Caroline's Reviews > Prey

Prey by Michael Crichton
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's review
Oct 27, 2007

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bookshelves: american
Read in July, 2007

At times this book read more like ‘New Scientist’ than a novel, yet never once did it lose my attention. In fact, it kept me riveted! I don’t, however, profess to actually understanding it all… though I appreciated the general concepts. Seems that partially completed science degree came in handy for something.

Crichton injects a satisfying balance of humanity, frailty and courage to his protag. We meet Jack as an unappreciated house husband. An intelligent man, an expert in computer engineering using biological principles, he was unfairly dismissed from a high-tech silicon-valley company after becoming aware of a colleague’s impropriety. Before he could take action, he was fired and his reputation tarnished. Getting another job proves difficult, and now his life revolves around caring for his three children and deciding on what colour table napkins he should buy. It’s hardly satisfying, yet he takes to it with gusto and parents his children with a firm, fair hand.

His wife, an executive of Xymos, a nanotechnology company also based in Silicon Valley, begins to display unusual, erratic behaviour. Working long hours, belittling Jack, over-disciplining the children: Jack suspects her of having an affair, but he is unwilling to face her, or investigate counselling or legal options. His sister accuses him of being too passive. Yes, this might be true. Jack takes his wife’s abuse, apologises for things that are not his fault, and observes her unsettling behaviour with little attempt to counter it. He experiences self doubt, and uncertainty about his future, but no-one can blame him of this.

He is not a wimp, but somewhere along the way he lost control of his own direction, and he seems unsure of exactly how to get it back. The decision is made for him when Ricky, a senior subordinate in his old company, phones him for help. They are working on a project for Xymos, using code Jack created, and a small team that Jack used to lead. It’s an uncomfortable situation, but soon that’s the least of Jack’s concern. What begins is a roller-coaster ride for Jack, where he shows true courage and intelligence in a situation that is so horrific because it’s a scenario that is possible.

For action and high thrills, this novel delivers. For characterisation and seeing Jack overcome his inertia, it excels. Most of all, this novel is disarming. As a work of fiction based on scientific fact, the possibility of a scenario such as this actually occurring is not beyond the imagination. Therein lies the true merit of Crichton’s talent.

I walk away from this novel caring about Jack, horrified by what he experienced, encouraged by his strength of spirit and will. He is a smart man who shows true courage and the ability to think fast when faced with the unthinkable. Yet, he is not infallible, he's a 40 year old flabby gutted computer nerd with a family and a wife he barely recognises. He is an ordinary guy, and that’s what makes this work.

My only complaint, on reflection, is that the novel felt rushed. I believed how Jack worked things out, however when the action first started I momentarily felt as though I’d missed something. It's a minor gripe, but I wouldn’t have complained if the novel had been padded out with an extra 50 or so pages, in the centre somewhere, just to slow things down a little and allow me to better absorb the interrelationships and the science. But, this is a minor complaint.

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