Thursday, November 06, 2008

Michael Crichton, Time Travel, and Related Thoughts

I was saddened yesterday to learn of the death of one of my favorite authors - Michael Crichton. For those of you not familiar with his work, he was the author of such science fiction thrillers as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Next, and my personal favorite, Timeline.

There were few authors who could combine his ability to blend the cautionary "what if?" to a rip-roaring good story. While he took his share of lumps for some of his scientific views (he didn't believe in global warming, for instance, and worked it into his novel State of Fear), he was not afraid to stand up and assert his position.

Timeline was a great story that made the idea of time travel believable. I thought it was a better and more exciting story than H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, perhaps because it dealt with travel into a past we "know" from history, rather than a future open to conjecture. It also ranked up there with the classic science fiction tale Danger: Dinosaurs! by Richard Marsten, which I read and enjoyed when I was in high school (when books were printed in limited editions on cunieform tablets, ifyaknowwhatimean). Danger: Dinosaurs! was the first time travel story I remember reading that dealt with the paradox of what happens to the present if we change the past. I remember a short story which ran, I think, in the old Omni Magazine, about hunters who contract with a time travel service to return to the distant past to hunt a Tyrannosaurus Rex...one of the hunters strays off the designated path, accidentally steps on a butterfly, and returns to a future changed beyond all recognition. Another short story, written as a dark comedy, dealt with the ultimate in trash disposal: a device which simply made trash of all sorts disappear. Everyone bought one, everyone used them...and nobody realized that the device didn't disintegrate the trash - it just sent it into a future time when everyone was horrified when it suddenly started raining trash!

Is time travel possible? Some scientists think so, others don't. Would I like to know the future? I don't know. Would I like to relive the past? Certainly not all of it. But whether we want the ability or not, whether it's possible or not, it makes for some great opportunities for storytelling.

I'll miss Michael Crichton and his great stories. But I'm glad that there will surely be other authors ready to step up with great stories of their own.

I'll just need a machine to create more time for me to read them.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.

Bilbo

13 comments:

John said...

Good post, as usual, Bilbo.
Your line "(when books were printed in limited editions on cunieform tablets, ifyaknowwhatimean)" made me remember that Aaron told me he picked up an old copy of Plato's Republic printed 1901. $5 at a usd book store!

KKTSews said...

"Raining trash"? Now THAT's a nasty thought!

Amanda said...

Really?! I hadn't read the news yet that he died. I'm definitely a Michael Crichton fan. What sad news....

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I was sad when I heard the news. He was so young :(

Jakej said...

Sadly, I recently read a careful scientific study of all serious current theories of the origin of the universe, which concluded time travel wasn't an option. Michael Crichton was a qualified medical doctor who found writing much more fun (and profitable). His science background contributed greatly to the believability of his stories.

His talent will be sorely missed.

Commodity Trading Account said...

a very sad news
RIP Mike

lacegem said...

Raining Trash? How about "Raining Men" as that familiar song they still play on the radio & parties?
I didn't know Mike Crichton passed away. May he RIP! His stories were truly cutting edge sci-fi. Unfortunately, I don't have the discipline to read a good book. I find that there are other things out there I could spend my time on. There were only a couple of books so far that I found hard to resist, plus when I was reading it I could not put it down. the author really played to all my senses. My imagination ran wild when I read JK Rowlings Harry Potter books. I guess Lord of the Rings & The Hobbit came very close. I'm more of a practical person but I find sci-fi very stimulating.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

His books are a good legacy.

Mike said...

I haven't seen The Andromeda Strain for awhile. Makes me want to watch it again. The one thing I really remember from the movie is the gal that was doing the cultures and was put into a trance by the red flashing light.

Claudia said...

So many books, so little time. Were you a Jules Vern fan when you were a kid? One of my biggest accomplishments before age 12 was reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

I'd also like to make an observation about the expensiveness of the Presidential political campaign expensiveness. Recently I read where they figure it would cost the President-Elect about $8 a vote to win. That's what we figured it cost my husband to win his mayoral election. Yup. We divided what we spent number of voters, and that's how we arrived at that figure. Mike had fewer voters to reach but his average campaign contribution was actually much higher than Obama's per individual donor. Obama had lots of $5 folks, and Mike had a few good people with considerably deeper pockets (all within legal limits, of course!) Doing the math made it strikingly clear that even though it seemed like Obama raised and spent a boatload of money, on a proportional basis, he didn't spend any more per voter than we did for Mike's campaign, and we didn't do anything more extravagant than three 4-color mailers, 750 2-color yard signs, 2 newspaper inserts and 1 newspaper ad, if I'm remembering this all correctly. Given all the free help Obama had--and God love them all for doing what they did--Obama ran a very efficient, cost-effective campaign, especially because it got the desired result, just like Mike's campaign did. Maybe the norm for a successful candidate these days is to spend between $8 and $10 per voter to win an election. The axiom would be that the more people you can reach and convert to donors, the less money per donation you need.

Bilbo said...

Claudia - I loved the Jules Verne stories, and am considering re-reading "20000 Leagues Under the Sea" and "Mysterious Island" to reacquaint myself with the character of Capt Nemo...the way he was depicted in the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" graphic novels was much darker and misanthropic than I remember (unless I'm just remembering the James Mason portrayal in the movies). Your comments on the cost of campaigns are interesting, and I'd never thought of it in terms of cost per vote...that really provides food for thought. Thanks for that insight!

zero_zero_one said...

I've only read Jurassic Park and The Lost World, but they are both fantastic books. He was a great writer, and brilliant at coming up with fantastic concepts - look at the success of ER.

My email alerts has been playing up, but yes, I am still around Bilbo, just been a bit snowed under with work as a self-employed person. Can't complain really, just having trouble adjusting my work/life balance! Hopefully get back to blogging more regularly soon.

benbradley said...

Hi, the story you thought was in Omni (I dunno if it was, but if so it was a reprint, the story is much older than the magazine) is titled "A Sound of Thunder" by Ray Bradbury, and is described here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Sound_of_Thunder
The link at the bottom named "Full Illustrated Text" is a link to the story (you might want to pretend the illustrations aren't there...).

Rather than reblog what I've written eleswhere (okay, I'm not much of a blogger), I'll just point to online posts with some of my and others' memories of Michael Crichton:
http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=121085