Erik Larson

Nov 8, 2008

Michael Crichton

In memoriam . This is a strangely emotional post. First, some facts. Of his works, I’ve read, in order: The Andromeda Strain, Terminal Man, Travels (an autobiographical sketch). After a long period of snooty academia, returned to Next, Airframe (read while I was taking flying lessons, still my favorite), Prey, State of Fear, Timeline, and started on Disclosure (but, I have to confess, my flame had begun to die out by then…).

Years ago, after graduating college, I purchased a used motorcycle, mapped out a (rough) course of thousands of miles from Spokane, to Seattle, down to Los Angeles, and then into the Rocky Mountains. I left by myself, and was gone for a sizable portion of that summer. Weeks later I was somewhere in Colorado, on the lawn of some roadside house near Craig, reading Crichton’s Travels. Alone, and lonely and happy (travelers will know this paradox well enough). Broke down, waiting on the benevolence of a stranger; parts for my motorcycle.

Mr. Crichton was with me on this journey, through so many dark nights. I read his Travels, I picked it up and smelled it and put it back in my backpack, and picked it up again. He was there in the tent pitched in deserted campgrounds or just wind-swept BLM land, where I would travel down some unmarked dirt road looking for a place to pitch a tent for the night, racing against shadows that grew darker and stitched together until I had nothing but blackness. He was there when I made it, dehydrated and alone, to Lake Havasu from Los Angeles. I read him at 9,000 feet in the Colorado Rockies, and in the plains of Wyoming, and then Yellowstone, and Montana. After weeks of being alone, I would cry at night (in a manly way, of course…), and I would read… Crichton. It’s all intermingled now, inextricably, in my memories and emotions.

And so I, like so many others, had a connection to Crichton’s works, in the physical sense that I took his autobiography with me on my own travels those years ago. (I took also “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, which was lost in a poorly fastened backpack on the second day of the trip. Someone from near Wenatchee, Wa actually mailed it back to me weeks later. It’s still Travels—and not by happenstance, I don’t think—that captures the sentiment of my own travels.)

I had also a connection to Michael Crichton years later, which is to say recently, in a more intellectual sense: I’ve been stimulated by his points about technology and science in his latest novels (for instance, when he cast a scientist’s scepticism on catastrophic climate change in his 2002 “State of Fear”).

Michael Crichton, I don’t know why you died so young. I wish it were not. We’re all, of course, just suddenly gone, and in memoriam for those who knew us too. But the past memories of my adventurous self, with my copy of your Travels to comfort me, literally, under the light of a lantern, lying by myself in wilderness thousands of miles from anyone I knew, or could count on; I was comforted by your presence. I’m sorry to see you go. Good bye, Mr. Crichton. And thank you.