Book Review : Prey By Michael Crichton.

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.

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32 thoughts on “Book Review : Prey By Michael Crichton.

  1. I just finished reading this book. Since I work in the field, it attracted my attention. I’ve read a lot of Chrighton’s novels and have always liked them if not for the fact that he does poor dialog and his characterizations are lacking. But I liked this book. It’s his best, and I could not put it down. It also scared me. A lot of his stories scare me because in this day and age, you’d never know.

    I’ll be looking forward to the movie. I can picture who would play the part of Jack.

  2. I just finished reading Prey as well… Just as with all of his other books, I couldn’t put it down. I whole heartedly agree that it is a mix of sphere and jurassic park. I can’t wait until his novel!

    By the way, I started re-reading LOTR back in January and I just got to Return of the King last week! I finished Prey in 1 day. =)

  3. I Love his books but I have to say I was a little dissappointed with this one. The swarms to me seemed a little unbeleivable, and he really never got into how the more complex behavior was possible. Just a few technical descriptions and let “evolution” do the rest. That put a damper on the possible realness of his story. And that is what I had enjoyed about his previous books, they often hinged on the brink of reality. Other then that it was definitely a page turner.

  4. I finished PREY in about 3 evenings worth of reading. It was my first Crichton book and I thought it was a very entertaining read.

    I must say that I liked “Lord of the Rings” and “Snow Crash” much more, even though they took me longer to read. But that’s just me.

  5. Prey is ok fiction, but LOUSY science. This book attempts to show how scary nanotechnology can be, unfortunately the nanotech in this book is utterly preposterous and wouldn’t at all work the way its portrayed in the book. Crichton scares us with the nanotech, the same way that King scared us with possessed 18-wheelers – silly and totally unscientific.

    If you want to read a good fantasy, then read Prey, if you are looking for a plausible way technology could get out of control, look somewhere else.

    The benefits of nanotech so far outweigh the dangers, that avoiding its development would do far worse things for the world, than pursuing its maturation with wise guidance.

  6. I’m sorry — I’m a big fan of Crichton’s earlier works, but both “Prey” and “Timeline” have just seemed dumb to me. It’s dumb science filled with big plot-holes, wafer-thin characters, and not as much suspense as everyone’s crediting it with. In my view, Crichton’s books have taken a sharp turn for the worse.

  7. The author gives the nano-thingies no physical means of movement or flight. All physical entities regardless of size have locomotion devices, e.g. legs, fins, jets, etc. They “think” about doors/windows, but have no mental capacity.This creates a big hole in the plot and in reality would remove any scary consequencies. They would just be a big birthmark on the surface.

  8. “Prey” maintained a nice balance between fiction and hard science.

    Those of you who criticize Crichton’s science, or get hung up on small details, fail to see the larger picture: mankind is hurtling along uncharted paths to unpredictable destinies.

    Remember, just over 100 years ago virtually no one thought air travel was possible.

    Suspend your disbelief and open your mind to new possibilities.

    Mike Brooks
    Toledo, OH

  9. Prey wasn’t dumb or unscientific. Those of you who didn’t understand how the swarm was able to ‘float’ and move, or how it was able to organise itself, either didn’t read the story, or didn’t understand the technology. Besides, he wasn’t writing a text book on nanotechnology which no one would want to read. He was writing a fictional story. Stop griping!

  10. I loved this book. I like all of Chrichton’s books and this one was definitely the best. I think that this book only appeals to a very limited audience, probably because most people cannot understand it. I think that Chrichton’s use of a mix of family affairs and his usual scientific mumbo-jumbo was extremely effective. Most of my friends don’t like it because they are reading lord of the rings or harry potter, and other books that don’t really appeal to me.

  11. I just finished reading “Prey” today on the 18th of May 2003. It’s really a great read!! If I didn’t have school at this time, I could probably sit down and finish this book non-stop.
    Michael Crichton really masters the concepts of nano technology and how, in reality, it could disrupt our lives in the future. I do agree that he could have used better dialogue for this novel, but how it all turns out makes it hardly noticeable when you read the book.

  12. I just finished reading “Prey” today on the 18th of May 2003. It’s really a great read!! If I didn’t have school at this time, I could probably sit down and finish this book non-stop.
    Michael Crichton really masters the concepts of nano technology and how, in reality, it could disrupt our lives in the future. I do agree that he could have used better dialogue for this novel, but how it all turns out makes it hardly noticeable when you read the book.

  13. We received the audio tape of Prey as a gift and listened in the car. Because we found the story so compelling and interesting, it took us twice as long to reach our destination as, upon arrival, we were unable to turn it off and leave the car.

  14. We received the audio tape of Prey as a gift and listened in the car. Because we found the story so compelling and interesting, it took us twice as long to reach our destination as, upon arrival, we were unable to turn it off and leave the car. Lucy

  15. I have a long commute to and from work, and use this time to listen to books on tape. I was given the audio unabridged version of Prey and just completed it – I think :( I felt the ending was very ubrupt and left much unsaid. Actually, I felt like I was missing the last cassette (I even counted them several times just to be sure I wasn’t missing it). It was an interesting “read”, and it helped my commute time pass quickly. But again, I was VERY DISAPPOINTED in the ending. Is this typical of Michael Crichton’s work?

  16. I guess PREY is surely one of the best novels I have read so far. I myself work in the field of Nanotechnology in one of the best research institutes in the world. And frankly speaking, I would not say that there is anything which is impossible. It merely depends on how strong your imagination is how determined you are to see it happen. And incase this novel might have given a cue to the military thinkers (or maybe they already had it) then we should definately be on the gaurd. But otherwise, the whole idea of nanotech is awesome and is surely one of the technological breakthroughs. At the end of the novel I was just wondering if we are moving towards the *small*. Rememmber, we started off with the dinasours and now there are none of them. So are human beings paving the way for yet another smaller and faster evolving species? I guess this, only time will tell.

  17. I can’t help but wonder how a failed camera could evolve in a couple weeks to compete successfully with life forms that have evolved in the same environment for almost 4 billion years. Seems rather unlikely to me. There are certainly dangers in technology, but Prey does a poor job of scaring me.

  18. First off, I don’t understand how anyone can believe that Crichton was setting up scenes for a cinematographer in Timeline. The Lost World, ok. But Timeline was just brilliant usage of imagery in my opinion. I’ve only read it about 6 times, perhaps I’ll have to go read it again from an objective point of view. Also, having read almost all of Crichton’s works, I can agree that Prey was not exactly up to par in the character development or verisimilitude, but it read very smoothly and was really good as a quick read. I personally loved it.

  19. First off, I don’t understand how anyone can believe that Crichton was setting up scenes for a cinematographer in Timeline. The Lost World, ok. But Timeline was just brilliant usage of imagery in my opinion. I’ve only read it about 6 times, perhaps I’ll have to go read it again from an objective point of view. Also, having read almost all of Crichton’s works, I can agree that Prey was not exactly up to par in the character development or verisimilitude, but it read very smoothly and was really good as a quick read. I personally loved it.

  20. I read a book a year ago called Prey funny that on the cover it announced it
    self convincingly as ‘A Novel’ when in my opinion a novel is exactly what it
    was not. It was a cheesy unrealistic plunge through all the potentially
    interesting plot parts and got right to where the advanced technology bit can
    be played by an actress.

    The story followed a popular modern arc by setting up an annoyingly high
    pressure situation and then jumping with a splash into lots of boom and bang Yankee GI style. A boring cliche ever since punch and judy.

    The thing reads like a big showcase of some CG company’s latest batch of
    particle motion tricks.

    I found the story to require immediate suspension of disbelief with gigantic implausible leaps prompting
    ‘Yeah, right…’ sentiment.

    The idea of a ‘camera’ gone wrong has potential for a good spook, but the
    idea as it appears in Prey falls immediately flat and stays down.

    I also found the device used to build suspense at the end of chapters to be shallow, transparent, repetitive, and obviously a device that may work in Hollywood film releases, but fails
    completely in the context of a ‘book’.

    The only irony in in or about the whole book is that it sold itself to unwary book buyers as a novel when it was actually a screenplay.

    I hated it.
    :)

  21. I loved prey but i must say i love LOTR too, i finished it in one month. It wasn’t that huge…but Crichton’s books have that element of reality that is appealing…

  22. rim waiting for my pay to secure a copy…im so happy im just to average to feel thrilled….chrichton i think is the best user friendly adventure/techno-thriller storyteller.

  23. I just finished Timeline.
    It seemed to me that it was written with a movie in mind. Too many improbable inpossible escapes and time constraints perfectly suited for an action movie.
    Not overly enjoyable to me, science streatched beyond reason, prolog about quantum mechanics does not justify “quantum leap” in plot. Epilog does not justify either.

  24. I just finished Timeline.
    It seemed to me that it was written with a movie in mind. Too many improbable inpossible escapes and time constraints perfectly suited for an action movie.
    Not overly enjoyable to me, science streatched beyond reason, prolog about quantum mechanics does not justify “quantum leap” in plot. Epilog does not justify either.

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