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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....
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.
All is not well in Silicon Valley. In an intriguing opener, we get a scary little flash forward where 40-year-old Jack is sitting at home listening to his three desperately sick children, hoping they don't die. Flash back a few days before that and Jack is running to Crate & Barrel, playing the role of house-husband ever since he got laid off as program division head at MediaTronics. Wife Julie is now the primary breadwinner, doing hush-hush Pentagon work with nanotechnology at the Xymos Corporation. Julie has seemed distracted recently, Jack is increasingly sure that she's having an affair, and his sister is telling him to get a good divorce lawyer on deck. Then the baby, nine-month-old Amanda, comes down sick with a bizarre and terrifying illness that inexplicably disappears as suddenly as it arrived. Things aren't going too well at Xymos, meantime, so Jack is called in to consult at their research facility out in the middle of the Nevada desert. The project that Julie was working on involved creating swarms of nanotech entities that the military could then use as weapons, surveillance systems, or whatever they wanted. Except the Pentagon was about the pull the plug because Xymos can't get the bugs worked out. Pretty soon Jack and a few survivors are running about the lab jerry-rigging defenses against some highly evolved and deadly nanotech swarms gone rogue, which Julie just might have let escape on purpose. All the usual Crichton elements are here: pedantic display of research about an emerging technology (Jurassic Park), the emasculated husband (Disclosure), isolated researchfacility in lockdown (Andromeda Strain), and a motley crew of people trying to survive in a hostile environment (just about all of them). Normally, this would not be a problem, as even Crichton (Timeline, 1999, etc.) on autopilot still makes for a quick and entertaining, if ultimately unsatisfying, read. But this time the product is so by-the-numbers that even die-hard fans may find themselves bored.
Disappointing effort from an author who simply refuses to change an old, tired template.
First printing of 2,000,000; film rights to 20th Century Fox; Book-of-the-Month Club/Literary Guild/Doubleday Book Club main selection; Quality Paperback Book Club alternate selection; author tour
With the vibration of the helicopter, I must have dozed off for a few minutes. I awoke and yawned, hearing voices in my headphones. They were all men speaking:
"Well, what exactly is the problem?" A growling voice.
"Apparently, the plant released some material into the environment. It was an accident. Now, several dead animals have been found out in the desert. In the vicinity of the plant." A reasonable, organized voice.
"Who found them?" Growly.
"Couple of nosy environmentalists. They ignored the keep-out signs, snooped around the plant. They've complained to the company and are demanding to inspect the plant."
"Which we can't allow."
"How do we handle this?" said a timid voice.
"I say we minimize the amount of contamination released, and give data that show no untoward consequence is possible." Organized voice.
"Hell, I wouldn't play it that way," said growling voice. "We're better off flatly denying it. Nothing was released. I mean, what's the evidence anything was released?"
"Well, the dead animals. A coyote, some desert rats. Maybe a few birds."
"Hell, animals die in nature all the time. I mean, remember the business about those slashed cows? It was supposed to be aliens from UFOs that were slashing the cows. Finally turned out the cows were dying of natural causes, and it was decomposing gas in the carcasses that split them open. Remember that?"
Timid voice: "I'm not sure we can just deny-"
"Fuck yes, deny."
"Aren't there pictures? I think the environmentalists took pictures."
"Well, who cares? What will the pictures show, a dead coyote? Nobody is going to get worked up about a dead coyote. Trust me. Pilot? Pilot, where the fuck are we?"
I opened my eyes. I was sitting in the front of the helicopter, alongside the pilot. The helicopter was flying east, into the glare of low morning sun. Beneath my feet I saw mostly flat terrain, with low clumps of cactus, juniper, and the occasional scraggly Joshua tree.
The pilot was flying alongside the power-line towers that marched in single file across the desert, a steel army with outstretched arms. The towers cast long shadows in the morning light.
A heavyset man leaned forward from the backseat. He was wearing a suit and tie. "Pilot? Are we there yet?"
"We just crossed the Nevada line. Another ten minutes."
The heavyset man grunted and sat back. I'd met him when we took off, but I couldn't remember his name now. I glanced back at the three men, all in suits and ties, who were traveling with me. They were all PR consultants hired by Xymos. I could match their appearance to their voices. A slender, nervous man, twisting his hands. Then a middle-aged man with a briefcase on his lap. And the heavyset man, older and growly, obviously in charge.
"Why the hell did they put it in Nevada, anyway?"
"Fewer regulations, easier inspections. These days California is sticky about new industry. There was going to be a year's delay just for environmental-impact statements. And a far more difficult permitting process. So they came here."
Growly looked out the window at the desert. "What a shithole," he said. "I don't give a fuck what goes on out here, it's not a problem." He turned to me. "What do you do?"
"I'm a computer programmer."
"You covered by an NDA?" He meant, did I have a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from discussing what I had just heard.
"Yes," I said.
"You coming out to work at the plant?"
"To consult," I said. "Yes."
"Consulting's the way to go," he said, nodding as if I were an ally. "No responsibility. No liability. Just give your opinion, and watch them not take it."
With a crackle, the pilot's voice broke in over the headsets. "Xymos Molecular Manufacturing is dead ahead," he said. "You can just see it now."
Twenty miles in front of us, I saw an isolated cluster of low buildings silhouetted on the horizon. The PR people in the back all leaned forward.
"Is that it?" said Growly. "That's all it is?"
"It's bigger than it looks from here," the pilot said.
As the helicopter came closer, I could see that the buildings were interlocked, featureless concrete blocks, all whitewashed. The PR people were so pleased they almost burst into applause. "Hey, it's beautiful!"
"Looks like a fucking hospital."
"It'll photograph great."
I said, "Why will it photograph great?"
"Because it has no projections," the man with the briefcase said. "No antennas, no spikes, no things poking up. People are afraid of spikes and antennas. There are studies. But a building that's plain and square like this, and white-perfect color choice, associations to virginal, hospital, cure, pure-a building like this, they don't care."
"Those environmentalists are fucked," said Growly, with satisfaction. "They do medical research here, right?"
"Not exactly . . ."
"They will when I get through, trust me. Medical research is the way to go on this."
The pilot pointed out the different buildings as he circled them. "That first concrete block, that's power. Walkway to that low building, that's the residences. Next door, fab support, labs, whatever. And then the square windowless three-story one, that's the main fab building. They tell me it's a shell, it's got another building inside it. Then over to the right, that low flat shed, that's external storage and parking. Cars have to be under shade here, or the dashboards buckle. Get a first-degree burn if you touch your steering wheel."
I said, "And they have residences?"
The pilot nodded. "Yeah. Have to. Nearest motel is a hundred and sixty-one miles. Over near Reno."
"So how many people live in this facility?" Growly said.
"They can take twelve," the pilot said. "But they've generally got about five to eight. Doesn't take a lot to run the place. It's all automated, from what I hear."
"What else do you hear?"
"Not very damn much," the pilot said. "They're closed-mouthed about this place. I've never even been inside."
"Good," said Growly. "Let's make sure they keep it that way."
The pilot turned the stick in his hand. The helicopter banked, and started down.
I opened the plastic door in the bubble cockpit, and started to get out. It was like stepping into an oven. The blast of heat made me gasp.
"This is nothing!" the pilot shouted, over the whirr of the blades. "This is almost winter! Can't be more than a hundred and five!"
"Great," I said, inhaling hot air. I reached in the back for my overnight bag and my laptop. I'd stowed them under the seat of the timid man.
"I have to take a piss," said Growly, releasing his seat belt.
"Dave . . ." said the man with the briefcase, in a warning tone.
"Fuck, it's just for a minute."
"Dave-" an embarrassed glance toward me, then lowering his voice: "They said, we don't get out of the helicopter, remember?"
"Aw hell. I can't wait another hour. Anyway, what's the difference?" He gestured toward the surrounding desert. "There's nothing the fuck out here for a million miles."
"You guys give me a pain. I'm going to pee, damn it." He hefted his bulk up, and moved toward the door.
I didn't hear the rest of their conversation because by then I had taken off my earphones. Growly was clambering out. I grabbed my bags, turned and moved away, crouched beneath the blades. They cast a flickering shadow on the pad. I came to the edge of the pad where the concrete ended abruptly in a dirt path that threaded among the clumps of cholla cactus toward the blocky white power building fifty yards away. There was no one to greet me-in fact, no one in sight at all.
Looking back, I saw Growly zip up his trousers and climb back into the helicopter. The pilot pulled the door shut and lifted off, waving to me as he rose into the air. I waved back, then ducked away from the swirl of spitting sand. The helicopter circled once and headed west. The sound faded.
The desert was silent except for the hum of the electrical power lines a few hundred yards away. The wind ruffled my shirt, flapped my trouser legs. I turned in a slow circle, wondering what to do now. And thinking about the words of the PR guy: They said, we don't get out of the helicopter, remember?
"Hey! Hey, you!"
I looked back. A door had cracked open in the white power block. A man's head stuck out. He shouted, "Are you Jack Forman?"
"Yes," I said.
"Well, what the hell you waiting for, an engraved invitation? Get inside, for Chrissake."
And he slammed the door shut again.
That was my welcome to the Xymos Fabrication Facility. Lugging my bags, I trudged down the dirt path toward the door.
Things never turn out the way you expect.
* * *
Things never turn out the way you think they will.
I never intended to become a househusband. Stay-at-home husband. Full-time dad, whatever you want to call it -- there is no good term for it. But that's what I had become in the last six months. Now I was in Crate & Barrel in downtown San Jose, picking up some extra glasses, and while I was there I noticed they had a good selection of placemats. We needed more placemats; the woven oval ones that Julia had bought a year ago were getting pretty worn, and the weave was crusted with baby food. The trouble was, they were woven, so you couldn't wash them. So I stopped at the display to see if they had any placemats that might be good, and I found some pale blue ones that were nice, and I got some white napkins. And then some yellow placemats caught my eye, because they looked really bright and appealing, so I got those, too. They didn't have six on the shelf, and I thought we'd better have six, so I asked the salesgirl to look in the back and see if they had more. While she was gone I put the placemat on the table, and put a white dish on it, and then I put a yellow napkin next to it. The setting looked very cheerful, and I began to think maybe I should get eight instead of six. That was when my cell phone rang.
It was Julia. "Hi, hon."
"Hi, Julia. How's it going?" I said. I could hear machinery in the background, a steady chugging. Probably the vacuum pump for the electron microscope. They had several scanning electron microscopes at her laboratory.
She said, "What're you doing?"
"Buying placemats, actually."
She laughed. "You the only guy there?"
"No ... "
"Oh, well, that's good," she said. I could tell Julia was completely uninterested in this conversation. Something else was on her mind. "Listen, I wanted to tell you, Jack, I'm really sorry, but it's going to be a late night again."
"Uh-huh ... " The salesgirl came back, carrying more yellow mats. Still holding the phone to my ear, I beckoned her over. I held up three fingers, and she put down three more mats. To Julia, I said, "Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, it's just crazy like normal. We're broadcasting a demo by satellite today to the VCs in Asia and Europe, and we're having trouble with the satellite hookup at this end because the video truck they sent -- oh, you don't want to know ... anyway, we're going to be delayed two hours, hon. Maybe more. I won't get back until eight at the earliest. Can you feed the kids and put them to bed?"
"No problem," I said. And it wasn't. I was used to it. Lately, Julia had been working very long hours. Most nights she didn't get home until the children were asleep. Xymos Technology, the company she worked for, was trying to raise another round of venture capital -- twenty million dollars -- and there was a lot of pressure. Especially since Xymos was developing technology in what the company called "molecular manufacturing," but which most people called nanotechnology. Nano wasn't popular with the VCs -- the venture capitalists -- these days. Too many VCs had been burned in the last ten years with products that were supposedly just around the corner, but then never made it out of the lab. The VCs considered nano to be all promise, no products.
Not that Julia needed to be told that; she'd worked for two VC firms herself. Originally trained as a child psychologist, she ended up as someone who specialized in "technology incubation," helping fledgling technology companies get started. (She used to joke she was still doing child psychology.) Eventually, she'd stopped advising firms and joined one of them full-time. She was now a vice president at Xymos.
Julia said Xymos had made several breakthroughs, and was far ahead of others in the field. She said they were just days away from a prototype commercial product. But I took what she said with a grain of salt.
"Listen, Jack, I want to warn you," she said, in a guilty voice, "that Eric is going to be upset."
"Well ... I told him I would come to the game."
"Julia, why? We talked about making promises like this. There's no way you can make that game. It's at three o'clock. Why'd you tell him you would?"
"I thought I could make it."
I sighed. It was, I told myself, a sign of her caring. "Okay. Don't worry, honey. I'll handle it."
"Thanks. Oh, and Jack? The placemats? Whatever you do, just don't get yellow, okay?"
And she hung up.
I made spaghetti for dinner because there was never an argument about spaghetti. By eight o'clock, the two little ones were asleep, and Nicole was finishing her homework. She was twelve, and had to be in bed by ten o'clock, though she didn't like any of her friends to know that.
The littlest one, Amanda, was just nine months. She was starting to crawl everywhere, and to stand up holding on to things. Eric was eight; he was a soccer kid, and liked to play all the time, when he wasn't dressing up as a knight and chasing his older sister around the house with his plastic sword.
Nicole was in a modest phase of her life; Eric liked nothing better than to grab her bra and go running around the house, shouting, "Nicky wears a bra-a! Nicky wears a bra-a!" while Nicole, too dignified to pursue him, gritted her teeth and yelled, "Dad? He's doing it again! Dad!" And I would have to go chase Eric and tell him not to touch his sister's things.Prey. Copyright © by Michael Crichton. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted March 26, 2007
Prey By Michael Crichton Reviewed by Josh There are always problems with finding a good book to read. You want to try to find a topic you like, and then you see if the book has a well known reliable author, then you see how long the book is. All these challenges can be solved with this book Prey by Michael Crichton. I initially chose this book on a recommendation from my dad. He had just recently read it and said it was an extraordinary book. Unfortunately, I wasn¿t very keen on reading a 300 odd page book however I was looking for something enticing and something I was interested in. He had recommended this book before but I had put the idea aside. Finally we were assigned an independent reading assignment, so I said ¿Ah, why not,¿ and I picked it up and started to read. Ever since then, I haven¿t been able to put the book down. If you¿re a person that¿s interested in today¿s technology and science this is definitely a book for you. This is a realistically based fiction of technology and modern science with a bit of romance. Jack Forman, a currently unemployed programmer is assigned the position of ¿house dad¿ and he¿s doing a heck of a job, but when things start going awry with his hard working wife Julia, he starts to suspect she¿s having an affair in Townsend 2 the office. She works at Xymos Technology, one of the leading technology distributors in the Silicon Valley. Jack is hired as a consultant to Xymos and takes a trip out to the companies¿ fabrication building. He is surprised to find out they are currently programming nanotechnology as a military weapon. After they get the technology advanced enough, the nano- bots begin to learn from experience and think on the spot. This ends up as a terrible outcome and could mean the end of human civilization as we know it. Crichton has done a magnificent job with his descriptive sci-fi action writing It really makes you think you¿re in the story so much, that it¿s scary. Though Prey is a great read, I would suggest limits and restrictions. It should be noted that if you are influenced by harsh language, this book is definitely not for you. There are feelings expressed in language that normally would not be accepted as polite or even correct for that matter. Also, there is slight sexual content but nothing to be alarmed about. Other than that, this book is a fantastic read and should be taken into consideration next time you¿re looking for a book worth your while. Prey is for those interested in today¿s modern science and technology, and for those looking for a good book. I recommend this book if you are looking for a good action adventure and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. But be careful, to be human¿is to be hunted.
9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 29, 2011
Prey is a book by the famous author Michael Crichton. He has written many other famous and award winning books that are also worth a read. Prey itself is a book that commands you to keep reading it all the way through. It is definitely worthy of anyone who reads love stories or science fiction romance novels. This book is also similar to some other Crichton books that follow the theme of massive technological discovery destroying humans for their insolence and hubris. The protagonist of prey is Jack Forman. He is a middle aged father of three that has a loving wife and a good job. Everything goes wrong from here, Jack has almost everything taken from him and events push him to the edge. It starts with his job being taken away and then his family is also hurt. This leads to other events that show how human expansion of technology can be very dangerous. Michael Crichton's style can be summarized by saying that he allows the actions to speak for themselves. He perfectly balances action and suspense, and romance and dialogue. He writes in a style that purely exemplifies the actions that are pushing you to your seat. Prey is also divided into 4 parts that all have specific problems and answers. Each part seems to answer one of the questions you are thinking, but as each is answered another is proposed until finally the final truth is revealed. I highly recommend this book as one that will entertain and surprise.
3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 6, 2011
I have read this book so many times (at least 4). I even have two copies, one paperback and one hardcover. As with all other books from this author. I love it!
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 7, 2012
The plot is thin, some of the characters totally glossed over, and the big twist will only surprise you by being exactly what you expected after page 20 : but I still couldn't put it down. And he really expertly huts on the post-modern implications of hubris.
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Posted January 2, 2012
Keeps you in suspense for the entire read. Don't know much about nanotechnology, but the implicantions are frightful, if maybe unrealistic in this book. If you like suspense, this is for you.
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Posted December 29, 2011
Had to skim through several pages of technical mumbo jumbo that didn't seem to be key to the story. Much of the story line was good and definitely held my interest but overall a disappointment.
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