Monday, July 27, 2009

...In which the blogger engages in some lit-crit

Sadly, it’s taken me almost nine months from the death of polymath author Michael Crichton to finally figure out the best way to read his many books. This knowledge will not be wasted, because I understand the last of his unpublished works will not be released until sometime late next year, so there will still be several opportunities to test this method.

Now, I have been a fan of Crichton's since "The Andromeda Strain" circa 1970 or so. Like countless air travelers, I bought "Jurassic Park" to help pass the time on a cross-country flight—then stayed up until 2:30 the night before reading it cover-to-cover, mostly in the bathroom so as not to disturb anyone. We even own a Spanish translation of Jurassic Park.

Crichton owns a few prime inches on my paperback bookshelf, even one or two hardcover volumes to boot, and a couple video adaptations of his various titles sit on the video shelf; and who could count the many lost hours spent watching "E.R."

But come on.

See if this method works for you:

1. Open any random M.C. book to the approximate mid-point, (excluding any faux end matter).

2. Go two full chapters further and begin reading.

3. Ta-Daaa!

This should be approximately the point where the McGuffin begins to come apart:
  • The natural world reasserts itself in the face of human arrogance
  • The hubristic industrialist finally is shown the folly of his ways
  • The plucky-world-weary-academic-with-integrity survives, tossing a parting "I-told-you-so" over his shoulder before departing the scene of ruination with the winsome, tautly-muscled-plain-until-she-took-off-her-glasses-and-let-her-hair-down-grad student-who-dazzled-all-her-undergrad-instructors-with-her-insightful brilliance to try and recover the pieces of their upended lives in quiet anonymity (until the need for a sequel arises).

This method spares you from having to wade through all the pointless character introductions, including:

  1. The long-suffering staffer(s) of above-mentioned industrialist.
  2. The possibly duplicitous personal assistant, with whom the industrialist (always a he) may have had an intimate relationship sometime in the past
  3. Several generic scientists/technicians who only serve to introduce factoids necessary to support the McGuffin. Many of them will die anyway in the shit storm that follows, but their amorality for accepting this line of work makes it okay...see "Storm Troopers, Imperial."
  4. The mysterious consortium of impatient investors—usually foreign—who have already sunk millions/billions/trillions of dollars/yen/euro into the project and are anxious to see some results. They mostly serve for the lawsuits that flesh out the epilogue.
  5. The somewhat sleazy competitors nipping at their heels, generally heading down the wrong track to discovering the true nature of the McGuffin.
  6. The morally questionable facilitator, that non-traditional specialist who has the requisite esoteric knowledge necessary for the McGuffin to proceed. His fate (always a he) will preceed and foreshadow that of the industrialist. Note: His employment by the industrialist in pursuit of the McGuffin is distasteful, but ultimately unavoidable—a necessary evil.
  7. The Cassandra, to whom if they had only listened…the rest of the book would have been obviated.
  8. The short-lived generic staffer of the mysterious corporation. In the parlance, this person would be called a ‘red-shirt,’ for the anonymous character on "Star Trek" who beams down to the planet only to die before the first commercial break. The death of the generic staffer results from an unintended consequence of the McGuffin, and serves to tantalize us with its appalling, previously unthought-of gruesomeness, and uniqueness in the annals of literature. Death often occurs at the local hospital/clinic/vet, which—because the mysterious corporation must, of necessity, be located in a remote location—is generally primitive/inaccessible/understaffed. However, this allows for the introduction of—
  9. The plucky, insightful, resourceful local, who came here to get away from their previous life as an Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative reporter/Nobel-prize winning research scientist/Head of the Mayo Clinic/Adviser to the President. He/She will slowly begin putting the pieces together, only to run afoul of (6) above.

Skipping all this unnecessary verbiage allows you to get straight to the good stuff—the literary equivalent of pushing your Brussels spouts aside and diving straight into Crichton’s gooey six-layer chocolate cake of worlds run amok, of nemesis smiting hubris, of an unforgiving and vengeful mother nature giving man a big old smackdown into his rightful place for his deluded Promethean ambitions.

Crichton's works, beneath their slick glosses of technological familiarity, are ultimately nothing more than formulaic technophobic morality plays, made digestible by virtue of Crichton's ability to stay just far enough out in front of the crowd to show us something we haven't seen before. The hero embodies virtue; the villain, vice. Everyone else simply enables the kabuki-like duet of good-and-evil.

1 comment:

Madeline said...

Yes. For sure. Although Airframe... that was a little different, right? At least the hero was a chick? Maybe? Also it taught me the word "undulation." Also, I read the Spanish translation of Jurassic Park a couple times. Damn.