Author: Michael Crichton
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.