The Terminal Man: Tuesday, August 25th

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge Michael Crichton fan, but his novel The Terminal Man was even less thrilling than it sounds.

Now I’m not a fan of critics or criticism. I believe that the artist should always be given the benefit of the doubt. Even someone who creates poor art is benter than no artist.

Also, me critiquing a Michael Crichton novel is like an ant telling a bee how to make honey, or like a wristwatch telling a flashlight how to shine.

Michael Crichton died in 2008, on the same day as the US Presidential Election. Who knew? But his techno-thriller novels catapulted my childhood brain from black and white to color. Who didn’t have their heart and brain thrilled by Jurassic Park? Man I wish Crichton were still around to comment on the state of current affairs – our people and our planet and our technology. I wonder what he would think about Iphones and 3-D printers.

Anyway my point is, now that I’ve been studying so much about story, novels, the art of story, and the way that good stories are crafted – I couldn’t help but be disappointed by The Terminal Man.

In the novel, we are supposed to be surprised and scared by the idea that men and computers are merging. Actually this aspect of the novel was more funny than it was disappointing. The damn thing was written in the early 70’s, so we can’t exactly blame Crichton for the fact that his techno-thriller doesn’t hold up. Because of how fast technology has changed in the last few decades, the novel feels much older than it actually is.

But I think, precisely because that techno thriller aspect didn’t hold up, I was able to see the other parts of the story for what they really were. The magic curtain was drawn back. The skeleton of the novel was exposed, and I was left hanging on to the characters, the emotion, the plot and the development of the story action.

As I try to write my own stories, I want to remember, and learn from, the aspects of stories that I don’t like, just as much as I learn from stories I love.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the novel…

  • I didn’t like that ending was so damn predictable.
  • I didn’t like that there was really no clear protagonist. I didn’t know who I was rooting for. I wasn’t emotionally invested in any of the characters. So I didn’t really care what happened in the end.
  • I felt like I was being preached to. Even if the technological aspect had been current and cutting edge, it still felt like Crichton was jamming the point down my throat. The message kept interrupting the story, whether it was the narrator who was waxing philosophical, or the characters who were saying things that the narrator obviously forced them to say.
  • Along the same lines, I didn’t like that the novel had such a strong and obvious theme. This only made it easier to guess the ending.
  • The characters were really just representations of different ideas. They never seemed free to act on their own will.

***

Michael Crichton you’ll always be my hero. It’s humbling to know that even you wrote a few mediocre stories when you were starting out (before the phase where everything you touched turned into a hollywood blockbuster). Thanks for giving Jurassic Park to the world. And Eaters of the Dead and Andromeda Strain too. And for The Sphere; Dustin Hoffman was great in that movie, and I’m still afraid of the deep ocean ever and jellyfish to this day.

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