near Future at the time, and included particularly flashy styles of filmmaking, for their time.
In 1980, Crichton published the novel Congo, which centers on an expedition searching for diamonds in the tropical rain forest of Congo. The novel was adapted into the 1995 film directed by Frank Marshall and starring Laura Linney.
In 1983, Crichton wrote Electronic Life, a book that introduces BASIC programming to its readers. The book, written like a glossary, with entries such as "Afraid of Computers (everybody is)", "Buying a Computer", and "Computer Crime", was intended to introduce the idea of personal computers to a reader who might be faced with the hardship of using them at work or at home for the first time. It defined basic computer jargon and assured readers that they could master the machine when it inevitably arrived. In his words, being able to program a computer is liberation; "In my experience, you assert control over a computer—show it who's the boss—by making it do something unique. That means programming it....If you devote a couple of hours to programming a new machine, you'll feel better about it ever afterwards". In the book, Crichton predicts a number of events in the history of computer development, that computer networks would increase in importance as a matter of convenience, including the sharing of information and pictures that we see online today which the telephone never could. He also makes predictions for computer games, dismissing them as "the hula hoops of the '80s", and saying "already there are indications that the mania for twitch games may be fading." In a section of the book called "Microprocessors, or how I flunked biostatistics at Harvard", Crichton again seeks his revenge on the medical school Teacher who had given him abnormally low grades in college. Within the book, Crichton included many self-written demonstrative Applesoft (for Apple II) and BASICA (for IBM PC compatibles) programs.
Amazon is a graphical adventure game created by Crichton and produced by John Wells. Trillium released it in the United States in 1984, and the game runs on Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, and DOS. Amazon sold more than 100,000 copies, making it a significant commercial success at the time. It featured plot elements similar to those previously used in Congo.
In 1985, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Berkic v. Crichton, 761 F.2d 1289 (1985). Plaintiff Ted Berkic wrote a screenplay called Reincarnation Inc., which he claims Crichton plagiarized for the movie Coma. The court ruled in Crichton's favor, stating the works were not substantially similar. In the 1996 case, Williams v. Crichton, 84 F.3d 581 (2d Cir. 1996), Geoffrey Williams claimed that Jurassic Park violated his copyright covering his dinosaur-themed children's stories published in the late 1980s. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Crichton. In 1998, A United States District Court in Missouri heard the case of Kessler v. Crichton that actually went all the way to a jury trial, unlike the other cases. Plaintiff Stephen Kessler claimed the movie Twister was based on his work Catch the Wind. It took the jury about 45 minutes to reach a verdict in favor of Crichton. After the verdict, Crichton refused to shake Kessler's hand. At the National Press Club in 2006, Crichton summarized his intellectual property legal problems by stating, "I always win."
In 1988, he published Travels, which also contains autobiographical episodes covered in a similar fashion to his 1970 book Five Patients.
Crichton originally had conceived a screenplay about a graduate student who recreates a dinosaur, but decided to explore his fascination with dinosaurs and cloning until he began writing the novel. Steven Spielberg learned of the novel in October 1989 while he and Crichton were discussing a screenplay that would become the television series ER. Before the book was published, Crichton demanded a non-negotiable fee of $1.5 million as well as a substantial percentage of the gross. Warner Bros. and Tim Burton, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Richard Donner, and 20th Century Fox and Joe Dante bid for the rights, but Universal eventually acquired the rights in May 1990 for Spielberg. Universal paid Crichton a further $500,000 to adapt his own novel, which he had completed by the time Spielberg was filming Hook. Crichton noted that, because the book was "fairly long", his script only had about 10% to 20% of the novel's content. The film, directed by Spielberg, was released in 1993. The film became extremely successful.
In 1990, Crichton published the novel Jurassic Park. Crichton utilized the presentation of "fiction as fact", used in his previous novels, Eaters of the Dead and The Andromeda Strain. In addition, chaos theory and its philosophical implications are used to explain the collapse of an amusement park in a "biological preserve" on Isla Nublar, a fictional island to the west of Costa Rica. Paleontologist Alan Grant and his paleobotanist graduate student, Ellie Sattler, are brought by Billionaire John Hammond to investigate. The park is revealed to contain genetically recreated dinosaur species, including Dilophosaurus, Velociraptor, Triceratops, Stegosaurus, and Tyrannosaurus rex. They have been recreated using damaged dinosaur DNA, found in mosquitoes that had sucked their blood and then became trapped and preserved in amber.
In 1992, Crichton was ranked among People magazine's 50 most beautiful people.
A 1993 speech which predicted the decline of mainstream media delivered at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on April 7, 1993.
His next novel, Disclosure, published in 1994, addresses the theme of sexual harassment previously explored in his 1972 Binary. Unlike that novel however, Crichton centers on sexual politics in the workplace, emphasizing an array of paradoxes in traditional gender functions by featuring a male protagonist who is being sexually harassed by a female executive. As a result, the book has been criticized harshly by feminist commentators and accused of anti-feminism. Crichton, anticipating this response, offered a rebuttal at the close of the novel which states that a "role-reversal" story uncovers aspects of the subject that would not be seen as easily with a female protagonist. The novel was made into a film the same year, directed by Barry Levinson and starring Michael Douglas and Demi Moore.
Crichton then published The Lost World in 1995 as the sequel to Jurassic Park. It was made into the 1997 film two years later, again directed by Spielberg.
Then, in 1996, Crichton published Airframe, an aero-techno-thriller which relates the story of a quality assurance vice-president at the fictional aerospace manufacturer Norton Aircraft as she investigates an in-flight accident aboard a Norton-manufactured airliner that leaves three passengers dead and 56 injured. The book continues Crichton's overall theme of the failure of humans in human-machine interaction, given that the plane worked perfectly and the accident would not have occurred had the pilot reacted properly.
Crichton later enrolled at Harvard Medical School, when he began publishing work. By this time, he had become exceptionally tall; by his own account, he was approximately 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m) tall in 1997. In reference to his height, while in medical school, he began writing novels under the pen names "John Lange" and "Jeffrey Hudson" ("Lange" is a surname in Germany, meaning "long", and Sir Jeffrey Hudson was a famous 17th-century dwarf in the court of Queen consort Henrietta Maria of England).
Seven years later, Crichton published Sphere, a novel which relates the story of Psychologist Norman Johnson, who is required by the U.S. Navy to join a team of Scientists assembled by the U.S. Government to examine an enormous alien spacecraft discovered on the bed of the Pacific Ocean, and believed to have been there for over 300 years. The novel begins as a science fiction story, but rapidly changes into a psychological thriller, ultimately exploring the nature of the human imagination. The novel was adapted into the 1998 film directed by Barry Levinson and starring Dustin Hoffman.
In 1999, Crichton founded Timeline Computer Entertainment with David Smith. Despite signing a multi-title publishing deal with Eidos Interactive, only one game was ever published, Timeline. Released on November 10, 2000, for the PC, the game received negative reviews.
In 2002, Crichton published Prey, about developments in science and technology; specifically nanotechnology. The novel explores relatively recent phenomena engendered by the work of the scientific community, such as artificial life, emergence (and by extension, complexity), genetic algorithms, and agent-based computing.
"Aliens Cause Global Warming" January 17, 2003. In the spirit of his science fiction writing Crichton details research on nuclear winter and SETI Drake equations relative to global warming science.
In 2004, Crichton published State of Fear, a novel concerning eco-terrorists who attempt mass murder to support their views. Global warming serves as a central theme to the novel, although a review in Nature found it "likely to mislead the unwary". The novel had an initial print run of 1.5 million copies and reached the No. 1 bestseller position at Amazon.com and No. 2 on The New York Times Best Seller list for one week in January 2005.
In previous speeches, Crichton criticized environmental groups for failing to incorporate complexity theory. Here he explains in detail why complexity theory is essential to environmental management, using the history of Yellowstone Park as an Example of what not to do. The speech was delivered to the Washington Center for Complexity and Public Policy in Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2005.
In November 2006, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Crichton joked that he considered himself an expert in intellectual property law. He had been involved in several lawsuits with others claiming credit for his work.
Al Gore said on March 21, 2007, before a U.S. House committee: "The planet has a fever. If your baby has a fever, you go to the Doctor […] if your Doctor tells you you need to intervene here, you don't say 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that tells me it's not a problem'." This has been interpreted by several commentators as a reference to State of Fear.
According to Crichton's brother Douglas, Crichton was diagnosed with lymphoma in early 2008. In accordance with the private way in which Crichton lived, his cancer was not made public until his death. He was undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the time of his death, and Crichton's Physicians and relatives had been expecting him to recover. He died at age 66 on November 4, 2008.
On April 6, 2009, Crichton's publisher, HarperCollins, announced the posthumous publication of two of his novels. The first was Pirate Latitudes (published posthumously on November 26, 2009), found completed on his computer by his assistant after he died. This was the second of a two-novel deal that started with Next.
Crichton had an extensive collection of 20th-century American art, which Christie's auctioned in May 2010.
The other novel, titled Micro (published posthumously in 2011), is a techno-thriller that explores the outer edges of new science and Technology. The novel is based on Crichton's notes and files, and was roughly a third of the way finished when he died. HarperCollins publisher Jonathan Burnham and Crichton's agent Lynn Nesbit looked for a co-writer to finish the novel; ultimately, Richard Preston was chosen to complete the book.
On July 28, 2016, Crichton's website and HarperCollins announced the publication of a third novel, Dragon Teeth, which was written in 1974 and published in 2017. It is a historical novel set during the "Bone Wars".