Remembering Martin Caidin

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Let’s talk about Martin Caidin

Martin who?

You know, Michael Crichton’s contemporary, the other big name writer of adventure stories grounded in science in the 1970s and 80s.

Martin who?

Have you never heard of The Six Million Dollar Man?

Oh, yeah. OK. Martin who?

The man who wrote over 50 books including a couple of Indiana Jones books in the 1990s, and the novelization of the movie The Final Countdown. But if you know him at all, it’s probably because of his most famous character, Steve Austin, and the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man. The show was loosely based on Caidin’s book, Cyborg (1972).

The basic scenario was the same for both the TV show and the novel: An astronaut survives what should have been a fatal crash, and is enhanced with bionic parts to allow him to not only live, but excel as a secret agent of the US government.

But the book was more political (it involved Isrealis and Arabs, and you can guess which side our cyborg was on), violent, and didn’t shy away from discussing sex. It should be noted that this wasn’t so unusual back then. Books were often much more randy than their filmed counterparts. Want proof? Read Peter Benchley’s Jaws. Sheriff Brody’s wife is having an affair. She fantasizes about getting into a car crash and her husband’s co-workers discovering that she’s driving panty-less to her lover’s nest. That definitely didn’t make it into the movie.

I’ve read Cyborg and enjoyed it. Cyborg had three sequels, and I thought I’d read one of them, although their descriptions on Wikipedia don’t ring any bells.

Cyborg really does read like a Michael Crichton book. And it’s made me wonder why Crichton went on to such a successful career, where Caidin’s career was successful, but less stellar.

Crichton’s first break out book was The Andromeda Strain (1969), about a virus coming to Earth and causing havoc. Coincidentally, a year earlier, Caidin published Four Came Back about astronauts unintentionally bringing a new virus back to Earth.

I’m not suggesting that Crichton borrowed from Caidin - when an idea is ripe to be exploited, like-minded people will find it and use it, and in the late 1960s near Earth space travel was a very hot topic. For whatever reason — marketing, quality of storytelling, fickle Gods — The Andromeda Strain caught the public’s attention.

The Six Million Dollar Man wasn’t Caidin’s only shot at fame. It wasn’t even his first. I remember seeing a movie on TV when I was a kid. It was called Marooned, and it was about an astronaut stuck in Earth orbit with no way home. It turns out that was one of Caidin’s stories too, and it was released as a movie in 1969, with some big names - Gregory Peck, Gene Hackman - and some staple actors of the genre - Richard Crenna, David Janssen. It showed up on TV some time later.

This doesn’t being to touch on Caidin’s life - he was a professional pilot (who flew with the Thunderbirds aerobatic team); he restored vintage aircraft, he wrote flight manuals approved by the FA; he was a TV talk show host who challenged far-right hate group leaders to debate him on air; and later in his life, he claimed psychic abilities, but refused to let them be tested.

All in all an interesting man. You really should read his wikipedia entry at least, and maybe one of his books if you ever find them in a second-hand book store.