Prey

by Michael Crichton


(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Year published: 2002
Category: science thriller

Tech rating (out of 5):

SUMMARY {from the back cover}:

In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles—micro-robots—has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive. It has been programmed as a predator. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour. Every attempt to destroy it has failed.

And we are the prey.

REVIEW:

Prey is a first-rate page turner by the master of science thrillers, Michael Crichton. It displays all his signature talents: a narrative drawn from contemporary fears of technology, a heavy dose of science, superb pacing, and dead bodies with PG/PG13-level gore.

Two things are striking about this Crichton novel. First, it’s written in the first person “I” voice. Crichton uses this to maximum effect and the book rushes forward with tremendous, gut-wrenching urgency. The narrating character is also a stay-at-home dad with loads of very ordinary domestic problems, from a crying baby and squabbling kids to a driven wife whom he suspects of cheating. It’s a nice twist on gender stereotypes that gives the reader a lot of sympathy for the guy.

Here’s the second striking thing about Prey. Consider this simplified plot: Overconfident scientist/businessman, blinded by the benefits of his new technology, fails to recognize the risks. When something goes wrong, he loses control of his creation and it turns violently against him. In an isolated setting cut off from help, the creator, his henchmen, and a handful of outsiders hunker down in a building they believe is secure but actually is vulnerable to attack by the creature. At some point it becomes necessary for a small band to leave the safety of the building to accomplish a goal necessary for the group’s survival. Some do not make it back alive. Some take refuge in a car that can’t drive. The scientist/businessman never accepts the need to destroy his creation, and this is ultimately his undoing.

Sound familiar?

Yes, Prey is a first-person version of Crichton’s blockbuster Jurassic Park, set in the Nevada desert instead of on a Costa Rican island, and the man-messes-with-nature monster is an organized cloud of nanoparticles instead of cloned dinosaurs. But the story is the same.

This shouldn’t dissuade you from reading Prey, however, because Jurassic Park is one hell of a good story. And the whole nanoparticle thing is fascinating.

As you’d expect from Michael Crichton, you’ll find plenty of technical references that nobody reads in the bibliography at the end. Embedded within the plot, however, is the best scientific aspect of the book: an unsentimental view of the principles of evolution and the amoral rules that determine the origin of species, namely, the power of natural selection and random chance to create complex patterns. Creationists be warned.

Don’t read this book if: your spouse has been acting a little strange lately

Reading this book will help you: better understand the theory of evolution

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