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Between Flights With Michael Crichton

December 15, 1996|STEVE WASSERMAN | Steve Wasserman is editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review

"The basic problem I faced was the first 150 pages were close to unreadable. The explanation of how the airplane worked, of what went wrong and of all the various leads that were followed, I ended up cutting by at least a third. I didn't actually simplify anything. I just cut because reading it was exhausting. Early readers were feeling the way I had felt talking to the engineers. At a certain point, you just say, 'I'm sorry, I can't talk to you anymore.' I can't hear anymore about DFDAU, FDI; I can't try and hold all those acronyms in my head and envision the dramatic narrative anymore. You just kind of collapse in exhaustion. I had to shorten that. I'm afraid, however, there's still a lot of it."

In "Airframe," Crichton makes plain his thoroughgoing disgust with the kind of media that he castigates as obsessed with morality tales that unfold in a fast-paced way and rest on a series of hooks that don't have to be described. But couldn't his book be reasonably seen the same way? Doesn't he wish to have it both ways? Isn't he guilty of the very sin he condemns?

"Yes, and I was very aware of that while I was writing," he said. "And I felt, intermittently, a lot of anxiety that I was overstating my case with the media, with the broadcast journalists. And then I would simply turn on the coverage of ValuJet and decide, no. I was actually being much too easy. Still, there is certainly an element of truth in what you say. But I have not attempted a documentary. My book doesn't describe \o7 exactly\f7 how it works. I'm trying to be true to something, some quality of the process but not all the details because of the requirements of the narrative. What I would say in my defense is that I'm attempting to get it right. I'm not attempting to take no prisoners and unrealistically shock and arouse you."

As with his other polemical entertainments--"Disclosure" and "Rising Sun," for example--readers, as always, will be the best judge.

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