me start by trying to explain to my long-suffering editor why I
started reading PREY, Michael Crichton's new novel, when I had a
groaning table full of books assigned to be reviewed before that
one. As I write this, I can see her nodding bemusedly on the other
side of the e-mail ether as she reads my explanation which,
although true, sounds lame-o, even to me.
All I did was pick up PREY and started skimming Crichton's
introduction to get a glimmer of what it was about. The title of
the introduction --- Artificial Evolution in the Twenty-first
Century --- hooked me. So I read the introduction, which begat the
Prologue. And the Prologue begat Chapter One. And behold, before I
knew it, I was at page 20 plus 100. The temple virgins had
extinguished the vessels and night had fallen. And I kept
Just try to stop. Crichton does with PREY what he does so well,
which is to take what's happening right now and extrapolate it to
take a peek at what might happen tomorrow. Or this afternoon. Or
maybe five minutes ago.
PREY concerns something called nanotechnology --- and we're not
talking about devices to help your Italian mother. Nanotechnology,
or molecular manufacturing, is something else. I'm going to really
oversimplify it here, because I'm no good at all at explaining
anything more complex than a soup sandwich, but here goes: We can't
physically manufacture microchips any smaller than we currently do
now, so we're going to grow them and make them self-replicating.
The practical applications are enormous, mind-boggling and, as
Arthur C. Clarke said about the Universe, more than we are able to
The problem is whether or not we are going to be able to control
these chips. As they come into contact with more and more elements
in the biosphere, the greater the opportunity they will have to
interact, adapt and evolve. And what happens if they become
deliberately and consciously opportunistic? Well, Crichton provides
one possible scenario to this and one possible answer. And believe
me, you won't be more than a third of the way into PREY before you
consider that your wacky Luddite niece may be worth listening
PREY is told through the voice of Jack Forman, a systems guy who is
a victim of Silicon Valley intrigue. As he unwillingly slips
gradually into the role of a stay-at-home husband, his wife, a
dynamic woman who is vice-president of a technology firm, becomes
more involved in a secret project and exponentially more distant.
He initially suspects that she might be having an affair; by the
time he discovers the truth, he'll wish it was that simple. In
fact, his wife has been working on a method of growing molecules.
But the blessing of its creators and in the interest of science,
this project has spun out of control. One reading of PREY and
you'll never look at a summer swarm of insects at sunset the same
PREY is a cautionary tale, in the same vein as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
and RISING SUN. One reading and you'll find that the big, bulky
eight pound laptop you're lugging around is quite small enough.
Anything smaller might not be worth the cost.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011