Eaters of the Dead

Right from the beginning of a Michael Crichton novel, he begins selling untruths. But the way he folds them into his introduction, they seem like an Author’s Note at the start of any other book, laying the real, historical foundation before diving into fiction. The reader can hardly separate his “facts” from reality and is immediately drawn into whatever world Crichton has masterfully created.

With his science fiction, he often creates fictitious organizations or groundbreaking legal statutes–anything that will build up his coming story and provide a plausible backbone. It is almost tempting to Google InGen and expect to find real stocktickers or company data.

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When I pulled Eaters of the Dead from my shelf, two things happened:

  1. I was shocked to find it wasn’t sci-fi. It sure sounds like a book about zombies. And it’s Michael Crichton, right? He is one of our best known creature sci-fi writers. What the heck is this? “The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922.” Ooooookkkkk….
  2. I was able to GOOGLE IDN FADLAN AND FIND INFORMATION ON HIM. He was a real person. His manuscript was real, Crichton didn’t make this up.

So then I was really confused. What was this book I had in my hands? Michael Crichton did a historical translation? That didn’t seem right. But, I couldn’t put it down. The book is absolutely fascinating.

Of course it is. It’s Michael Crichton.

Ibn Fadlan is a 10th century Arab ambassador from Bagdad, who crosses paths with a group of Vikings on his way north. He travels with them for awhile, and writes about their barbaric customs–before being enlisted in their war against a cannibalistic ghost-like creature.

This “manuscript” isn’t very long, only about 180 pages, along with extremely detailed footnotes. The details about Arab and Viking culture were extremely interesting–I have 3 pages of notes from those 180 pages.

…but now I am questioning everything I wrote down…

Michael Crichton, genius that he is, took the first half of the book from the real Ibn Fadlan manuscript. That part really did happen. But after that first half, things get a little crazy, and you can tell that the supernatural is taking over and maybe things aren’t totally real anymore. It turns out he took the rest from a story in Beowulf. The footnotes, which seem like Crichton explaining Ibn Fadlan’s translated words are actually a fictitious narrator. Now, they are obviously extremely well researched, and probably factual (mostly), but with MC…, question everything.

Either way, real or not real…this book is brilliant. Some of you may know it as The 13th Warrior, as it was republished under that name when it was turned into an Antonio Banderas movie (I have feelings about that, but I’ll keep my mouth shut). I’d never heard of either, I just knew it was on my shelf with the rest of our MC books. It definitely needs to be read by any MC fan–I’m not sure it will push Prey out of line for my favorite, but it might be number #2 now.

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