Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton

The death of Michael Crichton was surprising. I don't think the general public even knew he was sick. Apparently, he was diagnosed with cancer some time ago, and kept the news private. We still don't have many details.

Though I wasn't a fan of his style of airport fiction, his influence on popular culture was immense. His stories were always informed by a scientific curiosity (he was a medical doctor, though he never practiced) and an abiding sense of wonder. Working in the tradition of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne, his stories were tailor-made for big movie screens.

I only read one of his books, "Travels." It was an autobiography of his medical school years and subsequent transition into full-time fiction writing. He detailed his adventures around the world: New Guinea, Mexico, Malaysia and many other exotic locales.

In one chapter, he writes about a trip to Africa, where he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. The writing was so lucid and gripping that I decided that I, too would make the journey to Africa to attempt to conquer the famous summit.

I read and re-read his account, and then began planning for my own trip. In 1998, I flew to Africa by myself, where I joined a group of trekkers attempting to make the summit. Five days later, I stood on the snowy roof of Africa, 19,340 feet above the savanna. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

It's truly an extraordinary writer who inspires us to attempt something we'd never before imagined. Though he died young (yes, 66 is young), he lived a full and rich life, and I thank him for inspiring me to live mine with a bit more curiosity.

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