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TRAVELS by Michael Crichton Kirkus Star


by Michael Crichton

Pub Date: April 25th, 1988
ISBN: 0060509058
Publisher: Knopf

Most Crichton books are champion sports-cars: sleek, high-powered, engineered for an quick evening spin. This time, however, the master of the compelling read (The Andromeda Strain, Congo, etc.) tosses some jalopies in with the Ferraris in this mostly satisfying collection of 38 essays on inner- and outer-voyaging. What a traveler he is! Mt. Kilimanjaro, Bangkok, the mountains of Pakistan, the seas of Bonaire, even "Shangra-La" (the Himalayan outpost of Hunza). Objectives vary: treasure-hunting, animal-watching, mountain-climbing, whorehouse-hopping. He's at his best in the nature pieces, especially in an outstanding description of stalking a troop of mountain gorillas ("Gorillas"), an essay that captures the eeriness and poignancy of this dying branch of the proto-human tree. Many entries ("Kilimanjaro," "Cactus Teachings") describe moments of self-discovery, while a few ("Jamaica") bog down in fussing over personal relationships. Some seem to have no point at all, beyond Crichton's desire to screen his favorite home movies. A breed apart are the essays on inner space, in which Crichton comes across like a sober Shirley MacLaine as he happily chomps his way through channeling, clairvoyance, meditation, power spots, and other New Age goodies. This out-on-a-limb stuff culminates in a masterful defense ("Postscript: Skeptics at Cal Tech") of the legitimacy of parapsychological research, one of the best essays of its kind anywhere. Also noteworthy: nine essays recalling his traumatic days at Harvard Medical School. Considering the decline in quality of Crichton's novels (culminating in the silliness of Sphere) and the excellence of many of these essays, one wonders whether his mature talent doesn't flourish best in nonfiction. With a bit of pruning, this would have been a brilliant travel album. As it is, the memorable snapshots easily outnumber the turkeys.