Jason's Reviews > Prey

Prey by Michael Crichton
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's review
May 31, 11

Recommended for: Sci fi fans, horror fans, Crichton fans
Read in April, 2011 — I own a copy, read count: 1

** spoiler alert ** My writing has really suffered lately. I blame a lack of reading among other things, so after I finished Shadows Linger by Glen Cook, I needed to find something that could get the fire burning again. I thought about some Robert E. Howard, but chose Prey at the last moment. I knew nothing about it really; Amanda found a nice hardcover at Helping Hands. It didn’t look too long, so why not?

Jack Forman is an unemployed software engineer playing the role of “Mister Mom” as his career wife’s behavior grows increasingly erratic. He begins to believe she is having an affair, but soon learns that she is consumed in her current work; the development of working, mass produced nanotechnology. Things go from bad to worse when Jack is hired as a contractor to help sort out an issue at his wife’s fabrication plant out in the desert. He learns that at least one “swarm” of nanobots has escaped and is acting independently, rapidly evolving, and murdering any living creatures unfortunate enough to cross its path.

If you can overlook characters that should feel real but don’t, a story that doesn’t end as strongly as it starts, and a lot of unanswered questions, Prey is a great book. I enjoyed reading it, and the pace, questions, and revelations kept me turning pages.
This story is not a “techno-thriller” as Crichton’s works are frequently referred to. This is a horror story. There are decomposing bodies, a fear of the outdoors, paranoia, icky gooey things, evil infestations, an isolated locale, a threatened family, “zombies”, and the fate of the human race in question. It actually isn’t that far from John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Here are my unanswered questions. There are spoilers here, but someone who hasn’t read the book probably won’t understand of them.

1. What is the “Black Hood”? Did Julia and Ricky purposely submit themselves to nanotechnology infection?
2. Who exactly was SSVT? What did it stand for? How much did they understand about what was going on out at the fabrication plant?
3. Why weren’t the birds infected by the “wild” nanotech swarms? Were they being used as vectors for spreading the “good” nanotech?
4. Why were the wild nanotech swarms attempting to impersonate people? Were they trying to mimic the behavior of the “good” nanotech? Or did they come to a separate conclusion that it was a good way of surviving in the world?
5. The reason why the “wild” nanotech herds toward the doors of the fabrication plant each day is never really explained.
6. Is there a cure for infection, or is the body hopelessly ruined after “symbiosis”?

I always feel a bit depressed after finishing a Crichton book. He was a great author, and he is gone forever, at least for this world.

Characters: 3
Jack is the narrator as well as the protagonist, and there’s enough of his daily grind near the beginning of the book to establish him firmly in the reader’s mind. Other characters are well described with just a sentence or two and their dialogue. But it’s rough going after that. Jack is an incredibly capable software engineer who knows how to work next-generation night vision goggles, handle thermite explosives, etc. I really didn’t read this for the characters; I read it to understand the fictional threat because it fascinated me.
The other problem is that Jack seems pretty thick. I realize the idea is that he has written the narrative after the fact, but his failure to see the clues and understand the extent of the threat is both infuriating and cheap.

My Cast
Jack Foreman: My brother, Matt (no offense Matt, this is a compliment)
Julia Foreman: I never really had a solid image for her
Mae Chang: Linda Park
Ricky Morse: Something like Jake Busey
Charley Davenport: Wayne Knight or Mark Doty (old coworker)
David Brooks: Joe Connelly (a coworker of mine)
Bobby Lembeck: Seth Green or Topher Grace
Vince Reynolds: Never fleshed out
Ellen (Jack’s sister): My sister, Jennifer

Pace: 5
I think I read this book in three or four days. I just could not put it down, and that was a welcome change. I had to know what would happen next, see the next evolution or revelation, and pursue things to the end.

Story: 3
This is so hard to put in words, let alone rate. On one hand, this is a scary story about humans hunted in the desert by technology gone bad. It’s also kind of a classic “trapped in the cabin” narrative, where venturing outside is dangerous and paranoia plays a role. Unfortunately, things devolve into a somewhat generic “body-snatchers” angle that wasn’t surprising at all (the clues are pretty darn thick), the resolution is similar to Jurassic Park (poisoning the hostile forces to eradicate them), and there are many questions left unanswered.

Dialogue: 3
The dialogue is generally good, even the long, technical explanations and descriptions (though most of these are kept in the protagonist’s unspoken narration). The “crazy” characters, particularly Jack’s wife, Julia, really feel crazy and scary (though is it a bit thick?), and Jack’s kids seem to be endlessly annoying.

Style/Technical: 3
Like all Crichton books, he is able to really explain complicated ideas in understandable terms. There are frequent breaks in the narrative to explain some concept or technology, and things flow pretty easily (though some explanations and descriptions are repeated a few times too many).

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