A writer--visionary, vastly imaginative, prolific beyond belief--leaves behind his life's work, and it can fit in the palm of your hand: Who could've predicted such a thing? For one, the writer whose life's work you now hold in the palm of your hand. But then, Michael Crichton was always a step or two ahead of us all--perhaps because, at six foot nine, his strides were longer. He stood a head taller than I do, and I'll be the first to admit that I've been living contentedly in his shadow my whole life.
Crichton majored in anthropology at Harvard--I did too. He went on to medical school, wrote his first novel while there, and won an Edgar Award for it in the same year he graduated. I co-wrote The Rule of Four, and published it the year I took my M.D. Crichton wrote deeply human television shows about young,good looking medical residents--so I almost had no choice but to team up with one of his fellow producers on ER when I created my own.
My obsession began with Jurassic Park, which I devoured my freshman year of high school. I'd already wanted to be a doctor. For the first time, I wanted to be a writer too. The imaginative power it took to resurrect dinosaurs from ancient amber became a kind of call to action for me: I wanted to be just like this guy when I grew up. A doctor who created monsters, who saw the future, who was a polymath on the order of Holmes or Buckaroo Banzai--and who, miraculously, wasn't a fictional creation himself.
Crichton’s works amount to a veritable meme-map of the late-20th century. The Andromeda Strainspawned the outbreak thriller, and like its alien DNA, it gets replicated again and again--it’s the Sergeant Pepper’s of the genre. James Cameron no doubt took notes on the deep-sea monsters Crichton conjured in Sphere, while The Terminal Man is a prophetic exploration of the dangers of computer interference with the human brain. The Great Train Robbery is more than his paean to the most exhilarating technology of the 19th century--the Internet of its day--it's also his oh-so-contemporary indictment of it. Yes, the man revered science, but he sure didn't trust blindly in its benevolent and orderly advance.
When it came time to write my first solo novel, maybe it was inevitable I'd return to Crichton’s technophobic-opus, Jurassic Park. It was, after all, on the island of Isla Nublar that I’d first encountered “prions,” the alien-like proteins that cause mad cow disease. Crichton was fascinated by these agents that spread because of human interference in the natural order--he even used them to kill off some of the velociraptors he’d made into dino-celebrities. In my new novel, 12.21, the only hope for curing a deadly prion disease leads scientists into a jungle (Congo-esque, come to think of it) once inhabited by the ancient Maya.
Twenty years after I read Doctor Crichton’s work for the first time and he began inspiring the trajectory of my career, it’s an honor to introduce the first electronic publication of my very favorite selections from his corpus. If historical estimates are correct, the entire contents of the greatest library of antiquity--the Library of Alexandria--could now fit on a single Kindle. That's just the sort of technological miracle we all wish Michael Crichton were here to help us celebrate--by explaining how it could kill us all.