7:00am PT by Chris Gardner
Michael Crichton's Widow, Sherri, Opens Up on 'Andromeda Strain' Sequel With "Female Scientific Edge"
Nov. 4 marked the 11-year anniversary of the death of Michael Crichton, following a brief cancer battle. Also on that date, just last week, Sherri Crichton, had an interview scheduled with The Hollywood Reporter.
While she considered getting on the line another day, she called in (from Michael’s old office) because “there’s no better day to continue celebrating Michael and everything he gave us — all the gifts of literature and entertainment,” explained the 55-year-old, who serves as CEO of Crichton Sun, the film and TV production company overseeing his vast archive. “It’s always a day of solitude but, I have to tell you, I have the blessing of feeling Michael’s energy around me all the time.”
His many fans might say the same thing. In his 66 years, Crichton, a towering figure who stood 6 feet 9 inches, proved himself one of the most prolific and indefatigable creatives, working as an author, researcher, screenwriter, director and producer who delivered iconic works like The Andromeda Strain, ER, Congo, Jurassic Park and Westworld. In 1995, he made history with a No. 1 film in Congo, a No. 1 TV show in ER and a No. 1 book with The Lost World. He repeated the feat a year later with Airframe, Twister and ER. His books have sold more than 200 million copies across the globe and their legacies live on: HBO debuts Season 3 of Westworld in 2020; Jurassic World 3 is coming via Universal on June 11, 2021; and Nov. 12, Harper publishes The Andromeda Evolution, the sequel to Crichton's groundbreaking science fiction novel, The Andromeda Strain, 50 years after its 1969 publication.
The seminal science-fiction tale tracks the events after the shocking landing of an extraterrestrial microorganism in Arizona that threatens humanity. Writer Daniel H. Wilson, best known for his New York Times best-selling book Robopacalypse and its sequel Robogenesis, got the nod from Sherri Crichton to tackle a new installment of the story, titled The Andromeda Evolution, one that picks up decades later when a Brazilian drone detects “a bizarre anomaly of otherworldly matter in the middle of the jungle, and, worse yet, the tell-tale chemical signature of the deadly microparticle.”
“It was not an easy decision to touch one of Michael’s most iconic pieces of work,” Sherri notes. “I was able to look past the potential criticism from naysayers and look at the bigger picture, which is that I don’t want Michael’s classic body of work to be forgotten.”
She also had to bring into view a writer of note who could handle such a story. “I can’t say that it was ever a slam dunk,” she says of locking in the right writer. “We were critical of what that story would be and how it would unfurl but Daniel was remarkable to work with. He was truly inspired by Michael so we already had that under our belt.”
While she didn’t give away specific plot points, she did tease a “female scientific edge” in the novel. “I had final approval and up until the day we finally had the manuscript, I still had approval rights to say it is good enough or it's not, but in a resounding celebratory moment, I said we have to move forward. Michael would’ve been really proud.”
As for a possible feature Andromeda Evolution film or TV adaptation, Sherri says that nothing is set yet. “I feel very strongly that you have to let the book speak for itself,” she notes, juggling the interview and a rambunctious West Highland terrier puppy named Thor at her feet who, at one point, disconnected the interview. “Right now, I’m putting 100 percent of my efforts on the book.” That’s not to say there hasn’t been interest. “I have gotten a lot of enthusiasm from people. Universal is home to Andromeda from years and years ago so there’s a wonderful synergy there. I don’t know yet. We’re going to wait and see.”
Also keep an eye out for never-before-seen videos of the author speaking about The Andromeda Strain, the work that put him on the map all those years ago. Also on the Crichton Sun slate is an adaption of Michael’s novel Micro, which was published in 2011 after his death in partnership with scribe Richard Preston. Sherri says it’s still moving forward with Amblin Partners and producer Frank Marshall as they “fine-tune character work” on the script. “I have such a passion for that piece,” she says of the story, which follows a group of seven grad students who set off for Hawaii to work for a biotech company only to find themselves thrust into the Oahu rain forest in a battle for their lives. “We’re almost there.”
Also in the mix are plans to publish a completed manuscript Michael left behind. No details were given for that, but what Sherri would elaborate on is the ongoing work of organizing and curating the larger archive for a home that is undetermined. For the past several years, she’s been digging through “filing cabinet after filing cabinet” and “thousands of files” on various hard drives to discover Michael’s writings and research.
“These pieces are so rich and wonderful,” says Sherri, whose voice perks up while speaking of their son, John Michael, born just months after his father’s death. (“He’s the spitting image of Michael,” she adds.) “There’s so much work that will never see the eyes of anyone.… My long-term goal is to be able to share his archive — parts of it anyway — for education and for research purposes.” Where, she’s not yet sure. “At one point I envisioned him at the Smithsonian. Then there are parts of me that think his archive could be useful in teaching children how to write and unleash their imaginations by giving them access to how he did it, how he researched and just opening the lens up to all the variables of his editing process.”
So, what would Mr. Crichton think of the world as it is today, with the threat of AI and robot employees bandied about in the presidential debates, alleged extraterrestrial sightings, self-driving cars and global warming? “I have no idea,” Sherri says with a laugh. “I would love to be able to open [one of his] drawers and answer that.”