Reviews and Articles in General Publications
§ The New York Times November 24, 1999
Michael Crichton is profiled. He lives in a big house, has a limo and a personal assistant, and he read more than 200 books researching Timeline.
(Wed 24 Nov 1999)
§ The New Republic 11.22.99
Lee Siegel's long essay celebrates the Harry Potter books and considers them in light of past works by J.M. Barrie, C.S. Lewis, Ian Fleming, and others.
...the rapturous reception [in the US] of the Harry Potter books is
heartening, because J.K. Rowling is a literary artist, and these three
books possess more imaginative life than the majority of novels that are
published in this country in any given year. They are full of marvelous
invention and humor and fun, but they have more than that. They are
not fantasy-escapes from mundane existence, as they are being hailed;
they are escapes from a general condition of hyper-rationality that,
because it ignores the element of incalculability in life, has become
unreasonable to the point of seeming receptive to fantasy and the occult
as escapes from life. With Harry Potter, Rowling has brought reality
back into the literature of escape, and back into our fantasy-culture.
What a rarity, a literary imagination that is not self-conscious, and
studied, and uptight.
(Tue 23 Nov 1999)
Michael Crichton's new novel is reviewed everywhere:
- Sunday's New York Times Book Review gives it a full-page review by Daniel Mendelsohn. ''The new novel's daunting bibliography, with its single-spaced entries on
everything from the construction of medieval water wheels to the
aforementioned geons and black holes, reminds you that Crichton isn't
nearly as interested in people and their inner workings as he is in things
and their inner workings. ...
Crichton's lack of curiosity about humans and their inner motivations
limits him even as a science-fiction writer. The best science fiction, from
'Frankenstein' on, has, perversely, always been about how beside the
point science is -- how it can't, ultimately, solve the Big Problems,
because however sophisticated technology gets, human nature always
stays pretty much the same. ...
[F]ew entertainment products are as artificial as Crichton's own work.
Like shiny windup toys, his novels are diverting -- they're manically
entertaining. (I gobbled up 'Timeline' in a single sitting.) But like anything
mechanical, they just end up repeating themselves. Whatever time
Crichton is in, he's always writing the same book.''
- David Kipen's San Francisco Chronicle review asks what happened to Crichton: ''His new novel, 'Timeline,' is so carelessly imagined and indifferently written that it becomes hard to remember how good a maker of popular entertainment Crichton used to be. ... In fact, Crichton used to be a terrific novelist. He was never going to make John Updike lose any sleep, but he could make most readers lose sleep all night and call in sick the next day. 'The Andromeda Strain' invented a new genre, the techno-thriller, and did it in a sly, deadpan style that parodied scientific prose with wicked accuracy....''
- Richard Dyer in Boston Globe, calls Crichton's book ''slovenly but sort of fun''.
- Jim Argendeli's CNN review: ''Crichton has been criticized in the past for creating high concept, non-character driven stories. While that may be a somewhat valid criticism
... so what? In 'Timeline' the concept works wonderfully.''
- Two reviews in the London Times:
Saturday's short review by Peter Millar says the book has ''all the intellectual vigour of early Star Trek'', while Sunday's longer
John Dugdale review gives Crichton some credit: ''For what is seductive in Timeline
is the academic material: the beguiling quantum conjecture; the eager, absorbing contrasting of received preconceptions about some aspect of 14th-century culture, such as sword-fights or hygiene, with the reality; the set-piece touristic trips to a tournament, a monastery, a castle under siege.''
- Publishers Weekly has this long feature on Crichton.
§ New York Times Book Review Nov 21 In addition to the Crichton review, Sunday's NYTBR has Tom LeClair's
review of William Gibson's All Tomorrow's Parties (Putnam): ''Compared to 'Idoru' and 'Virtual Light,' the world of 'All Tomorrow's Parties' is lo/rez, but the author appears to have been highly resolved to compose a trilogy, even if the result is 'Virtual Lite.' ... If and when Gibson returns from cybercinema, I hope he'll imagine a new world and maybe jam three books into one that has the complex density 'All Tomorrow's Parties' refers to but does not achieve.''
In Children's Books, Perry Nodelman reviews Quint Buchholz's The Collector of Moments (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), a book included among the NYT's Best Illustrated Children's Books of 1999.
Ellen Ruppel Shell reviews Alison Jolly's Lucy's Legacy: Sex and Intelligence in Human Evolution (Harvard University Press): ''a charming, eclectic and sensible book, [in which the author] argues that while evolution certainly involves competition, the major transitions have arisen through cooperation''.
Richard Restak reviews Donald B. Calne's Within Reason: Rationality and Human Behavior (Pantheon), in which the author, among many issues, ''cautions against unwarranted hubris in regard to the mind's capacity for coming up with an All-Embracing Theory about Everything. Since the mind is shaped by its evolutionary origins, it operates with substantial limitations: 'We should not expect the human mind to be able to comprehend everything in the universe -- only what has been important for our past survival.' ''
§ Washington Post Book World Nov 21
Michael Shermer reviews Joel Achenbach's Captured by Aliens: The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe (Simon & Schuster) ''about how culture determines the content of our apparitions. The demon-haunted world of the Middle Ages witnessed people abducted by incubi and
succubi; the spirit-haunted world of 19th-century England and America
recorded people harassed by ghosts and apparitions. We don't experience
demons and spirits because, Achenbach says in a clever title
double-entendre, our culture is captured by aliens. From 'Star Trek' and
'Star Wars' to 'ET' and 'The X-Files' on the pop-culture front, and from
NASA's Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI) program to the
Mars rock microbes on the scientific front, Achenbach shows just how
powerful this theme is in our collective imagination. We live in an
alien-haunted world. ... This is science writing at its best -- I could not put the book down, and read it on planes, taxis, and even during interview breaks on a book tour -- and should be required reading for all scientists who want to explain what it is they do.''
§ Los Angeles Times Nov 21
Peter Biskind reviews John Baxter's biography of George Lucas (along with one of Coppola).
§ New York Times Nov 16
Here is Michiko Kakutani's take on Wendy Kaminer's Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials.
§ New York Times Book Review Nov 14
Michael Lind reviews Neil Postman's Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future; William Boyd reviews John Irving's My Movie Business: A Memoir; and Tobin Harshaw reviews Steven Millhauser's Enchanted Night.
§ San Francisco Chronicle Nov 14
A review of Millhauser by Cathryn Alpert.
§ London Times Nov 13
Scott Bradfield reviews Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon: ''While Cryptonomicon, like most lengthy novels these days, often feels too long in patches, it possesses an unusual ability to generate enigmas with clarity and conviction. And its combined qualities are just as unusual: it is worth reading, fun to read, and is the first volume of a trilogy which may turn out to be bigger than an encyclopaedia.''
(Mon 22 Nov 1999)