You know what sucks? Walking into one of the best bookstores on the planet and realizing that you can’t buy any books.
That’s how I found myself back in July, when we were passing through Portland. We had a couple hours to kill and I wanted to spend it in Powell’s. The only problem was that Oksana and I had just reduced our material possessions down to what could fit in our backpacks, and even if I could spare the time for some recreational reading, I couldn’t rationalize the added weight of a single paperback. Not to mention the iPad we’d brought along. If there’s one good argument for digital publishing, it’s that it is tailor-made for travel reading…
So I found myself window shopping the bookcases, glancing over the collections of some of my favorite authors, when I came across the Michael Crichton section. Sphere, Jurassic Park, Andromeda Strain. Good reads, good times. But wait, what’s this? Travels? I picked up the worn paperback and read the back cover. How could I have read practically everything Crichton has written and not known that he wrote a book about traveling? Seemed like an omen. Screw iBooks. I had to buy this.
“Writing is how you make the experience your own, how you explore what it means to you, how you come to possess it, and ultimately release it.” –Michael Crichton
I’m not in the habit of collecting quotes, but this one, about why Crichton tackled a book on his physical and spiritual travels, so perfectly explains why I write that I couldn’t help but write it down.
I didn’t get a chance to read it until we got to the beach in North Carolina. It’s no wonder I’d never heard of Travels. Not only is it a book wholly different from its marketing, it doesn’t paint Mr. Crichton in a very good light (even though it’s his own memoir.)
One thing I liked about Crichton was the way he obsessively researched his books. After reading a few of them, you couldn’t help but see how he comes by his ideas. Some new scientific headline would tickle his interest – say, gene splicing (Jurassic Park), nanotechnology (Prey) or virtual reality (Disclosure) – and off he would go, reading anything and everything even vaguely related to the subject. Eventually, some ideas would coalesce into a plot, setting, characters… and he’d spin us a yarn.
Jurassic Park is a perfect example. Gene splicing across species wasn’t anything new to write fiction about, but when he paired it with the 65-million-year-old mosquito-in-amber trick to get it to work with dinosaurs, it turned into a great idea. I imagine the same story would have been created by any number of other authors after that T. Rex bone was broken and scientists discovered soft tissue preserved inside, but because Crichton was already up to his eyeballs in splicing research, I’m sure the idea popped into his head as soon the first amber story crossed his desk.
Anyway, back to Travels.