Having read and reviewed Michael Crichton’s last book a little while ago, I thought that I might give a rundown on what I think about his bibliography (and why it is that I like him so much). Just to be clear, Crichton has published more books than this, under other names and including non-fiction works, this is just a list of his well-known fiction.
The Andromeda Strain
A really good mystery plot mixed with sci-fi elements. Crichton’s staple of science groups being the heroes starts here, and this is one of his best examples, the theoretical “perfect group” to decide when to commit to a nuclear strike. It all ends a bit suddenly, but it has good characters, a good plot, and trips along nicely. The actual climax is an excellent bit of heart-racing narrative too.
The Terminal Man
Crichton’s MD background comes to the fore here as the Doctor hero tracks down a man made deranged by risky surgical procedures. Not quite as thrilling as some of his other work, The Terminal Man makes up for it with a really good villain and some good stuff about computer AI interactions, in scenes that pretty much steal the show. Also comes to the end quite quickly, but as was becoming typical of Crichton, it was an exciting, page-turning end.
The Great Train Robbery
Considering his earlier stuff, this bit of historical fiction comes out of left field, but it is excellent. An enthralling heist story, with a genuinely fascinating main character, Crichton gives us a perfect vision of Victorian society and its seedy underbelly that other authors have strained to do better than.
Eaters Of The Dead
Probably the strangest book to comprehend, being a mishmash of genuine historical writing, the Beowulf myth, and Crichton’s own desire to place earlier ancestors of Homo Sapiens into a story, as the antagonists in this case. What’s better is that it all somehow works when it really shouldn’t, the narrator telling a version of one of literature’s greatest myths in a way that almost makes you think it all really happened. Crichton makes all the right choices in regards to keeping what should be kept, cutting what should be cut and ending the story at the right point. The movie version with Antonio Banderas is, in my opinion, an underrated classic.
Probably one of Crichton’s more original works, the story of a sign-fluent gorilla leading an expedition to King Solomon’s mines is one of his best. A real page-turner, that combines the limits of contemporary science in the chosen topics (sign-language with apes and the scientific applications of diamonds) with a hell of a race-against-time story (and some awesome locales and settings that are rarely used in fiction), Crichton creates what I think is an under-appreciated gem of an animal character in the gorilla Amy. It would not be the last success he had with animal characters.
Certainly his most mind-trippy book up to that time, as the reader gets sucked in, along with the characters, to a mystery surrounding a strange sphere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Sphere lags a bit in the middle, but builds to a good climax involving various characters losing it in the face of the objects enigma, even if the plots resolution may seem a little under-whelming. Certainly a bit of an experiment from the writer, Crichton choose to stick to more grounded science for the most part after this.
Crichton was already well-regarded, if not very well-known, before his most famous work was published, but it really was Jurassic Park that put him on the map. Crichton captures the majesty and attraction of the dinosaur species, and humanities fascination with them, in a truly remarkable way, while keeping the science of their resurrection within the bounds of believability. Featuring some of his best characters, especially the leather clad mathematician Ian Malcolm with his monologues on chaos theory and the conniving dreamer that was John Hammond, it was with a vicious predator called Velociraptor that Crichton really made a master-piece of science-fiction. The ending has been criticised as weak (admittedly, the movies is better), but only calls attention to the great stuff that preceded it from the first page as Crichton teases the reveal of the Dinosaurs for over a hundred pages, before bringing us on a journey back in time as disaster unfolds.
His follow-up was a vastly different piece of work, a surprisingly thorough exploration of American-Japanese relations and the culture clash between the same, all wrapped up in corporate crime investigations. More of a traditional crime story, with only limited sci-fi elements, Rising Sun is decent, but gets bogged down in its commentary on Japanese customs.
People may have been wondering what exactly happened to the sci-fi genius who wrote Jurassic Park, as he came out with a story about sexual harassment lawsuits and gender politics in the business world, again, with only limited scientific elements. But Disclosure is a big-step up from the somewhat similar Rising Sun, featuring one of Crichton’s best villains and another great conclusion. Certainly one of his better ones for exploring the main themes, in this case the role of men and women (and the potentially destructive interaction between the same) in the American workplace.
The Lost World
Many saw the sequel to Jurassic Park as unnecessary and it certainly does seem a little forced. I suspect Crichton may have been encouraged by others to write a follow-up to his famous story. The Lost World mostly treads the same territory, though it takes a bit longer to really get going and features a somewhat flatter ending. It also suffered from a narrative that was, to too much of an extent, a soapbox for Crichton’s own scientific opinions.
In my opinion, the most underappreciated of Crichton’s works. The story is a very engaging mystery of a disastrous plane malfunction, paced extremely well, and features one of his better female protagonists. As an exploration into the aviation industry, it succeeds, but it works better as a scathing attack on the American media machine and “gotcha” journalism in general. Features another one of Crichton’s better conclusions and is one of his best plots in general.
A potent mix of sci-fi and historical fiction that works where you would imagine it wouldn’t. Crichton takes plenty of time explaining the scientific theory behind his time-travel plot device, and is clearly having tonnes of fun once his characters travel back to medieval France. Certainly his best “race against time” stuff, featuring probably his best characters since Jurassic Park, from his fish-out-of-water historians to his sneeringly brilliant lordly villains. His love of history certainly shines through throughout the text. Timeline deserved a much better movie adaptation then it got, and if it had done so, I’m convinced it would be as famous as Jurassic Park.
Another of his lesser-known gems, Crichton approaches the idea of nanotechnology with a comprehension and understanding that most sci-fi interpretations of the science lack. Probably his most “trippy” narrative since Sphere, but only towards the end. Another page-turner, though the science seems to upstage the actual plot at points while the narrator is frequently the only believable character.
State of Fear
Probably his most controversial work, an attack on both global warming and the media fear machine that he felt exaggerated the threat from it. Essentially his “Aliens Cause Global Warming” lecture in novel-form, the story is mediocre, mainly a thread designed to hold the constant assault on “consensus science” together. Features an obvious Crichton mouthpiece who frequently argues with global warming proponents who are obvious strawmen. The science is questionable and State of Fear got much deserved flak for it. That being said, Crichton’s intended message is less about global warming (which he never denies is real, simply less dangerous than it is made out to be), and more about the dangers of a scientific community that views itself above reproach, with internal dissension stamped out.
A return to form, with Crichton this time touching on genetic patenting and the legal quagmire that can (and has) resulted from it. The narrative is multi-faceted to the extent of being all over the place, but the story has a structure, even if Crichton is slow to get to a conclusion and moves through it fast when he gets there. Still, some of the most interesting scientific exploration he has written, with a much more pressing and agreeable message then his previous book. However, the controversy surrounding one of the more negatively portrayed characters is a poor reflection of Crichton, if true, and does take away from the overall quality.
Published posthumously, Crichton’s historical work on the early era of piracy in the Caribbean was apparently decades in the making, and had the good fortune of being released on the wave of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise and its popularity. A much more grounded and realistic pirate story then the adventures of Jack Sparrow, Pirate Latitudes is, much like Timeline, a book where Crichton revels in historical detail and characters, coming up with an engaging and page-turning narrative, though he perhaps features too many characters as he goes along.
Do yourself a favour and check some of them out.