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November 06, 2008


Annalee Newitz

Thanks for posting this -- very interesting snippet. It really explains a lot about Crichton's style, which as he says is completely impersonal and old-school journalistic. It's also funny to read in the context of today's craze for "narrative nonfiction," which has its roots in the era when Crichton began writing. So as all these nonfiction writers were reinventing themselves as literary storytellers, Crichton was going the other way and developing an "objective" voice for fiction.

John Dishon

I read somewhere, or maybe I saw it on an interview with him, but Crichton apparently always had to have a piece of clothing laying around in a certain spot in order to be able to write, and when he started writing, he tended to eat the same thing for the duration of writing. I can't remember the source for that.

He was a master storyteller.


I also found this fascinating. I haven't read Crichton (and probably won't), but the fact that fiction must be stripped of its novelistic qualities (characterization and internalizing) to make it read like nonfiction before it will start selling respectable numbers of copies appalls me. Is the educational system to blame for this? I believe Crichton/Gottlieb, because it seems to fit in with the fact that non-fiction outsells fiction in this country. I used to think it was due to people's desire for self-improvement, but maybe that isn't it at all. People just don't want to know about other people and why they do things. They want to know what happened or could happen. After that, their curiosity stops.

Mark Martel

Crichton's "unusual" methods derive from the content he was trying to convey. If you're trying to tell a compelling story involving a complex, unfamiliar world--be it a germ research lab, a Victorian heist, an undersea artifact or what have you--there's no time to detail the characters' inner thoughts. And there's little point. Character idiosyncracies might actually distract readers from absorbing key expository information. Also, stock viewpoint characters can act as a surrogate for the readers. It may not be a standard use of literary techniques. But Crichton was not telling conventional stories focused on the interior lives of its characters. He was probing the wrenching technological changes to our outer world.

This approach is not new, but seems to happen more in so-called genre fiction. Detective stories, for instance, depend on the reader having to puzzle out characters and clues, and so also employ the sort of objective, journalistic point of view that doles out info as the crime-solver comes across it.

One reason people have trouble with science fiction is that the workings of a strange, unfamiliar world are often the real point of the tale. There is a strong intellectual kick when the details snap into focus, as in the classic Heinlein throwaway line, "the door dilated." Such fiction makes the reader exercise unfamiliar mental muscles, while letting others go slack.

Crichton was wise enough not to market himself as a science fiction author. But he was. Ungracious booksellers finally started shelving his works in the sf stacks when they disagreed with his take on global warming, in State of Fear. Why then and not for Jurassic Park?

In a way he pulled off one of the toughest writing feats: crafting stories based on the latest hard science, usually set in the present or near future, with such compelling plots that broad masses of people would gobble them up greedily and effortlessly.

He never stopped practicing medicine. He concocted candy-coated vaccines against our ignorance of technologic change.

Lawrence Tate

Had no idea Gottlieb was writing his memoirs - I would've figured trying to get the conclusion of the LBJ bio out of Robert Caro would be taking up all his time. But if he is writing 'em, I wonder who'd be editing 'em, and where.

One thing I've noticed about the lists of McCain's and Obama's fave books is that only one of these had an editor still living - "Song Of Solomon" by Toni Morrison, which Obama always mentions, was edited by Gottlieb. So I wonder if this gives Sonny Mehta the edge in the bidding come 2013 or 2017.

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