I guess I have to get used to having my favourite authors passing away one by one.
Yesterday, renowned best-selling techno-thriller author and biotech geek Michael Crichton died at the age of 66. His death was caused by a yet-to-be-announced cancer.
He will always have a special place in my heart. Among my first serious (read: thick paperback) novels were Crichton’s, and my subsequent interest in science was ultimately piqued by them.
It has always astounded me, how a lot of scientific and technical research was put into his books. The stories are usually followed by pages of appendix, documents and discussions. Although a lot of them utilise false document, you just can’t deny the sense of authenticity that they possess.
My favourite? Sphere. It started as a sci-fi adventure in deep sea, which evolved into a surreal take into psychology. I can still remember the concept of “a perfectly spherical structure is a sign of a really advanced technology”.
Not many people know that Crichton was also a prolific contributor in the TV and film industry. Besides being the creator of the long-running medical drama ER, Crichton also wrote the screenplay for The First Great Train Robbery, Twister and directed a number of movies.
I hope the novel he was working on right before his death will get to be published soon.
* * * * *
The saddest story in science this year has got to be the shutdown of the Phoenix Mars Lander due to insufficient solar coverage to recharge during the Martian winter. Not only that, the punishing climate will also most probably damage its system and parts.
If you have been following the lander on Twitter, you’ll get what I mean. It’s like hearing the last words of an abandoned astronaut in a distant star, his supplies running low and there’s only so much oxygen left…And you can’t do anything about it to rescue him.
John Herman of Gizmodo said it the best:
To the Phoenix, I say we’re right there with you, buddy. To NASA, I say STOP PERSONIFYING YOUR ROBOTS, IT ONLY LEADS TO PAIN.
I agree, mate. It’s just too depressing listening to Phoenix talking ever so calmly and high-spirited about its slow descent into death, and seemingly impossible chance of rebirth.
You can read Phoenix looking back at its life with its guest-blogging spot in Gizmodo, before the cold harsh winter swallows it.
Wired graciously ran a contest to create an epitaph for the lovable lander. I’d go with
It is enough for me. But for you, I plead: go farther, still.
I’ll wait for you next Martian summer with bated breath.