Tribute to Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton died of cancer two days ago. I have been a fan of his work since I read Jurassic Park when I was in high school. Since then, I have become even more appreciative of his ability to mold fast moving stories with cutting edge, often theoretical, science. I always come away from reading a Michael Crichton book feeling like I learned something about science.

I often wonder which modern authors that I have read will continue to see their works read long into the future. I don’t know if Michael Crichton is one of those authors because the science that he deals with in his books will become increasingly dated. Still, the fact that the technology in Congo was thirty years old when I read it did not spoil the story for me. Instead, it helped me gain a better perspective on what was considered cutting edge technology in the late 70s.

Here is what an article by S.T. Karnick in The Weekly Standard had to say about Crichton’s legacy:

In Crichton’s world, knowledge is always a good thing, but what people do with it is often foolish and enormously destructive, perhaps most famously in Jurassic Park, where a scheme to recreate dinosaurs for entertainment goes horribly awry. That opinion on the uses of science accords with reality, of course. It is an insight, however, that sometimes made Crichton’s narratives seem to suggest a need for strong political strictures on science and technology. As science writer Ronald Bailey noted in a review of Crichton’s novel Next, this implication could in fact be interpreted as a Luddite vision assuming that “humanity rushes headlong into misusing powerful new technologies.”

That, however, was not the real thrust of Crichton’s works. Love for knowledge–philosophy in its basic sense–was clearly what drove him and is most evident in his writings. And that has been all too rare an attitude in contemporary American popular culture. There was never anything cynical about Crichton’s works. His acknowledgment of the ills people can bring through science and technological advances need not suggest that science or technological change is intrinsically bad. In fact, his attitude looks rather like a scientist’s puzzled acknowledgment of original sin.

In addition, was his crusade in recent years to tell the truth about global warming: Crichton was insistent that there is no manmade global warming crisis facing us today. In speeches, articles, and his excellent potboiler novel State of Fear, he not only refuted the scientific and economic assertions of global-warming alarmists but also, and perhaps more importantly in cultural terms, pointed out their real motivation for pursuing their agenda: money.

As Crichton made clear in his typically melodramatic and entertaining fashion in that book, there has been a huge amount of money to be made by scaring people about global warming, and the activists who have flocked to that cause have made vast sums of it by exploiting the public’s natural and laudable inclination to take good care of the environment. State of Fear was thus an important cultural event in addition to being a highly entertaining read.

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