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Michael Crichton’s Many Lives

November 6, 2008

big-andromedastrainMichael Crichton died November 5, leaving behind an impressive career as the writer of a string of blockbuster techno-thrillers, ranging from 1969’s The Andromeda Strain to 1990’s Jurassic Park to the 2006 novel Next (the last of his novels published during his lifetime). Many of these were adapted for film, and Crichton also created and produced the NBC show E.R. The November 6 Washington Post includes an extensive obituary, exploring the many aspects of Crichton’s success. 

One of the obituary’s most interesting points regards Crichton’s writing career while a student at Harvard Medical School, producing novels under pseudonyms to help finance his education: “It was estimated that Mr. Crichton wrote 10,000 words a day before finishing his degree in 1969” — a tremendous output under any circumstances, but particularly while juggling the demands of med school. 

cover_bigCrichton’s pseudonyms included Jeffrey Hudson and John Lange. A book under the Hudson name, A Case of Need, won the Edgar Award in 1969, and Hard Case Crime has recently republished a couple of the John Lange titles — Grave Descend and Zero Cool — books which may lack the scientific edge of later books but which remain fast-paced and fun to read. Here’s a quick excerpt from Grave Descend, about a yacht by that name which went down off the coast of Jamaica:

[McGregor’s] depth-gauge showed sixty-two feet as they reached the stern of the Grave Descend. As always, whenever he came upon a wreck underwater, he was struck by the size of it. A boat which appeared only moderately large on the surface was huge underwater, when you could see all of it, and were free to swim around it….

It was only a few minutes before he saw the gaping hole, somewhat forward of the stern. It was a large, neat hole which looked as if it had been punched out from within; the metal was torn outward. McGregor ran his fingers lightly over the jagged edge, knowing that human skin in water was fragile; he did not want a cut.

The hole was four feet across. He was easily able to wiggle in, his metal tanks clanging once against the edge. It was dark inside; he flicked on his underwater flashlight and swung the yellow beam around.

The engine room. To the left and right, large twin diesels faced him. He turned the light to the walls of the room, looking for damage, pitting, blacking, the signs of an explosion.

There were none, of course….

The first chapters of both those Lange novels are available online at the Hard Case Crime website. And Sarah Weinman’s blog has a comment from Hard Case Crime publisher Charles Ardai as well as links to numerous other tributes and postings.

Also in today’s Post: Bob Thompson’s profile of Art Spiegelman, a nice follow-up to Thompson’s excellent and extremely comprehensive article on graphic novels from back in August. 

— Art Taylor

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One comment

  1. “It was estimated that Mr. Crichton wrote 10,000 words a day before finishing his degree in 1969″ — a tremendous output under any circumstances, but particularly while juggling the demands of med school.

    Ugh…I have a lot of catching up to do.



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