fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsTravels by Michael CrichtonTravels by Michael Crichton

When Travels begins, Crichton is a student at Harvard Medical School, sawing into cadavers with his peers. He nearly faints at the sight of blood, but he is a talented and diligent student. Crichton shares the objections and concerns that would ultimately drive him from medicine, a decision perhaps made easier by the fact that he had already begun to experience success as a writer of spy novels. However, more than anything, it seems that Crichton began to doubt that doctors are capable of helping people. Instead, he believes that people should always assume personal responsibility for their illnesses.

So, Crichton leaves medicine, moves to Los Angeles, and begins writing novels and working in film. However, Travels is not the book about how Michael Crichton developed a passion for writing or found his big break. In fact, aside from a longer recollection of working with Sean Connery on The Great Train Robbery, Travels only rarely touches on Crichton’s career as a novelist or as a director. 

Instead, when Crichton finishes directing his first successful film, he realizes that he has accomplished his childhood goals. He no longer knows what he wants out of life, and so he embarks on a series of journeys to find himself.

Many of the journeys begin as travel essays. Crichton will share the difficulties of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or a time when he worried that he might get the bends from scuba diving too deeply and for too long. Throughout these journeys, Crichton is remarkably forthcoming. He details a time he was guided to a brothel in Bangkok, and he shares in detail his thoughts on the career-driven women he began to date during the 1980s.

Crichton’s willingness to share odd and often potentially embarrassing details from these journeys is important since many of these journeys are introspective. Crichton recalls his first sessions with a therapist, and he is shocked to learn that he is insecure. It makes him wonder what else he has overlooked or refused to see in his life. Consequently, Crichton begins to travel more extensively in order to see what else he might be blind to. Many of these accounts end with a summary of a life lesson that he learned. After one dangerous experience, for example, he wonders if he has a subconscious death wish. Crichton’s initial experiences with the therapist, as well as his realization that he needs to find more meaning in his life than his career, guide him to Eastern philosophers, meditation, and eventually to psychic readings.

Crichton, a trained physician, worries that he will be remembered as a contemporary Arthur Conan Doyle (a trained physician who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, but who also believed in the power of psychic readings and wrote about The Coming of the Fairies). Nevertheless, Crichton devises a system that he feels will prevent him from being taken advantage of and consults psychics with an open mind. He is soon convinced that there is at least some validity in the readings and continues his explorations throughout his life. He eventually trains himself to channel thoughts, though he grows tired of it in time.

Although some readers may find Crichton’s accounts of confronting spiritual entities and bending spoons far-fetched, I enjoyed these reading these adventures. While his childhood is not the center of the book, Crichton explains that he had a bad relationship with his father during his childhood and he also struggled to remain in long-term relationships (he married five times). Crichton’s encounters with auras, or, say, his relationship with a cactus, were interesting in and of themselves, but I was impressed by Crichton’s determination to learn about himself.

I also found Travels interesting because I began reading it with an expectation of what Crichton would be, based on his novels. I suppose it’s always wrong to assume too much about authors based on their work, but it’s a trap I can’t help falling into. In many of Crichton’s works, such as Timeline and Eaters of the Dead, he seems to go out of his way to provide a scientific justification for writing about people with swords. In Timeline, quantum mechanics cause the problems, while the monsters in Eaters of the Dead are not monsters but rather Neanderthals. While some of Crichton’s views, such as his relationships with women, did not surprise me, the last thing I would have expected to learn about this author is that he goes out of his way to explore psychic energy, that he was insecure about his height, or that he had had problems with his father.

Travels ends with an account of Crichton’s research. He includes a rebuttal against skepticism that leads to dismissal without direct experience, and he encourages readers to explore psychic energies for themselves. I enjoyed seeing Crichton’s summary of which aspects of the paranormal seem legitimate (psychic readings about the present, for example) and which seem ridiculous (levitation). However, I would have preferred to have seen more time devoted to what he felt he had learned about himself. To some extent, I couldn’t escape the feeling that Crichton often seemed to confront problems in the short term (such as his relationship with his father), but also often seemed to encounter similar problems throughout his journeys (anger).

In an interview posted on his website about Travels, Crichton has stated that this was his favorite book to write because it was autobiographical. While Travels may not be my favorite Michael Crichton book, I found it both a memorable and interesting read. I’d recommend it to any fan of Crichton’s work.


  • Ryan Skardal

    RYAN SKARDAL, on our staff from September 2010 to November 2018, is an English teacher who reads widely but always makes time for SFF.