I only met Michael Crichton once, when we fillmed a PBS show together with the late Octavia Butler. He struck me as a very pleasant fellow... along with being outrageously tall. Well-spoken and courteous. I quite liked him and was shocked and saddened by his recent passing.
I also had the historic opportunity to attend - standing room only - Crichton's famous, or infamous, speech before the AAAS, back in 1999, an hour that he spent defensively proclaiming (in effect) "I do not hate science!"
Take, for example, his contention that, even when 99% of qualified experts in a field agree about a scientific matter (e.g. global climate change), the phrase "scientific consensus" should be ruled meaningless. Indeed, Crichton maintained that any such a consensus of expert opinion should have no relevance at all, in the arena of public policy. In effect, technically trained boffins - even when they agree with near-unanimity - can be rightfully ignored, leaving technological policy matters to be decided, without reference to science, by 51% of uninformed politicians. A fascinating stance! And, because the one putting it forward was someone I respected, I gave it my full attention, trying hard to see this issue through Michael Crichton's eyes. (I admit, I ultimately failed.)
Likewise, as a fellow writer of science fiction explorations - and I dignify him, quite willingly, with the high encomium of "sci fi guy" - he had some authorial propensities that I found irksome, yet interesting from a broader perspective. For example, I had no problem with his utterly consistent theme of "there are things Mankind isn't meant to know." (TATMIMK) Look, dire warnings are always welcome, and a few of Michael Crichton's were so vivid that they may even qualify as Self-Preventing Prophecies, so influential that they actually helped to gird vast numbers of people against the described failure mode. And I believe that there is no higher praise for any creator of scenarios about the future.
(I think we'll all be safer from sixgun-toting robots and velociraptors. Less tongue-in -cheek, some of the arguments about biological warfare spawned by The Andromeda Strain have had quite salutary effects.)
No, it wasn't his dour anti-technology perspective, but rather, the consistency - and, eventually, tiresome predictability - of his story arcs, that made me (with some regret) lose interest as the years went by. The characters who preached TATMIMK in every tale always faced a dire situation wrought by monumental technological hubris - some arrogant scientific ambition that usurped the prerogatives of Heaven - unleashing death and danger. In this, Michael Crichton was clearly the direct heir of Sophocles and Euripedes and a tradition going back thousands of years.
Alas, since every one of his scenarios involved secrecy that exacerbated the Big Mistake even more than hubris, it might have been nice to see Crichton explore how things might differ, had the same projects been pursued in the open, cleansed and criticized by the scrutiny of colleagues, peers, competitors, regulators and... well... wary authors like Michael Crichton.
Indeed, I took to ignoring the TATMIMK rants of his characters, and instead perceiving his scenarios in this light -- as explorations of what can happen when "progress" takes place without the benefit of criticism, which (I've long contended) is the only known antidote to error. As Edward Tenner points out, in WHY THINGS BITE BACK: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences, it is perfectly true that bold endeavors often have unintended consequences. And if Crichtonian-style villains are ever put in charge of any real world projects, hiding their efforts from the public eye, then it is quite plausible those efforts will go badly wrong.
Of course, I do wish Crichton had shed light upon this variable, or let it even be mentioned (more than in passing) once in a while, since secrecy arguably is the key error-generator, rather than ambition, itself. But, then, we clearly disagreed about that.
Then, of course, there is the other thing he nearly always did. Putting everything back the way it was... except (of course) for the dead. Dinosaurs scream and charge, nanomachines run wild, diseases invade from space, magical spheres... do their magical sphere thing... but always, after the climactic scene, the world remains unchanged and society continues as a late 20th Century Republican version, perpetually flawed but stable as-is, with a tentative hope that it can stay that way, untouched by the mistakes that unfold in his books, forever.
Okay, I admit being fascinated by change in a different way than he was. I play with scenarios that might challenge the status quo, pondering how peoples and societies might transform, ever after... the way that we have changed so much, and often for the better.
Admittedly, there were advantages and benefits, to Crichton's near-universal recipe of hubris plus secrecy. It certainly did help drive dozens of plots, allowing the requisite mayhem to commence without delay. And boy did it lend itself to movies! And of course it helps to assume that civilization is too slow or stupid to be of any help, or at least not in time. Unimpeded and unbothered by civil institutions, due process, or the kinds of teams of smart and skilled professionals who might get the protagonists out of their jam.
Indeed, so entrancing are these plot situations, that one quells the urge to shout at the screen, during Jurassic Park, demanding "Why didn't you just make herbivores? Duh?" Of course, that would have been logical and sensible.
But it wouldn't have been as much fun. I admit it.
And that's the crux, after all. The world has now lost one of its prime fonts of delicious, scary fun.