What John Lange, Jeffery Hudson and Michael Douglas have in common? Nothing much, except that all these names were used by Michael Crichton as his pseudonyms. Michael Crichton, frequently cited as the “father of the techno-thriller”, was a multi-talented person. He was an accomplished author, director, screenwriter, doctor, and producer. Born on October 23, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Crichton showed his flair for writing since an early age. He started his studies in Harvard College in 1960 and was an exceptionally bright student. Later he enrolled himself in Harvard Medical School, and started to publish his works during the period he studied there to become a doctor. He eventually got his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1969 but never became a licensed practitioner. By the time he graduated, he already had nearly a dozen thrillers published, though most of his early works were published under his pen names. Hence his decision to embark on a writing career makes sense totally and he further went to justify his career switch as he became the bestseller storyteller for the next three decades. During the pre-Rowling age, more specifically in the late ’90s, his annual earnings were estimated by Forbes at more than $20 million. In 1994, he became the only author in the history to simultaneously top the charts in television, film and book sales with ER, Jurassic Park and Disclosure respectively. Indeed, the film adaptation of Jurassic Park had such phenomenal success that Michael Crichton became globally celebrated author during the ’90s.
The Making of an Author
Crichton knew it from an early age that writing is his thing. He started with writing travel articles for New York Times at the age of 14. He was unusually tall as a teenager and his height helped him to become a star basketball player during the High School years. However, his height also alienated him from his classmates. Despite being academically brilliant, he had issues with socializing. After graduating from Roslyn High School in 1960, he decided to pursue his dreams to become a writer and get himself enrolled in Literature in Harvard University. But his writing talent was not appreciated by the faculty and his grades were quite low. Getting fed up with poor grades, he deliberately plagiarized a work by George Orwell and submitted it as class assignment, only to expose a faculty member whom he believed to be evaluating him poorly without any reason. Confirming his doubt, the professor gave him a B- on that paper. Finally, Crichton left literature and switched his concentration to Biological Anthropology. He obtained his BA degree with summa cum laude in 1965. Immediately after his graduation, he served as a visiting professor in Cambridge University for one year. He was also awarded Henry Russell Shaw Fellowship and traveled Europe and North Africa for a year.
Stepping Into Stardom
After his return to the States, Crichton started to study medical science in Harvard Medical School and got his MD degree in 1969. He was a not really “doctor” materials as he used to pass out every time he had to work with blood and often got unsettled with lab experiences. He tried to quit medical, but eventually passed with brilliant results. Crichton supported himself with writing novels under different pseudonyms. His most commonly used pen name was John Lange (Lange is a German surname meaning Long, referring to his height of 6 feet 9 inches). He wrote 7 spy thrillers under this name- Odds On, Scratch One, Easy Go, Zero Cool, Venom Business, Grave Descend, Binary and Drug of Choice. Under another pen name Jeffery Hudson, he wrote “A Case of Need”, a novel with many references to people at Harvard. The book won Edgar Award as the best mystery novel of the year.
During his final medical year, Crichton first stepped into stardom as an author with the publication of The Andromeda Strain, his first bestseller. The Andromeda Strain was also the first notable work in the genre of Techno-thriller that Crichton fathered with his novels. In 1971, Robert Wise directed the film adaptation of The Andromeda Strain which became a success as well. Crichton’s fame helped him to get cooperation from the hospital directors with the research work for his first non-fiction publication titles “Five Patients: The Hospital Explained”. Once again, Crichton showed his capabilities as a versatile author and he was selected as the Medical Writer of the Year 1970 by The Association of American Medical Writers for this work. In 1969, Crichton became the postdoctoral fellow at the Jonas Salk Institute for Biological Science in La Jolla, California. In 1970, he finally decided that this was not his path and took up writing as his full time career. Later, Crichton joked about people’s reaction to his career switching decision – “To quit medicine to become a writer struck most people like quitting the Supreme Court to become a bail bondsman.”
A Life Painted with Many Colors
Crichton’s literary works are heavily influenced with the recent technological advances. His most notable novels are The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Congo, Sphere, Rising Sun, Disclosure, The Lost World, Timeline, Airframe, Prey, State of Fear and Next. He was a prolific writer with the capability of writing more than 10,000 words every day. More than 200 million copies of his books were sold all over the world and his work was translated into at least twenty languages. Tight plots, scientific and technological details and failure of large scale systems are the signature marks of Crichton’s works. He was very meticulous about the technological aspects of his plots and used to conduct tedious research before writing his fictions. The early works of Crichton carried another recurring characteristic. Most of his early novels are influenced with existing literary works. The Andromeda Strain is highly influenced by H. G. Wells’ The War of the World, Congo borrowed from Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and Eaters of The Dead is a partial re-read of Beowulf. Crichton had an uncanny ability to revitalize classic literary works inside the futuristic framework of cutting edge technology. However, in his later works he moved away from this tendency and emphasized more on topics concerning our daily life.
He also directed seven movies among which Westworld, Coma and The Great Train Robbery are the most noteworthy ones. Beside that he operated a software company named FilmTrack and ventured into video game industry with Timeline Computer Entertainment, a computer game production company. He also created the immensely popular drama series ER that was aired in 1994. Crichton wrote the screenplay of Extreme Close Up in 1974 and Twister in 1996 (co-written with his wife of that time). Crichton, being a computer expert, wrote “Electronic Life” in 1983, a pioneering work on information technology that introduced BASIC programming. He was also a famous art collector and an avid traveler.
Crichton was a lifelong practitioner of meditation. He also experimented with aural projection, clairvoyance and other spiritual methods. In 1992, Crichton was selected in the list of People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people.
And The Traveler Sleeps
Michael Crichton suffered from Cancer during the last years of his life and died at the age of 66 on November 5, 2008. However, his legacy is likely to entertain the generations to come. Steven Spielberg summarized the life and works of this legend perfectly as he said “Michael’s talent outscaled even his own dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.” Michael Crichton is a towering figure in recent literature, both figuratively and literally.
Books in order of publication:
|A Case of Need||(1968)|
|The Andromeda Strain||(1969)|
|The Venom Business||(1969)|
|Drug of Choice||(1970)|
|The Terminal Man||(1972)|
|The Great Train Robbery||(1975)|
|Eaters of the Dead||(1976)|
|The Lost World||(1995)|
|State of Fear||(2004)|
|The Andromeda Evolution||(2019)|
Publication Order of Non-Fiction Books