HarperCollins, November, 2002.
Hardcover, 270 pages.
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Jack Forman is an out-of-work computer programmer whose name has been tarnished by corruption in upper management at the last company he worked for. However, things are going great for his wife, Julia, who is an executive at Xymos, a cutting-edge technology company based in the Nevada desert, so Jack has become a stay-at-home Dad. Julia shows Jack a video tape of a project they are working on that sends microscopic cameras through the human body to broadcast a live video feed of internal organs and blood vessels. But she neglects to mention a similar project they are working on that has gone haywire. Jack has noticed, as have the kids, that his wife is grumpier and more distant than usual. Jack suspects an affair, but just as he starts to investigate, Julia is seriously hurt in a car accident. Later, Jack is contacted by Xymos, requesting his help in solving a problem. Jack finds out that Xymos has been using a special program of his called PREY, purchased from his past employer. Jack developed PREY to help computers solve problems faster by emulating techniques used by bees and predators -- such as swarming. Xymos has used PREY to program a group of microscopic machines to act as spy cameras. Unfortunately, the nanoparticles are not doing what the programmers anticipated and the swarm of tiny machines is learning rapidly on its own. Jack discovers even worse news when he finds that the rapidly evolving swarms are carnivorous and reproducing because they were created using organic materials. With time running out, Jack must find a way to stop the multiplying swarms. Oddly enough, some of the Xymos employees don't seem very keen on helping him stop the minute predators.
Prey is a terrific novel. Once again Crichton uses the novel format to offer a look at future technology and the consequences they can have when they are used when not completely understood by man. Prey is told in first person by programmer Jack Forman, which greatly increases the suspense level. In many ways, the ideas and concepts of Prey will stay with the reader just as long -- if not longer -- than those Crichton introduced in Jurassic Park and Timeline. The negative consequences of nanotechnology going awry are potentially much more devastating in Prey than from those caused by dinosaurs running amok. Prey is an excellent thriller, full of plot twists, appealing characters and advanced technologies. Once again, Crichton has managed to reach just a little ways into the future and find something that can both enlighten and frighten us. Highly Recommended.