I love reading Michael Crichton novels. He seems to be the only author that I can breeze through with little effort and in a reasonable time. I’ve been reading Lord of the Rings for a year now and am only three quarters through, and Snow Crash for six months. The reason for my inability to put his novels down is the suspense and the technological depth. I’m kept on edge while being fed an intriguing thesis. Prey is no different, in fact it uses exactly the same formula as his other hits.
If you’re looking for an “A typical” Crichton novel, one that introduces you to a collection of top level geeks, who find a scientific problem, and work as a dysfunctional team to disarm threat after threat, then this book is for you. I know what I am getting when I buy a Michael Crichton novel. Not a literary classic, not an analysis of characters, but a techno thriller.
Jack Forman is a house husband, unemployed because of his strict work ethics. His wife, Julia, works for Xymos, a company on the edge of breaking new ground with Nanotechnology. Just as Jack believes that his marriage is on the verge of complete breakdown, with his wife acting like she is having an affair, she has an accident. Jack is then drawn into Xymos as a contractor to oversee his old team that developed his agent based program that is at the heart of the Nanosystems Xymos manufacture. The suspense spirals upward as Jack is drawn into a battle with “Nano-Borg”.
Prey reminds me of a mix between Sphere and Jurassic Park, with the threat of a touch of Disclosure thrown in for legal good will. Locked in an isolated fab plant, cut off from the rest of the world, with an engineered threat, while dealing with a family emergency that could end up in the courts. Talk of the latest anti-male threats of “Alienation of Effection” makes me wonder if there isn’t just a little autobiographical material thrown in. I loved both novels, so it made it easy for me to enjoy Prey.
With Timeline and Jurassic Park The Lost World I couldn’t help but see him setting up scenes for a cinematographer. Prey, on the other hand, didn’t read as much like a movie. I guess it is always in the background, especially when the rights were purchased by Fox before publication (Fox Snag’s Michael Crichton’s PREY), and he is well know for his movies. It just didn’t distract like the others.
As usual Crichton explorers some of sciences latest areas, artificial life and nanotechnology. Jack led a team involved in creating distributed processing, creating computer applications that spread the workload across a number of agents. The field has explored swarm technology, the same processing that a colony of ants or bees use to work together as a team. Combined with nanotechnology the possibilities explode. As do the potential problems. Science is truly on the verge of all these possibilities, with Gaak the escaping robot, a robot that learns how to fly, and circuit that reinvents radio. For anyone with a passing interest in the future, Prey is fascinating reading.
Prey certainly seems to be the pinnacle of Crichton’s mountain of suspense. He builds layers as any breakout novel should. Don’t pick it up expecting literary or character depth, but as an easy to read suspense filled novel it is hard to put down. If you’ve enjoyed Crichton’s novels or movies, then Prey will be an enjoyable read. As a primer, it is worth reading Bill Joy’s paper in Wired Magazine, Why the future doesn’t need us. Combine them both and it becomes evident that we have to be very careful with what we do with science. We may have learnt much in the past few decades, but we don’t know near enough.