Book of the Week



In recent years, scientists and doctors have been looking into research of nanomachines in hopes of finding many benefits for humankind. Nanomachines are microscopic machines capable of building atoms and molecules out of thin air. There have been many worries during research over the dangers of producing nanomachines. One of the (farfetched) dangers, independent thought, is the focus of Michael Crichton’s novel, “Prey”.

In this novel, Crichton writes a sci-fi warning on nanotechnology, similar to his warnings on genetic engineering in “Jurassic Park”. The story follows Jack, a Silicon Valley computer programmer, who specializes in artificial intelligence, and his wife, Julia, who works in the lab of a nanotechnology research company in Nevada.

Julia’s company, Xymos, succeeds in producing machines programmed to fight internal diseases such as cancer or AIDS. But somewhere during research, something goes horribly wrong. One rogue swarm of nanomachines breaks free of the lab and escapes into the desert. Now they have built a hive in some distant caves and have begun to reproduce. Parts of the original swarm sporadically attack the lab. Julia tries to coax the swarm back by playing games with it; unfortunately, because of the machines’ programming, these games actually increase the swarm’s I.Q.

The swarm begins to build a fondness for Julia and creates a symbiotic bond with her. Eventually the attacks get worse and worse, and Jack is brought to the lab to help recapture the swarm. Since the swarm was programmed the same way as many programs Jack helped developed in Silicon Valley, the lab team feels he is the best person to counteract the machines’ programming.

Of course, as the machines grow more independently intelligent, fighting them with programming begins to seem fruitless. The swarm begins to kill small animals by flooding the creatures’ lungs and throat with nanoparticles until they asphyxiate. The lab team tries to investigate one of the corpses when they are attacked and one of the team members is killed.

Jack becomes very aware of the extreme danger these machines present, and begins to formulate an attack on the hive. At this suggestion, Julia and the other Xymos chair people in the lab begin to try and deter Jack from launching a physical attack. They don’t want to lose their product, their “baby.” Julia is especially against this plan considering she has become a “queen” to the swarm.

Despite the attempts to change his mind, Jack follows through with his plan, and “blows the hive sky high.” Now with the machines ability to reproduce taken out, things seem a bit more relaxed. It won’t last for long, as the original swarm is still alive and evolving by the second.

The swarm chases Jack back to the lab, where he finds he must not only destroy this swarm, but also the ones inhabiting Julia’s and the Xymos team leader’s bodies.

Crichton’s writing is in tip-top shape, and particularly shines when describing the swarm’s physical attributes as well as their psychological ones. The scene in the hive is also a very intensely detailed encounter.

Crichton never ceases to amaze and entice his readers with in-depth critiques of modern science, while adding equal parts suspense and terror. “Prey” is a fantastic novel, one that will make you just as paranoid of the “robopocalypse” as myself.