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Friday, November 7, 2008

6 incredible technologies from Michael Crichton stories


Prolific author Michael Crichton died this week. He practically invented the techno-thriller genre — scientifically complex stories tempered with strongly human characters (his last novel will be posthumously published next year). Our sister site SCI FI Wire has a good summary of his best and worst works here, and it reminded us of the prominent role that technology played in Crichton's stories.

From Jurassic Park to Disclosure to The Andromeda Strain, Crichton always laced his stories with tech that was beyond the cutting edge. After the Continue jump, join us for a look at five amazing technologies from Crichton's stories that we'll never forget.

1. The Robot Gunslinger
As seen in: Westworld, filmed in 1973
We'll always remember: Written and directed by Crichton himself, Westworld features a steely-eyed Yul Brynner as the robotic gunslinger. He's an entertainer at an amusement park with androids for actors, and — as usual when robots congregate — the 'bots rebel. I don't want to ruin anything, but let's just say corrosive fluids to the face aren't always a sure-fire way to keep an android down.

2. Dinosaur Cloning
As seen in: Jurassic Park, published in 1987
Adapted to film: 1993
We'll always remember: "Welcome to Jurassic Park." Crichton's dino-filled theme park wowed audiences so much that it spurned him to write a sequel — something he was strongly opposed to until Spielberg nudged him a bit. And the idea of cloning extinct species from preserved DNA? Well, it may not be as far off as you think.

3. Holographic Projectors
As seen in: Disclosure, published in 1994
Adapted to film: 1994
We'll always remember: Holograms are fun — just ask CNN. Disclosure isn't exactly a science-fiction story, but it still revolves around the dramatic going-ons at the heart of a high-tech computer company, which happens to have a lot of fun goodies like holograms.

4. Time Travel
As seen in: Timeline, published in 1999
Adapted to film: 2003
We'll always remember: True to the Crichtonian formula, Timeline features an amusement-minded entrepreneur who drags a bunch of smart people into a dangerous situation. No dinosaurs this time. Instead, it's the Middle Ages.

5. Nanobot Killers
As seen in: Prey, published in 2002
We'll always remember: In a cautionary tale of nanotechnology gone wrong, swarms of tiny self-replicating nanobots turn homicidal. The swarm evolves rapidly in response to threats against it and proves to be as unyielding and diabolical as any good antagonist.

6. Gorilla-Frying Lasers
As seen in: Congo, published in 1980
Adapted to film: 1995
We'll always remember: Say what you will about Congo the movie, but it did one thing right: lasers. Okay, so the powerful laser weaponry shown in the movie is all but impossible today — let alone then — but if you're going to butcher an amazing book, you may as well dice up some angry gorillas with crazy ray beams while you're at it.