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The Crichton Effect
??TIME-LINE. CAN YOU ALL SING WITH ME?? TIME-LINE,? [he] exclaims, and exhales, blinks [his] eyes, and the pats [his] forehead. [He] and [his] staff go into the audience with a stack of books under their arms and hand them out. People reach up to take theirs. But [Crichton] charms with [his] smile, reassuring them they have several weeks to do the reading.? No, best-selling author Michael Crichton has not taken over Oprah?s Book Club, but this renown novelist does have a similar ?Oprah-effect,? on his audiences, keeping him soaring high on the charts bestseller after bestseller. Timeline, Crichton?s 1999 bestseller, is yet another of his latest examples of how Crichton continues to captivate readers through his great status in the book industry compiling his almost formulaic creations with the ?popular? worries of the modern day.
Oprah?s influence on the publication industry is tremendous. ?On average, 13 million Americans watch Oprah?s Book Club, the segment of ?The Oprah Winfrey Show? devoted to novels that broadcast once a month.? Some instances of this Oprah- promoted success can be witnessed in books such as Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes, that went instantly from 10,000 to 760,000 in print; White Oleander jumped from 25,000 to 1 million; and Vinegar Hill by A.M. Ansay, jumped from from 18,000 copies to 875,000.
The whole Oprah system, from the book selection to the production and shipping, all revolve around secrecy. Oprah usually calls the author while her publicist contacts the publisher, who signs a confidentiality agreement to keep the selection a secret until the televised announcement. ?The publisher supplies 500 copies of the book for the studio audience and is asked to donate 10,000 more copies to libraries.? Then, the publisher solicits orders from the booksellers, roughly ordering the same amount for each hardcover and paperback copies, 650,000 and 800,000 respectively, since they have no knowledge of what they are ordering. The boxes arrive in stores the day the show is broadcast, all with the insider?s knowledge of the book selected limited to a ?handful of Oprah producers and a dozen people in the publishing house.? Oprah also regulates the positioning of the logos on the covers. After the month is up for a specific Oprah-selection, the logos come off and the publishers cannot even mention the book club in future advertisements.
Interestingly enough, part of Oprah?s strategy is to make her book club episodes resemble all her other shows. Oprah?s picks are dominantly composed of female heroines overcoming mainly the abuses of men. As Deborah Futter, an editor from Doubleday, elaborates, ?An Oprah-type novel is a moving, painful human story, not too hard to read, and and usually written by a woman.?
Just as Oprah adheres to a specific formula for her bookclub selection, Crichton also succumbs to following his formulaic adventure story in his latest bestseller, Timeline. When the critics reviewed Timeline, they were mainly debunked it for its comparatively strict adherence to the plot and theme discussed in Crichton?s Jurassic Park. Just as the multimillionaire in Jurassic Park, decides to construct a dino-theme park- built to a surprising reality through gene sequencing, Bob Doniger in Timeline uses the quantum technology to travel through time-space, gathering important information on how to revive several sites purchased around the world to their historically accurate settings. The main site where the Timeline unfolds is Castlegrad-La Roque, where a team of historians travel to 14th century France to rescue Professor Johnson, just as Dr.Grant and his team try to rescue the survivors in an effort to escape the Jurassic island.
Both theme park creators are motivated by greed, that subsequently leads to their downfall. Bob Doniger, in efforts to create a historically favorable theme park for the general public, is ready to undergo all measures, including the expenditure of human life, to feed is empire estimated of producing of over $2 billion annually per site. The creator Jurassic Park is also motivated by monetary gains to open up a dino-site to the public, a action that leads to his destruction as he is killed by ravenous dinosaurs. Doniger does not escape is fate either as he is transported back to feudal France at the end of the novel, just after the arrival of the Black Death, a plague that killed about one-third of Europe.
Even the overall theme of man attempting to override the laws of nature leads to dangerous consequences, is ever-present in both novels as the Jurassic Park creator attempts introducing dinosaurs to our modern-day world, while Doniger initiates time-travel taboo by sending several people back into dangerous times for site research. Such a time-character displacement, Crichton stresses inevitably leads to destruction especially when coupled with human greed and desire. Such desire for power and invicibiliy culminating in the tools of science and technology, whether it be gene sequencing or quantum mechanics, when used for evil purposes leads to dire consequences.
Although Oprah has enriches publishers, she declares her goal is grander, ?To get America reading again.? ?She wants to expose people to books that matter, books that in some way touch the self.? Thus through Oprah?s insistence of treating novels as ?springboards for self-reflection? she has made herself the most successful pitch person in the history of publishing.
However, Oprah is not the person that sees her novels as models of reflection, Crichton, particularly in his latest novel, Timeline, embarks on a journey of self-discovery, in which one can really see in later part of the novel.
On page 400, Doniger stresses that in every field, the dominant mode has become entertainment. ?But where will the mania for entertainment end?...what will [people] do when they get tired of theme parks and planned thrills? Sooner or later the artifice becomes too noticeable. They begin to realize that the amusement park really is a kind of jail, in which you pay to be an inmate. This artifice will drive them to seek authenticity...Where then will people turn to this rare and desirable experience of authenticity? They will turn to the past.?
Thus Doniger presents this persuasive argument to his investors, persuading them to buy a seat on the board estimated at $33 million. However, simultaneously, Crichton is trying to sell this novel to the reader on the basis of its historical authenticity. From the beginning, Crichton was meticulous about striving for historical accuracy, performing months of library research, condensed into eighty-one bibliographical references. Even though he was teased by many critics, including Daniel Mendelsohn, for his extensive list of sources considering Timeline is definitely fiction, Crichton felt that ?on writing about the Middle Ages, ?people don?t know what you are talking about,?? and so he set out to make a difference and to educate through his own journey. Not only visiting libraries and book stores, but also attending museums, especially the armory exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which inspired the classic Timeline cover, Crichton was determined to tell medieval times exactly as they were-even if he left the critics smirking. And thus the product of Crichton?s relentless few years search, Timeline is born, though criticized for it?s formulaic plot, becomes untouchable in terms of authenticity.
Oprah, though only one person, has done so easily what the book industry has failed to do: find new readers. Reports from Barnes & Nobles state that 75 percent of people who came in for an ?Oprah book? bought another title as well. And ?according to Rachel Jacobsohn, who runs a national information-exchange program for book members, there are around 500,000 book clubs in America today , twice as many as in 1994. Having between 5 million and 10 million members, Jacobsohn attributes this growth to the Oprah-effect.
Oprah is not the only one that has easily found her readers, Crichton has also found his niche in the public arena, a task which has contributed to him being one of the greatest best-selling authors of the later half of the 20th century. Such a accomplishment is what great writers strive for because once they have an audience, they are set for stardom. Such others of Crichton?s contemporaries, who have also found their niche are Stephen King, with his notable horror stories, and Tom Clancy, with his extensive law novels. However, unlike King, Clancy, or even the Oprah, the Crichton reader has a particular character. Ranging from young adult to elderly, the Crichton reader may either be male or female, and probably enjoys reading fairly easy prose, but with a wide variety of complicated technical and scientific phenomeon-which may be one of the reasons Crichton seems to appeal more to men than women. His novels deal mainly with the emerging difficulties of modern day from deadly viruses [Andromeda Strain],gene sequencing [Jurassic Park], sexual harassment [Disclosure], and presently quantum mechanics [Timeline].
In Timeline, Crichton starts out with a detailed summary of the birth of quantum physics to the present day challenges, educating his reader, who may already have some or no knowledge of the subject- in any case, Crichton attempts to explain it all clear and effectively, meddling scientific realities in fiction that make it seem almost believable. In truth, most of what makes Crichton a popular writer are the popular, modern subjects he deals with neatly explaining them into a neat and entertaining narrative. Because although there maybe other ?crichtonseque? writers out there, in actuality, no one does it better than Crichton especially with the clarity of technical prose.
Crichton indeed has created his own monopoly in both the book and movie industry (of his novels that are made into movies)- a monopoly that in effect will never run out of fuel as long as there are contemporary scientific and ethical problems to discuss.
Zaleski, Jeff. "High Concept of Michael Crichton." Publisher's Weekly. November 1,1999*
Di Filippo, Paul. "From Michael Crichton, the Pedestrian Guide to Time Travel."
Washington Post. November 29,1999. C5*
Weeks, Linton. "King of Catastrophe." Washington Post. November 26, 1999. C1-2*
Barnes and Nobles website. [search: books, Timeline]
De Haven, Tom. "Timeline." Entertainment Weekly. November 26, 1999
Mendelsohn, Daniel."Kings-Errant." New York Times Book Review. November 21,
Gorman, Rochelle. "Crichton Mines History for a Tale of Time Travel that doesn't Fly."
Los Angeles Times. December 22, 1999*
Treu, Martin Allen."Timeline." eNewsViews.
Saturday Review. November 1999
Life Magazine Archives
The Bookseller. November 1999
Max, D.T. ?The Oprah Effect.? NY Times. December 26, 1999*
Newsweek. "Moving Across Mediums." 11-22-99. pg 94*
Publisher's Weekly. "The High Concept of Michael Crichton."11-1-99*