Thursday, 6 November 2008

Bad News Follows Good, As Always

The post-election joy party continues, with even more politiblog haunting, even more excited chatter, and even more news watching. Enduring the dour coverage on Fox News was entertaining for a minute or two (a first), but you have to wonder what nasty trickery they're going to employ to belittle President-Elect Obama's achievement over the next few years. I had enough of CNN FutureNews HoloUpdate 3000 on election night, so I won't be watching that network for a while. BBC was fun last night. Jeremy Paxman was interviewing a constant stream of pundits, writers (including West Wing and House writer/producer Eli Attie), elected officials, and spokespersons, asking each of them pretty much if racism was over. Yes, he did it with more subtlety than that, but his interviewees treated it with the short shrift it deserved. And, of course, because it was the BBC, there were the obligatory gaffes. An interview with Alice Walker went haywire as Paxman cut to her sitting in some sort of meditative, head-waving trance, unaware the satellite link was active. That was pretty embarrassing, though the subsequent interview was spiky and interesting enough to make up for it.

However, it's not all good news. In the midst of all this, we all found out that Michael Crichton died yesterday after a battle with cancer that he had kept from public attention. AICN has a nice piece on it here, with clips from many of his films, including some he directed. In the later years of his career I stopped reading his novels, as I belatedly realised some of our politics had never really matched up. I think it was when I understood that Crichton's perfect villain would be a sexually aggressive, female, environmentally aware geneticist from Japan who farts nanobots. Of course, it's not lost on me that I stopped reading his books but am currently voluntarily subjecting myself to the seemingly endless flagellation of reading Atlas Shrugged, so I'm one to talk. Believe me, as unpleasant as I find a lot of Michael Crichton's politics, I'd much rather be reading any of his books instead of Rand's whiny shriek. It never seems to end.

Beyond any other caveat or consideration, I maintain that Crichton was the best thriller writer I have ever read, a master of suspense and pace who kept me hooked even when the subject matter was as dry as corporate malfeasance in the aerospace industry (Airframe, which I blasted through in a few hectic hours). For a long time, especially at the crest of his popularity, the release of a Crichton novel was, at least for this jerkoff blogger, an event on a par with the release of a new Spielberg movie, so you can imagine how excited I was when Jurassic Park came out. Having tried to read other bestselling thrillers by dreary, inexplicably successful hacks like John Grisham, James Patterson and Tom Clancy (who I still read even though he's an awful, ponderous writer with even more unpleasant views), I am even more grateful for Crichton's work, which showed those other writers up even when he was not operating at full capacity.

That said, why his books and films featured characters with the most vanilla names ever has always mystified me. Just a random selection of names from his books includes Karen Ross and Peter Elliott (Congo), Norman Johnson and Harry Adams (Sphere), Peter Smith, Tom Graham and John Connor (Rising Sun, with the former renamed Webster/Web in the Philip Kaufman movie), and of course Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant from Jurassic Park. Why the dull names for the main characters? Was it some kind of device to increase audience association? Why did I become obsessed with this? Do I have a problem with boring names? Haven't I got more important things to be worried about? Apparently not. Thanks for temporarily curing me of my woes, President-Elect Obama!

His books and films have been so popular that I often forget he was also the creator of ER, which was, for a long time, my favourite show on TV (until I discovered Buffy). Though he had some right-leaning tendencies in later years (and his response to criticism was less than classy), ER's compassionate air led one to believe he had the same notions. A show so fascinated by the poverty of County General Hospital and the desperation of the board trying to keep it running in the face of corporate indifference has to be run by those of a more liberal mindset, right? Perhaps it was producer and writer John Wells, but I'd like to think that Crichton, a former doctor, agreed.

It's also easy to forget that he directed movies too, some of them genuinely great. Westworld and Coma are terrific thrillers, with the former regularly cited as an influence on The Terminator and, with much less frequency, Stephen Malkmus.

I even liked Runaway, which features Tom Selleck vs. Gene Simmons and his acid-injecting spider-bots! How could that be anything less than awesome, even though it never inspired a song by Stephen Malkmus?

And (really embarrassing admission coming up), I also liked Looker, which featured an uncomfortable-looking Albert Finney going up against James Coburn and his fugue-state-inducing light gun.

Seeing that film at an early age might have been the reason why I have a healthy distrust of advertising, even though most of it is pure nonsense. For that alone, I owe a great debt to Michael Crichton. He shall be missed.


douglas said...

May I suggest you stop reading the book so that you can read something you enjoy? Literature isn't supposed to be a chore it is supposed to be enjoyable!
I still have your "fear and loathing" book.

Admiral Neck said...

No, man! I have to keep going! It's like getting three quarters of the way up Everest and then saying, screw this, I'll go sit in a warm bath instead. Okay, when I put it like that it sounds like a grand idea, but I'm a fiend for finishing books I start. Properly start, that is. I don't count getting twenty pages in and realising the prose is not to my liking (I'm looking at you, Lewis Hyde's The Gift).

Besides, consider this, a random quote from the page I'm currently at...

'She looked at his pupils, at the three pliant, agile figures half-stretched on canvas chairs in poses of relaxed contentment, dressed in slacks, wind-breakers and open-collared shirts: John Galt, Francisco d'Anconia, Ragnar Danneskjöld.

'"Don't be astonished, Miss Taggart," said Dr. Akston, similing, "and don't make the mistake of thinking these three pupils of mine are some sort of superhuman creatures. They're something much greater and more astounding that that: they're normal men --a thing the world has never seen -- and their feat is that they managed to survive as such. It does take an exceptional mind and a still more exceptional integrity to remain untouched by the brain-destroying influences of the world's doctrines, the accumulated evil of centuries -- to remain human, since the human is the rational."'

Bear in mind the evil she is talking about is taxation and caring for your fellow man (well, it's more complicated than that, but it would take me three hours to explain the mental contortions necessary to turn altruism into something Satanic). Imagine 1070 pages of that hyper-melodramatic prose. It's hilarious, and depressing and upsetting and insane at all. ::stares into distance, drooling::

Did you ever read FaLiLV?

douglas said...

It's more like getting three quarters of the way up Everest, breaking a leg, deciding to go back to base camp, fixing the broken leg then trying to conquer K2 (i.e getting another book.)
Yep, I have. I enjoyed it immensely. Want me to internal it to you?

sjwoo said...

I, too, was bummed out about this big time. Do check out Prey if you haven't yet -- it's a pretty solid read (or listen, as I listened to the unabridged audiobook). I'd forgotten about Airframe until you mentioned it -- I liked that book, too. I've liked just about everything Crichton touched; he'll be sorely missed.

Admiral Neck said...

If you could, douglas, that would be sweet, thanks. It needs to be re-read from time to time.

sjwoo, I did read Prey, and was kinda bummed out as it ruined an idea I had had for a screenplay. It was fun, though wildly immprobable. His most recent books remain unread, though I'm willing to give them a shot. Even the global warming myth one.