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Reviewed by Rachel K. Ivey, © 2002

Format: Book
Review Date:   December 08, 2002
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

There’s this evil, greedy corporation doing research and development in a groundbreaking field of science. They have deluded themselves into thinking that they have a handle on all the potential dangers posed by this new technology, but then something goes horribly wrong. People die mysteriously. The corporation is finally forced to call in an outside expert to fix the problem and pull their buns out of the oven, but not before many innocent people—and some not so innocent—die in the process. In the end, the reader is lectured on the arrogance and irresponsibility of leaping into scientific progress without stopping to ponder the potential dangers it poses to the environment and mankind.

No, I’m not talking about Jurassic Park. I’m not talking about Lost World: Jurassic Park 2. I’m not talking about Timeline. Okay, so maybe I am talking about those books, but more specifically, I’m talking about Michael Crichton’s newest book Prey. (Notice how I throw caution to the wind and actually refer to Prey as "new"? I like to live dangerously. That'ss why I volunteered to review this book.)

Believe me when I say that this book boldly goes where Michael Crichton has gone before… again and again and again. Traveling a well-worn path, Prey has the same basic set-up that all of his recent novels have used. The characters are even beginning to seem alike. "Now is this the Sam Neil protagonist or the Jeff Goldblum protagonist?"

The science du jour for Prey is nanotechnology: itty-bitty robots that are so small they are invisible to the naked eye. Scientists have said for a few years now that nanotechnology promises great leaps forward in nearly every scientific field. In Prey, a swarm of the little suckers gets loose from the facility that made them and ordinary people become their… (wait for it)... PREY!

Crichton’s novels are such a disappointment. He does such a good job on all the scientific research, but he does a lousy job of telling the actual stories. With his mass-market success both in publishing and the subsequent movies, Crichton has fallen prey (PREY!) to the trap of writing for the movies. His books aren't novels any more, they're speculative movie scripts. The only thing missing is camera directions. (Camera pans left and zooms in on swarm....) I’m beginning to think that Crichton just goes back into his word processing program to his last novel, changes the names out, makes a few little tweaks, and voila! Instant best seller and future blockbuster movie.

Genetically engineered dinosaurs become a swarm of nanobots. The middle age, male scientist in the field of paleontology becomes a middle age, male scientist in the field of computer programming. The young, female scientist of botany becomes a young, female scientist of... well, you get the picture.

In Prey, even the science groundwork, normally the most interesting part of a Crichton novel, is rather off-putting. It's written in first person, so every time a conversation is about to deal with a weighty scientific principle, the novel essentially halts—sometimes for a page or more—so the reader can be spoon-fed exposition. In past novels, such as Timeline and Jurassic Park, Crichton at least went to the trouble of working it into the story in the form of dialogue. "What is DNA?" "Well, Sally, DNA is an acronym..." This new method of instructing the reader is very tiresome, and makes it very tempting to simply skip ahead.

If you are a big Crichton fan, really enjoyed his past novels, and don't mind the predictability of his formula, then you will really enjoy Prey, too. But if you’re looking for a story that breaks new ground, or for Crichton to push himself as a writer, then Prey will be a big disappointment. Unless you’re REALLY bored. Or stuck on an airplane. Or in line at the DMV.

Well, maybe not even then.

But Wait....

What's that? You don’t believe me when I say that Crichton has released essentially the same novel with just a few minor changes? Fair enough. Let's revisit the storylines of his past few bestsellers....

[Name of greedy corporation] has done ground - breaking research into the field of [name of scientific field], enabling them to do something that no one has ever done before. [Name of new thing]. Things go along smoothly at first, until something unexpected happens. All hell begins to break loose, when [name of unexpected event].

Now [name of greedy corporation] must call in [name of middle-aged male scientist] in order to put things right. [Name of middle-aged male scientist], assisted by [name of young, beautiful female scientist] and [name of a know-it-all, rather socially misfit, male scientist], tries to save lives and make [names of greedy corporate executives] see reason, but they won’t listen to him right away. People die needlessly as a result.

Eventually, [name of middle-aged male scientist], [name of young, beautiful female scientist], and [name of misfit male scientist] are able to make things right, but not before [names of greedy corporate executives and / or corporate employees] are [killed and / or eaten] and the [name of greedy corporation] complex is utterly destroyed.

Lastly, the readers, are moralized on the inherent dangers of trying to control nature and the universe, since, as we should already know, nature is unpredictable and we are arrogant to try and think for a moment that we are in control of things.

Greedy corporation: Xymos Technology
Scientific field: nanotechnology
New thing: increasingly intelligent swarm of nanobots
Middle-aged male scientist: Jack Forman
Young, beautiful female scientist: Mae Chang
Names of corporate employees: Ricky Morse, Rosie Castro, David Brooks
Name of greedy corporate executive: Julia Forman

Greedy corporation: International Technology Corporation
Scientific field: quantum mechanics
New thing: time travel
Middle-aged male historian: Edward Johnston
Young, beautiful female historian: Katherine Erickson
Know-it-all, rather socially misfit male historian: Andre Marek
Names of corporate employees: Sue Gomez, Victor Baretto
Name of greedy corporate executive: Richard Doniger

Jurassic Park
Greedy corporation: InGen Corporation
Scientific field: genetic engineering
New thing: genetically engineered dinosaurs
Middle-aged male scientist: Dr. Alan Grant
Young, beautiful female scientist: Ellie Sattler
Know-it-all, rather socially misfit male scientist: Dr. Ian Malcolm
Names of corporate employees: Robert Muldoon, Donald Gennaro, Dennis Nedry
Name of greedy corporate executive: Dr. John Hammond

Lost World: Jurassic Park 2
Greedy corporation: InGen Corporation
Scientific field: genetic engineering
New thing: genetically engineered dinosaurs
Middle-aged male scientist: Dr. Ian Malcolm
Young, beautiful female scientist: Dr. Sarah Harding
Know-it-all, rather socially misfit male scientist: Nick Van Owen
Names of corporate employees: Roland Tembo, Peter Ludlow, Dr. Robert Burke
Name of greedy corporate executive: Dr. John Hammond

Greedy corporation: O.S.S.A.
Scientific field: space travel
New thing: 300 year old crashed spacecraft from the future
Middle-aged male scientist: Dr. Norman Goodman
Young, beautiful female scientist: Dr. Beth Halperin
Know-it-all, rather socially misfit male scientist: Harry Adams
Names of government contractors: Ted Fielding
Name of evil government agent in charge: Capt. Harold C. Barnes

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