Monday, April 6, 2009

Michael Crichton, storyteller

Today, there was news that Michael Crichton, who died of cancer this past fall, left behind more than one book.

As a writer, he managed to tell stories that were entrancing in the way of the best storytellers. His books were best sellers because once you started reading them, you wanted to know what happens next. This master storyteller created an incredible string of popular books that also made for great movies, which is another unusual feat. How many times have you had the experience of reading a book and then seeing a movie made from that book, and came away with the feeling that reading the book was a much better experience?

Crichton's novels always contained an edge about technology, science and implications for the future. His stories contained plots that involved genetic energineering (Next), brain research (Terminal Man), time travel (Timeline), life from other planets (Andromeda Strain, Sphere), animals that communicate in ways that outwit humans (Congo), the computer business (Rising Sun, Disclosure) and other substantial topics wrapped up in a dramatic adventure yarn. Even in the stories set in the past, like The Great Train Robbery or Eaters of the Dead, which became the movie The 13th Warrior, the theme was about how people changed with the times, and how they were challenged to go beyond what others had done.

The best storytellers are able to both entertain us and give us something to discuss and think about afterward. Some dramas are just pure adrenalin rushes that leave us feeling whipped around when they are done. But others, like those by Crichton, give us something tantalizing to think about, presenting us with "what if" scenarios that cause us to consider some of the controversial things we are doing.

Great storytellers have always been popular, from Homer and those who came before him, to the present day. Mythology, movies, sagas and novels all share a common heritage, that of the storyteller.

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