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Prey – Michael Crichton

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After reading ten of Michael Crichton’s books over the years, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that his reach exceeds his grasp.

Prey is no exception.

Set in the new scientific frontier of nanotechnology, Crichton’s cautionary tale mixes his usual blend of amoral scientists, venture capital and new technology run amock to craft a marginally interesting story set (mostly) in a Mojave research lab. The scientists have combined artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and emergent behavior to create a new type of life form – a swarm of miniscule, molecule-sized machines that rapidly evolve their own purpose and direction, potentially threatening not only the scientists (and the intrepid “good guy” who must work with them to shut it down) within the lab, but the future of life on Earth.

The problem with the book doesn’t come from the ideas – Crichton is great with ideas – and not from the science – again, an area that Crichton manages to pull together reasonably well (albeit somewhat dull to read for page after page) – but from the simple fact that his books almost all tend to be shallow, relatively characterless and, quite bluntly, not that original in their take on the ideas and concepts he spins out. Indeed several of his books (most notably Jurassic Park, Timeline, Rising SunCongo,… well okay, almost all of them…) seem to more concept treatments then real novels, written as Hollywood screenplay pitches rather then as fully evolved stories. When I think about what the ideas he has developed could be in the hands of a pure science fiction writer, I get chills, I get excited….but not over what Crichton has written.

Prey is particularly disappointing in this vein. The characters are mostly lacking any clear motivation or distinguishing features (beyond such attributes as race, gender, age or general appearance), the dialogue is light (and mostly clunky) and the plot situation is such that I found myself predicting (with a fair amount of exactitude) the ending. In truth, I didn’t really care by the time the book ended what happened to the characters. It wasn’t so bad that I was cheering on the vicious and destructive nanoparticles (well, okay…maybe I was…a little…) but it certainly wasn’t good…

For a better (and far more fascinating) read on nanotechnology set far in the future, check out Walter Jon Williams’ book Aristoi.

Read physicist Richard Feynman’s 1959 talk that kick-started the nanotechnology concept here and some additional background info on nanotechnology here and here.

Here’s an article on the potential dangers of nanotechnology that makes Crichton’s book look like a gentle walk in the park….be afraid, be very afraid.

Here’s another Crichton for you….

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  • Phillip Winn

    I’ll say this for Crichton: He manages to spark a lot of interesting in fascinating subjects. He just whets the appetite so that people want to learn more.

    Of course, when one does dig deeper, one is more likely than not to find that Crichton was way off base in his own understanding of the subject, but hey, what do you expect? He writes these things between pitch meetings…

  • Amy Hankins

    This may sound a bit far-fetched but how far would you go for love? My boyfriend is a big Michael Crichton fan, and has been his whole life. His books have really inspired him as he was growing up. We are both 23, are living together, work full-time while in college and plan on a family in the future.
    When the day comes where he asks me to spend our future together forever, I’d like to have a gift for him as well, a personally signed book. He has been wanting me to read “Timeline” (his favorite) but he has lost it. So I figured I’d go buy it and attempt to find a way to get it signed for him.
    The dillema however is, I have no clue as to where I could send a book to get signed. I am sure Mr. Crichton doesn’t just give out his address to any person, I wouldn’t either! But I’ve spend weeks trying to figure out any possible way to even get an email out there to somebody, anybody. This e-mail may be pretty far-fetched itself. I’m reaching here ladies and fellas, what can I say…haha!
    Could someone out there please point me in the right direction. I would love to do this for my babe, it would truly mean the world to him, as it would to me. He does so many awsome things for me and I would like to do this really kick-butt thing for him.
    ANY response in the matter is greatly appreciated, even if it is “yeah right, good luck lady”..haha! I just need to know if this is at all possible.

    Thank you for your time!
    Amy D. Hankins

  • Sophia Vine

    I just would like to say that although it is true that Michael Crichton’s writing style is somewhat lacking at times, the fact that he can ignite the curiousity of his audience in this field must count for something. It is important that there are people who can question our society. That is never a bad thing.