Michael Crichton: You Ask The Questions

(Such as: how much longer do you think the human race will survive? And, in ER, what is wrong with Dr Kerry Weaver's leg?)
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The Independent Online

Michael Crichton, 60, started a degree in English at Harvard University, switched to anthropology and, after graduating, enrolled at Harvard Medical School. While studying, he wrote a number of thrillers including The Andromeda Strain, which became a bestseller and a Hollywood film. Crichton went on to become a full-time writer, and is credited as the creator of the techno-thriller. He has sold more than 100 million books, many of which have been made into films, including Jurassic Park and Disclosure. He has also directed six films, is the creator of the television show ER and has a dinosaur, Bienosaurus crichtoni, named after him. He is divorced and lives in Los Angeles.

If Hollywood were destroyed by a freak accident tomorrow and you were asked to rebuild it, what changes would you make?
Tom Gillman, Bristol

I wouldn't rebuild it. It's already an anachronism, and so is its product. Does anybody believe that in 50 years we are still going to go to cinemas to watch big computer-generated light-shows that make no sense, bear no relation to real life and are accompanied by earsplitting noise? Or that we will want to watch this product at home on our screens? No, this too shall pass.

I hear that, while you are writing a novel, you eat the same meal every day. What food accompanied the writing of Jurassic Park?
Toby Marsden, Reading

Sushi. It tends to be whatever I eat on the day I really lock in and begin work in earnest. I repeat that meal thereafter. At least, I do most days. It can be anything. The worst was while I was writing Congo - open-faced turkey sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy. I gained 25lb by the time the book was finished.

I have another idiosyncrasy: there must be some clothes lying around somewhere in the room where I write. So I always keep a sweatshirt or gym clothes tossed on a chair in the corner. I have no idea why that is a requirement. A pair of Nikes will serve. But if the room is bare, I contrive to find something.

What is your greatest fear?
Ashley Warne, Bognor Regis

Being hit by a drunk driver.

Did you come up with the idea for ER while working as a doctor? Were any of the plots in the early episodes based on events that had happened to you?
Debbie Smith, London

I wrote ER four years after I left medicine. The pilot was just a string of experiences that had happened to me. Over the years, we've had a number of physicians writing the show, and they've included episodes from real life. We've also canvassed real ER nurses to get their stories. One of the things that distinguishes that show from other television shows is the degree to which it is based on real stories. Viewers can tell.

In ER, what is wrong with Kerry Weaver's leg?
Louisa Baring, by e-mail

I'm sorry, but that's confidential between doctor and patient.

How has being 6' 9" affected you? Has it given you a different perspective on life, metaphorically as well as literally?
Paul Evans, Aberystwyth

This is the perspective it has constantly reinforced in me: everything in life has both advantages and disadvantages. Height is no different. You're easily seen as an authority figure, but you bump your head. You can see in crowds. But try buying a car or buying clothes off the shelf. I can barely fit into some aeroplane seats. That forces me to fly first class, which I have done all my life, always resenting the expense.

How much longer will the human race survive? And what's the most likely cause of our demise?
Charlotte Richardson, Carlisle

I have no idea. I repeat to everyone who will listen that nobody can predict the future - including me. That's why I set so many of my books in the near past. But, of course, nobody listens to such an outlandish idea. Everybody thinks that the future can be predicted if we could only know enough. It is true that we are a very self-destructive species of ape. But I am optimistic by nature. My prejudice is that we are sufficiently resourceful to see the road ahead, and that we have the capacity to change our behaviour. I envision a long lifespan for the species. We've got a few million years ahead of us.

Your novel Airframe is about an investigation of an air disaster. What effect did the September 11 attacks have on you?
Ian Smart, Yeovil

I was on an American Airlines flight that left New York for Los Angeles at 8am on September 11. Our plane was ordered down in Indianapolis - we weren't told why, and we knew nothing of what had happened. While we were taxiing to the gate, I called my office in California to tell them I would be arriving late. Everybody was in tears. They thought I was dead. The news hadn't by then identified which 8am flights had been hijacked.

Have any of your novels been inspired by a particularly vivid nightmare?
Ben Everett, Hull

No. Unfortunately, my nightmares are disappointingly dull: I can't get the computer code right; I can't find my way through the train station; I am trapped at a tedious cocktail party and can't leave; the doctor is going to stick lots of needles in me; I can't remember the names of people I meet. You know, ordinary life events.

How much research did you do for your latest novel, Prey, in which a swarm of micro-robots goes on the rampage? Or did it all come from your imagination?
Ned Cook, by e-mail

It was far more research than invention. I found the research fascinating. Multi-agent distributed processing, of which so-called swarm intelligence is one variety, is a powerful set of programming procedures that shows great promise for the future. In any case, swarm robot research is going forward all over the place. Some Caltech [California Institute of Technology] scientists came to a book-signing in Pasadena and asked me to visit their lab, since "we are doing all the things you wrote about in Prey - except for the bad stuff." I haven't had time to visit yet.

At university, you once submitted an essay by George Orwell under your own name. Why did you do that?
Catherine Palmer, by e-mail

I suppose it was an early manifestation of a scientific bent; an experiment. My English instructor at Harvard severely criticised my writing style and gave me grades of C+. I suspected he was hopelessly stodgy and academic and would similarly criticise any writer of the kind I aspired to be. But I felt a need to test my thesis. George Orwell got a B- at Harvard, which convinced me that the English department was too difficult for me. I was amused by that episode, but 30 years later, there was a copyright-infringement trial for Twister (a movie that a surprising number of people imagine they wrote first). The attorney said that, since I had plagiarised Orwell, I obviously had no scruples about taking other people's work. The only reason he even knew about the incident was that I had written about it in a book called Travels. In any case, he didn't persuade the jury. I won the lawsuit.

'Prey' is published in paperback by HarperCollins at £6.99