Belmont Club

Michael Crichton

It was his second best kept secret. Michael Crichton died of today at 66 of a cancer he had concealed from the public. The Times Online describes his glittering academic career; Crichton graduated “summa cum laude from Harvard University before tutoring at Cambridge University in anthropology and later registering at Harvard Medical School.” You couldn’t miss him, either in person or in the public debate.

Physically a dominant figure, at 6ft 9in, he found an unlikely ally in President Bush, with whom he shared a sceptical view of global warming. His 2004 novel, State of Fear, was condemned by environmentalists, but Crichton maintained that his conclusions were misrepresented.

He both loved knowledge and mistrusted our belief to completely apprehend it, his works often portraying “scientists and engineers as arrogant and closed-minded to the potential threat a technology represents”.

A notable recurring theme in Crichton’s plots is the pathological failure of complex systems and their safeguards, whether biological (Jurassic Park), military/organizational (The Andromeda Strain) or cybernetic (Westworld). This theme of the inevitable breakdown of “perfect” systems and the failure of “fail-safe measures” can be seen strongly in the poster for Westworld (slogan: “Where nothing can possibly go worng ..” (sic) ) and in the discussion of chaos theory in Jurassic Park.

His theme wasn’t so much “no, we can’t” but that the arrogant and self-satisfied couldn’t. Life was always a surprise, insusceptible to diktat. Perhaps his aversion to hubris was the reason he preferred the parable and the pseudonymous word. As the Times notes, he secretly wrote his first novels during his internship under the pseudonym ‘Jeffery Hudson’. That was his first secret. Now we know his second.