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

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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








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