I made a marvelous discover recently. The 1984 book Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies: The Future According to Science Fiction Cinema contains a nine-page section titled “When Men and Machines Go Wrong: An Interview with Michael Crichton by Danny Peary”. (pp.250-259)
Peary asked Crichton why his science fiction works are set in contemporary times, rather than far in the future. Peary said:
“Your films and novels are fairly cautionary. Perhaps if you set them in the future they’d have to be more pessimistic…”
“…Futuristic science fiction tends to be pessimistic. If you imagine a future that’s wonderful, you don’t have a story. There has to be some kind of conflict. Someone once said something I believe is true: If you live in the past, you’re depressed and if you live in the future, you’re anxious, so the only way to feel okay is to live in the present.” (p. 250)
I don’t think Crichton was as interested in predicting the future (though he certainly did numerous times), as he was in examining the present. The farther in the future a story is set, the less real it feels to us, and the less we connect it to our own times, beliefs, and actions. Crichton’s work does not allow us to escape far into the future; it keeps our feet on the present ground so we can question, analyze, and hopefully understand where we are now. And, more importantly, where we might be heading.