Synopsis: In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles -- micro-robots -- has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive. It has been programmed as a predator. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour. Every attempt to destroy it has failed. And we are the prey.
Prey is my very first Michael Crichton book. Before this book, the only experience I had with Crichton was the film adaptation of Jurassic Park, a movie I had never seen until my girlfriend urged me to watch it. I was intrigued by the movie and could definitely see why it's considered a classic in the world of cinema. A Crichton novel has to be even better, right?
Oddly enough, I can't find the novel version of Jurassic Park without paying more than five bucks (sorry, but when I buy old books I want to get 'em cheaper than that) -- even more for the few hardcovers I've stumbled across online. Therefore, as a way of satisfying my Michael Crichton urge in the meantime, I decided to read Prey. Like Park (and several other Crichton titles), Prey is about science gone awry and causing terror in the lives of the scientists involved as well as their families, i.e. normal folks. The star of the show is Jack Forman, an unemployed software programmer who was fired for discovering an internet scandal. Now a stay-at-home dad, he is the husband of Julia, vice president at nano-robotics company Xymos. Julia begins spending more and more time at work, claiming she is working on something "revolutionary" and time-consuming. Jack is convinced she is cheating. It is not until he, too, gets hired on at Xymos as a consultant that he sees what Julia and her team has been up to and how big of a risk they are all facing.
Going into this novel, I didn't think Crichton would pull off making nano-robots scary, but his creations are quite terrifying. A certain scene in a storage building (you know the one, and if you don't, you will when you read this book) had me on edge, flipping the pages as quickly as I could. There are brutal deaths aplenty here, as well as destruction and blood and vomit. Crichton never goes overboard, but he certainly tests his limits a few times.
There isn't a whole lot more I can say without spoiling important parts of the book, and no one wants that. Crichton has written a pretty strong technothriller -- one that, despite being published in 2002, doesn't feel too dated or cheesy by any means. It feels very modern and like something that really could happen out west in a hidden laboratory. Sure, at times the science is a bit wonky and the characters aren't exactly fully-formed beings, but that's not what this story is about. Like the rest of Crichton's work (or so I assume based on the research I've done!), this is a cautionary tale, showing what can happen when humans try playing God. It's about action, not character work. The author mixes horror and sci-fi pretty well here, and I couldn't put it down. A full 4 stars.