Book Review – Prey

13 01 2016

Prey (Michael Crichton - 2002)

Title: Prey

Author: Michael Crichton

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 0007796420

I remember back in the early 2000’s first hearing about Nanobots. It was the very early 2000’s and Robot Wars and its spin-off Techno Games were at their height, and I even collected the magazine Real Robots. There was no better time to be a fan of robots, and I was one, it was great. Well; my dad was looking through the newspaper and showed me the article on Nanobots, and the only thing I really knew about them was how small they were. Sometime later, about a couple of years I think, I remember watching and seeing something on Have I Got News For You about Nanobots and how such a thing would be a threat to society as Nanobots could reshape an Atom into anything theoretically, but at the moment only really Grey Goo…or something like that. Since then Nanobots are something which has come up every now and then, but surprisingly not in a very big way, or from what I have seen. Yes, they have had appearances in Video Games, TV, Movies and Books; but have somewhat never really stood out among the pack, and whose appearance since the mid-noughties sort of disappeared. I just find it odd that in the technology driven world of today, the subject of Nanobots doesn’t come up all that often. Put the subject of Nanobots in the right hands however, and you can easily end up with something very realistic, very terrifying and very believable.

Originally released in 2002 by Harper Collins; Prey is a Techno-thriller written by bestselling author Michael Crichton, whose previous works include The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Jurassic Park, Airframe and Next. Much like many of Crichton’s works, Prey is a very science driven book that deals with the themes and ideas of it subject matter, backed up with tons of research and planning to not only produce a stunning piece of fiction, but also create the suggestion that such things are possible and are happening right now.

Unlike previous works of Crichton that I have read, Prey is told in the first person, whereas books like Jurassic Park and Micro are both third person. Prey follows the seven-day story of computer scientist Jack. He has been made redundant and is now working as a full-time father, looking after his children at home. His wife meanwhile is the Vice President of Xymos; a company based somewhere out in the Nevada Desert. Jack is beginning to find his wife rather hard to live with as she is starting to have a go at him for spending more time with their kids than she is. Meanwhile his family have started talking about strange men coming around the house. While all this is going on, out in the desert at the plant where his wife works, Jack is called in to help out when a swarm of Nanoparticles gets loose and every attempt to recover and destroy them has failed. As things begin to ramp up, Jack begins to learn the horrifying truths about both the Swarm and those around him, and soon is fighting for both his, and possibly humanities survival.

Prey deals with the subject of Nanobots, but not in the grey goo form. No, this story deals with the idea of using the latest technological discoveries to create new technologies and devices to better help mankind, and then what happens when such technology breaks loose from its programming and sets about becoming the new alpha predators. Prey is very different to the past experience I have had with Crichton. Just like Prey; Jurassic Park and Micro were very much about advancements in science and technology and what people will go to, to maintain control when they begin to lose it. Both of those books were focussed on a biological form of science, whereas Prey focusses more on the technological side than the biological side of scientific advancement. There is a lot more talk in this book about computer science than any form of biological standing. While it is certainly different in that aspect, much like Park still though, it goes into how easy it is to lose that control, but don’t think of that as some kind of Crichton Cliché, because the book does more than that. It starts out from the sane and believable world of a pressuring family life, to the in-depth loss of control in a hectic situation, to the near insane ending that just jumps off leaps and bounds until there is practically no-where else to go.

Prey is a big book, and follows the story of just one person, remaining entirely in first person all the way through. For a protagonist, Jack is a really connectable person. He starts off the book shopping for table placemats, and just grows from there. Much like his other books, the narrative is split into about three or four sections, each one highlighting a certain point. These get quicker as it goes along, but to begin with it’s just the story of a man who has lost his job and is trying to look after his family the best way he possibly can. As the early story develops, the issues between him and his wife grow, and you are brought into something of a domestic conspiracy as the book’s first bit builds to a crescendo that brings our hero into the real situation. This sets-up our hero and gives him something to live for and worry about while he’s away. Soon after though, he gets involved with the runaway swarm. Why is he brought into it? Because, ironically he has something to do with their creation in the first place. As a computer scientist; he worked on a program which becomes the main basis for the nanoparticle swarm. To begin with he tries to understand it best he can, but with issues all around him from several people it leads to him going from a consultant to a man of reasoning and action, but is then restricted on all sides, not just from the abilities of the Swarm, but the people he is working with. Eventually it leads him into the discovery of several horrible truths that lead to the action packed conclusion; along with some trademark Crichton clearing up of the facts, just to cover all the ground bases.

Prey is a really terrific read. I managed to obtain a copy of this in a book bundle from The Works for £5 (which included Next and Micro, although I already had Micro). It came at an interesting point for me as I was struggling with my current reads at the time, plus the obtaining of Prey got me all excited as to wanting to read another Michael Crichton book. I started with this one out of the two I hadn’t read in the bundle because this one had an essay at the front, and reading the point of view of Crichton in such a well written form as to the themes and ideas of the technology that inspired the book, is a great way to begin reading a book. Prey has been something of a breath of fresh air to me, as it is something very different to most other books I read all last year. Out of all the books (about 4 at the time) that I was reading, Prey was the book I most looked forward to reading a bit more of. It is a hard thing to describe, but the enjoyment I received from reading this book was unlike anything I have read in quite a while. Prey has a lot of personal issues and a background that is very easy to understand. It puts you in the situation that Jack is going through with impeccable description. It puts you in scenes from personal issues, to heightened moments of action. It also takes you on a journey of discovery and unleashes moments of mystery that make you want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

My feelings aside, Prey is a wonderful read. It has all the hallmarks of a Michael Crichton science fiction novel, while also delivering a constant punch of twists and turns as the book builds to its epic conclusion. While the book and its technology could be seen as a bit dated now, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. It makes the ideas of Nanobots a very serious and terrifying prospect, and one that should not be taken lightly to this day. It is very much a story of today, a world covered in people with electronic gadgets from iPod‘s and iPhone’s to Kindle‘s and even technology in devices that weren’t computerized before (like coffee machines). While it is not necessarily a story about the rise of neither machines nor computers, it is still a story about a serious threat; one that could easily lead from something found in our world today, and make humanity – not technology – obsolete.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – MICRO by Michael Crichton

10 09 2014

Micro by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins - 2011)

Title: Micro

Author: Michael Crichton, Richard Preston

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 000735007

There are many frontiers in the world today. Space is a possibility of course, but if you want to keep your feet on planet earth there are many regions you could explore. You could climb the highest mountain, dive to the bottom of the deepest ocean, cross vast inhospitable deserts or discover new landmasses just waiting to be discovered. But what about the areas of the world that we know about but are yet to truly discover? What if you could put yourself in a position to discover more of the world we already know? What if you could make discoveries about Insects on their level………just a thought.

Released in 2011, Micro is the final book by best-selling author Michael Crichton whose previous work includes Jurassic Park, Disclosure, The Andromeda Strain, Timeline and State of Fear. Crichton had begun writing Micro and had finished a third of the book by the time of his death in 2008. The book was discovered on his computer sometime later and Science Writer Richard Preston; the author of The Hot Zone and The Wild Trees (and the only person not to be a medical practitioner to receive the ‘Centers for Disease Control’s Champion of Prevention Award for public health‘) was asked to complete it. This does not mean in any way though that the book loses anything from the loss of Crichton as Preston has done an amazing job in keeping the writing style the same from the moment he picks it up till the very end. The book also features an introduction into the world the book explores written by Crichton himself but was also sadly unfinished.

Micro, much like many great books starts with an event which for the most part has characters which do not have a major story in the book but is a great way to lure the writer in. The event ends with three men dead in a locked Honolulu Office with razor-sharp cuts all over their bodies. In Cambridge, seven bright students are encouraged to visit Hawaii based start-up company Nanigen who are making increasing discoveries into the world of microbiology. Wanting to learn more the students go to the Hawaiian Island of Oahu where things begin to take a mysterious twist as a death at sea occurs with the presumed death of the company’s vice president who is also a relation of one of the students. The students begin to marvel at the how the company operates and make the discoveries, but when one student goes to talk about the incident out at sea, things take a dramatic twist as all seven students are instantly thrown into a world which is far beyond their wildest nightmares. It’s now a struggle for survival as the students have to contend with the cruel natural world and harness the abilities they each have as they struggle to survive in the rainforests of Hawaii and battle nature that only a few days ago was smaller than them.

I first spotted Micro a few months ago when I started reading Jurassic Park. Within a few chapters I wanted to read more work from Michael Crichton. When I spotted Micro, the first thing that drew me to it was the size and spacing of the letters, it had plenty and it was nice and big for me to read without causing too much strain, something that I find hard to avoid with smaller writing and spacing. The books cover also got my attention and when I read the blurb on the bag, it was a book I wanted to read, and read then. Several Months later I bought it and started reading. One thing I sometimes do is that when I read a the books blurb, I try to picture what the book might be about, and more often than not I get the right idea, but not in the right direction. When you see the word Micro on the books cover you know the book is going to be about something Small or tiny and over reading the first few chapters I was waiting to see what would happen but I thought it was going to be about Nanorobotics and Nanotechnology. By the end of Chapter Nine you discover what the book title really means and then you get more of a clear perspective of what is going to happen to a group of students whose main form of research is the study of Insects.

The book is written in the third person but does not break to move from the thoughts and actions of a single character but just does it. This at first can seem regularly annoying, but as the book keeps going and more and more characters start appearing and of course, disappearing, it becomes more part of the flow of the book. The only time the book does use breaks are the points the narrative changes location. One thing the book does which at first appears to be overlooked is the way the chapter beginnings are formatted, with the current Narrative Location as well as the time and date. This method is a terrific way to show the passage of time but also shows the progression of specific ailments that the characters begin to feel and suffer from as time goes on, something that the book continually reminds you of and makes you wonder how long the characters have left until the proverbial end. The book though is not quick and there is a real sense of real-time going through the entire story without much need for skipping except for moments of large amounts of time passing.

The books characters are a mixed bunch of good, bad, annoying and sinister. For the most part the book takes the narrative of one of the students with tiny points of narrative coming off of him here and there, this being the character of Peter Jansen. For the most part, the tertiary characters only have short points here and there with only little bits of introduction for each one but highly detailed sections of narrative for when they are the main spotlight, the secondary characters though are a main spotlight in the story throughout with characters like Rick Hutter and Karen King standing out and eventually taking top spot in the story. In terms of other major characters, the story focuses on those who are not in the group including the sinister head of Nanigen Vincent Drake, his Security chief and the interested policeman who begins to unravel the huge plot going on as things begin to get weirder and weirder. As the story goes on more and more characters are introduced but whose appearances are not major and usually don’t last, but a nice little twist is added later on. As for the other students, real characterization begins to unfold when you discover what they are actually like in the current situation with some becoming strong and fearless, while one of them just becomes plain annoying and is the kind of character who is mostly interested in his own survival and as a result the one member of the group you probably wouldn’t mind leaving behind.

One of Micro’s key points is that it is believable due to it being set in a real world location. If a book is set on a distant planet or in a different universe, a lot of imagination is required to make the story work, and if it is not done properly, it is easy to confuse the reader. Micro though, being set on Hawaii instantly rings through the head of the reader, even if they have not actually been there they can get an idea of where it is and a partial idea of what it might look like. It’s a lot like the setting and introduction to Jurassic Park where the introduction talks like an essay being written in the here and now but then talks about the company and location as if they’re real and this sets up the story for you. by putting the story in the real world it makes the story seem real as if something like what is happening in Micro could be happening right here and now without us even knowing it and this is one of the brilliant things you begin to realize when reading a book by Michael Crichton, and it’s that he has written something entirely fictional, but is also incredibly plausible at the same time.

That is one thing reason why Micro is so enjoyable, it’s believable, but on that point you get something else which is also a sort of key trademark of works by Michael Crichton in that the world and setting is so finely and minutely detailed in a way that is not boring. When you read Micro, there is a lot of gaps and moments of detail of the world that the characters are experiencing, moments where it talks about certain smells of the rainforest, and the types of species and relations to each other there in. Crichton details everything and talks about everything that the characters are dealing with from complex names of species to how venom and poison from insects work to even how well detailed creatures nests are to pheromones that creatures give off; and it’s not just prohibited to the insect world, but also the technological world with devices which as far as we know don’t currently exist but gives a detailed look into the experience such machines do. This level of detail may sound rather boring, but instead it is much the opposite, it’s incredibly interesting and while such moments may slow down elements of thrills or action, they are very much required in order for the player to experience the world that they are trying to engross when reading (there’s even a bibliography after the story showing points of reading that was undertaken in order to write the book).

Micro is an incredible book, one which I find possibly better than Jurassic Park as the story dives into a world that we can only dream of experiencing yet one that we see every day and it’s only thanks to the true visionary of author Michael Crichton that we get to both experience and enjoy it. While there are moments here and there of high levels of violence as well as moments that I found revolting in a very disgusting way when visualizing, it’s also a book of peril, thrills, action, discovery, corruption, love, romance, death and beauty and one that continues to push levels of discovery and hardship as the book continues and as a result becomes a read that you will find hard to put down.  While I find it sad that Michael Crichton sadly passed away before he could finish it, I do feel that Richard Preston has done an excellent job completing it. From Start to finish, Micro is one intense ride and one that is enjoyable from start to finish and is in itself a brilliant ending and a terrific tribute to the Amazing career of one of the world’s Best and Greatest writers.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney

27 11 2013

The Spook's Apprentice

Title: The Spook’s Apprentice

Author: Joseph Delaney

Publisher: Red Fox

ISBN: 1862308535

Fantasy Books take many different forms, shapes and sizes. There are ones which involve a group of heroes or a solo hero going on an adventure, some which have the hero or heroes going into battle with malevolent villains and some which revolve around a real life location such as a school and then adapting it. However one area that appears to be relatively untouched is that of the world of work. Set in a fantasy location where the young hero must begin to learn his trade just so he can make a living.

Written in 2004 by Joseph Delaney and published by Red Fox, The Spook’s Apprentice (The Last Apprentice: Revenge of the Witch in America) is the first book in The Spook’s Series also known as The Wardstone Chronicles. The book follows the story of young Thomas Ward who is the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. His family agrees to have their son trained to be a Spook. The Spook is an old man who initially appears to be a bit grumpy and it is his job to take care of the things that go bump in the night such as Boggarts, Ghosts and Witches. He takes on Tom as his new apprentice and immediately starts to train him. Although initially tough, Tom continues along this career path, but it is not really the best time for him as the malevolent Witch Mother Malkin has returned, the most dangerous with in existence and the Spook now needs to train his new apprentice a lot quicker to be able to deal with this ancient threat.

I first heard about this book about just over a year ago. I was in Waterstones in Preston when I saw a sign indicating both the release of, Spook’s: Slither’s Tale and the announcement that the author was going to do a book signing. While I was looking for a different book, I asked about the series and what the first book was, thinking that I would give it a go. Much like GONE, it did take me some time to get into it. Eventually I started to read it on the train on my way into University and that is when I really got into it. I pretty much could not stop reading it, and when I finally finished it, I immediately went to Waterstones in Lancaster to pick up the next two books in the series.

The author has also drawn a lot of inspiration from the myths and legends as well as folklore of his surroundings. Joseph Delaney lives and works in my home county of Lancashire, which has a wide variety of folklore surrounding it. But it is not just the folklore of his surroundings, but also its views and its places. As you read the book and see what is being said you grab the identity of where all this is taking place with the use of the original/old-fashioned names for the places in the county used instead of what they are known as today.

It’s not just the county that he draws from but also his early life. While he was not trained to hunt for Witches, he was trained to be an apprentice engineer and it is through this experience which shows how he can relate to the work and characters he is writing because he has been in a similar position to his work and the characters he is writing. But unlike other fantasy setting which are made from the ground up, Delaney has taken the essence of his home county and put it all into writing for the enjoyment of others.

The book is told in the first person view with the character of Tom narrating his experiences as well as the people and things he encounters along the way. The other characters that tom speaks to are kept in context and speak but only from the point of view of Tom writing down what has happened in his Diary.

The Spook, while initially appearing to be a grumpy person is actually a very caring person and his grumpy nature which is initially shown, grows into more of a caring nature and very much cares for his Apprentice. Which with the position he holds is one of the few upsides. The people of the county appear to not like the Spook all that much as he is believed to have some connection with Dark Powers. This is something that gets attached to his new apprentice rather quickly. The Spook however does not appear to mind all that much as his age shows that of someone who knows better and from his own experience he can tell if someone is potentially good or bad, and one particular way he teaches this to Tom is to not trust girls with Pointy Shoes. Enter Alice, a mysterious girl with a dark upbringing who initially tricks tom into doing what she wants, however as the book develops it is clear that Alice’s apparent intentions are not quite as they appear to be.

The training and career path that is represented in this book also show the careful attention that the author has put into the book. The Spook tells Tom everything he knows, he shows him how to keep his note writing, how to identify and categorise each creature they encounter as well as the best ways to deal with the more dangerous species. The Spook also teaches Tom how to deal with people as well including how to interact with them. But the author keeps all this in nice, simplistic terms so that the young reader base does not get too confused.

What in one case could be considered as a lucky find also turns out to be one of the best books I have read most recently. With fantasy elements such as Ghosts and Witches as well as the real life connections such as the authors time as an apprentice and the area he lives in. While the book is written more for young children, it has been carefully constructed so that older reader can enjoy reading it too. With a film adaptation due for release next year it will be interesting to see how it compares to this, but whether or not the film is good or bad, it can’t take away the great magical feeling from this book.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – GONE by Michael Grant

23 10 2013

GONE (Michael Grant)

Title: GONE

Author: Michael Grant

Publisher: HarperCollins/Egmont Books

ISBN: 1405242353

Imagine you are a teenager (unless you are one), a time when you wished your parents and teachers would just leave you alone. Every teenager goes through that period, but imagine that it actually happens. A place where all the Adults have simply disappeared. What would you do? Eat all the fast food you want to, watch TV and Play Games day and night, it sounds perfect doesn’t it. Well, it turns out that it really isn’t all that perfect.

GONE tells the tales of a group of teenagers who live in and around a town in America called Perdido Beach. One day all the Adults suddenly disappear, everyone over 15 ‘poofed’. Many kids see this naturally as an opening to do whatever they want, eating cookies and ice-cream till they are sick, watch TV and play games until they can’t stay awake, no one bossing them around, Great. Well not really, from the get go the school playground is multiplied by 10 as the bullies see a chance to take control and total anarchy commences. A fire is started and attention in the community focuses on main character Sam and his girlfriend Astrid. Soon control seems to re-emerge with the appearance of several kids from a local private school arrive to take control, but things only get worse. What’s more, there is a giant invisible barrier twenty miles in diameter blocking the community off from the rest of the world and kids have started developing abilities, Mutant Powers. And if things couldn’t get any more worse, there is something lurking in the wilderness, The Darkness.

I personally found out about these books when I first began to read The Hunger Games. I was in Waterstones and saw this interesting looking book called FEAR. The front cover got me interested and I looked more into it and discovered it was part of a series of bestselling books known as the GONE series. Several months later I finally get round to buying the first book GONE, but I did not start reading it until about 9/10 months later. At first I found it hard to get into, new book and all but I kept pushing myself to keep reading it. Eventually I got to the point where I could not stop reading it. I loved it.

The books main setting is that one a teenager wants, but the author goes into exploring the idea of no adults around, what would happen? In many a sense it is the school playground on a much larger scale. With no authority around, bullies can do whatever they want and the teenage utopia begins to crash. But there is more to it than that. You have the preschool children that need taking care of, if people get injured, they cannot be taken to a hospital because there are no doctors, food is abundant but will eventually run out, if a fire breaks out there is no fire brigade to tend to it and if there is a problem there is no police to call. Law and order will naturally break down until someone can step up. This idea is directed mainly at Sam who is seen as a possible leader; however he does not want the job despite constant poking from Astrid. A few days later though it is too late as the book’s main protagonists; Caine, Drake and Diana arrive to take control, and bring back law and order, but deep down they have sinister intentions. The books main point of chaos though comes from the strange new world that the kids inhabit. The barrier which prevents them from leaving, people gaining Mutant Abilities, creatures mutating, the approaching darkness and the fact that once your 15th birthday arrives you take the big poof. All of which takes place in an area that has become commonly known as the FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone).

For most of the book, the story is told in the third person point of view. Each chapter though tells the story in relation to how a character thinks or feels. One chapter could involve Sam Temple saying, doing, moving and thinking, when the next one could involve Astrid saying, doing, moving and thinking making her the central character of context. It is through these perspectives that other characters begin to emerge. Characters like Mary Terrafino who looks after and takes care of the day care centre as well as her own personal problems as well as Lana who for most of the early part of the book is completely separate from everyone in the FAYZ with only her dog Patrick for company. The central character context of the book also allows the reader to gain insight into the minds of the antagonists of the book like Caine and Diana.

The author also draws upon inspiration and real events from the real world using these events to shape some of the more horrific events in the books. Ideas begin to come across including fear of the unknown, racism, the horrors of war and slavery. The fear of the unknown is much in many a case like the X-Men as you have Mutants vs Humans, which is the case here but this mostly leads to racism but only on a partial level as many can see that they also need those with mutant abilities to survive this new world. Slavery is an area which the book explores with great detail including how people become slaves. This angle is not featured until the early stages of about last third of the book, but the whole experience when reading it made me want to jump in and stop it all, because the book also represents how horrific slavery is and potentially can become particularly at the levels it represents in this book. This all leads to the eventual conflicts between groups to which the author may be drawing from experience as part of a military family. In many a case throughout this book it is showing how kids have to adapt and grow up because their imaginary world can’t happen. In a sense it makes childhood look like a safety barrier to the horrors of the real world that the parents are trying to protect them from. This may be another reason for the title as not only have all the adults gone, but so has the world they live and more and more each day it is becoming a lot more hostile and cruel.

After I first read The Hunger Games and the books I have read since then, I did not know if I would find a book that would be better than it, but I think I have. GONE, while being a larger book reveals more of the world than The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is taken from the first person perspective and shows the world around the main character while GONE takes a step back and looks at the world that has been created, but it also creates more than one story too. Each character has their own part in the story while also telling their own story, one that you want to keep reading to find out what happens. GONE is one amazing ride, from  the point of the world’s formation, through it’s struggles and hardships to it’s eventual dramatic conclusion, GONE is a book that everyone should have on their bookshelves.

GENEPOOL








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