As part of my 2013 focus on reading only science fiction, I started reading Micro, most likely the last novel that will be published by the late Michael Crichton. Unlike Pirate Latitudes, which was discovered in its final form after Crichton’s death, Micro was completed by science writer Richard Preston using Crichton’s notes.
Unfortunately, this is what makes Micro an abysmal novel. Since it wasn’t actually written by Crichton, there’s little of the magic that makes Crichton’s novels so spectacular. Whereas characters like Alan Grant (Jurassic Park) and Casey Singleton (Airframe) are round and richly interesting protagonists, the post-graduate students in Micro seem like stock figures with little original personality to make them interesting. Antagonist Vin Drake is a caricature of someone with psychotic tendencies but almost no logic, despite being a successful businessman. Worst of all, though, the first 200 pages reads like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids with more science and a bit more action. Needless to say, I didn’t read any further.
Why is Micro such a bust? Because it wasn’t written by Michael Crichton. No matter how hard we try, we can’t replicate the amazing work of masters like him. Even if you take all of their notes and read all of their novels, you can’t imitate them; you’re not in their head, weaving a story together using their thought processes. And this situation isn’t unique. I read Children of Hurin several years ago – written by Tolkien, and then edited by his son before being published in 2007 – and while it’s a good story, it doesn’t have the same excellence of Lord of the Rings. And I’ve heard similar things said about the final Wheel of Time books and the attempts to carry the Bourne series on since Robert Ludlum’s death.
Instead of trying to hold onto writers that the universe has taken from us and squeeze out a bit more of their magnificence, try to write your own stuff, in your own voice. It’s a better tribute to writers like Crichton and Ludlum to let them inspire your work, rather than try to mimic them in order to carry on their work.