December 09, 2004

Two Thumbs Up

I love it, I love it, I love it: Let a lefty write a novel shot through with tirades against, say, nuclear power, and he's a "concerned activist-novelist." Let Michael Crichton write, well, anything anymore, and he's "a right-wing noodge:"

For Crichton's fans, this has got to be heartbreaking: The boy-novelist who engineered a tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park and mysterious pathogens from outer space in The Andromeda Strain has become a political pamphleteer, a right-wing noodge.
Some people go for the meat, some people go for the bones, but I go first always for the nitpick: What is this "boy novelist" business? Crichton is my father's age: 62. That's a 6 in the tens place followed by a 2 in the ones place for those of you playing at home. The numberphobic might also think of it as "born one year after Pearl Harbor, currently seven years into enjoying the senior citizens' discount, now only three years away from becoming eligible to receive Social Security."

I suppose the guy could have meant that Crichton started out a "boy novelist," back in the days of Andromeda Strain, but frankly, by the time a fellow's quitting medical school, I've usually stopped calling him a "boy" anything. (Besides, the sentence doesn't read that way.) Does this mean one of these days I can finally get around to savaging "precocious wunderkind Stephen King?" Cripes, I know baby boomers fear the aging process like no generation before or since, but come ON.

And please, somebody call me when guys who spend their off hours bending spoons with their minds, having their "entities" exorcised by new-age gurus, and hiking in the desert to commune with cacti are "right wing." I know Rod Dreher had his precious "crunchy conservatives" catchphrase all set to go for just this sort of situation, but I think it's stretching the label out worse than a pair of John Kerry's bike shorts on Mike Moore to call Crichton "right wing."

Boy, you write one little novel revealing the cruel, terrible truth that given half a chance, women can be just as abusive to their male subordinates as men can be to their female underlings, and the book critics piss down the back of your neck for the rest of your life.

Curtis claims he's been reading Crichton since he was 13, so surely--surely--he must have figured out at some point that Crichton's favorite theme is people getting in over their heads with the latest technology. I believe the general literary concept is hubris. Apparently, this was just fine with Curtis so long as Crichton stuck to dumb stuff like space virii, pissed-off gorillas, and whatever the hell the monster turned out to be in Sphere; I admit I don't remember, probably because trying to finish that book induced narcolepsy. All A-okay with Curtis, but . . . killer nano-swarms? Ruthless businessmen? Bureaucracy that can't decide whether to police air travel or promote it? Ecoterrorists? Anything remotely plausible or topical?--Who asked that wingnut to start writing about this wacky stuff? Come to think of it, who let him near a word processor in the first place?

The worst part is, critiquing Crichton isn't exactly rocket science. The manual for that activity has been in existence for over 20 years; you just run down the checklist. Two-dimensional characterization, lately improved but still weak: Check. A tendency, markedly pronounced in later books, to write in anticipation of a screen adaptation: Check. Occasional clunky, shoot-I-done-wrote-myself-into-a-corner endings: Check. Killed the mathematician in Jurassic Park, resurrected him unbelievably in The Lost World, and permitted Jeff Goldblum to portray him in the movie: Oh, check.

You would think, wouldn't you, that if you worked at Slate and the editor said, "Here, go beat up on Michael Crichton's latest," that your reaction would be, "Sweet, something I can phone in for a change." Wouldn't you? Or perhaps you have a better work ethic than I do. Perhaps you would resolve to aim a little higher. Perhaps you'd ultimately decide to pursue the supah-fresh "attack the politics" angle that no one ever wore out to threadbare back when Disclosure came out.

So that's my review of Slate's review: Love it. If I were Crichton I'd frame that shit. Then I'd laugh all the way to my agent's, all the way to the producer's, all the way to the bank, all the way to the spoon-bender's, all the way to the Brugh Joy conference, all the way to my acupuncturist's . . . .

Posted by Ilyka at December 9, 2004 07:41 AM in trivia

I've never actually read a Crichton novel.

However, I suspect that this "right-wing" label might be based on the sort of Crichton I have read - his non-fiction essays.

Anyone who criticises environmentalism must be a right-winder, right? Therefore Crichton must be one. QED.

Simple once you think the right way, innit?

Posted by: Sigivald at December 9, 2004 08:42 PM

However, I suspect that this "right-wing" label might be based on the sort of Crichton I have read - his non-fiction essays.

That's likely it. Although I think in the one that touched on environmentalism, whatever one it was that was linked by Instapundit and that Crichton later took down to stem the flood of emails--I think Crichton was pretty evenhanded in pointing out cases where the right ignores science too. I should see if it's back up. Frankly I was pissed at Reynolds for linking it and forcing its disappearance in the first place. That BASTARD. :)

Posted by: ilyka at December 9, 2004 11:44 PM

Well, for what it's worth, Crichton has been rather hostile towards the entire environmental movement for years now. I remember "Jurassic Park" having a rather lengthy rant about the sheer arrogance of man to believe that we have the power to actually impact the environment to a great degree.

Crichton does seem to like playing the role of Devil's Advocate (no matter how good something seems, a problem can always be found) --- but I do think he's not been all that fond of environmental activism for years.

But no bashing of "Timeline"? Wow, THAT book was rough. And the movie might be one of the 5 worst I've ever seen. It takes talent to make time travel uninteresting.

Posted by: MikeSC at December 13, 2004 01:09 AM