Reviews by title
Reviews by author
Onyx reviews: Prey by
No one has ever accused Michael Crichton of being skillful at
characterization. His forte is creating compelling and suspenseful plots,
cutting edge thrillers that simultaneously educate, entertain and elucidate. Prey, however, starts with an intriguing character. Jack Nelson, a computer
programmer, lost his job when he started asking uncomfortable questions about
his employers' shady activities. Branded as a loose cannon, he's been
blacklisted from any job he's qualified for in Silicon Valley.
When readers first meet Jack, he's buying place mats at Crate and Barrel. He's
become "Mr. Mom," cooking meals, managing the household and
chauffeuring his children to their extracurricular activities. He discusses the
merits of particular brands of diapers with a friend in the line at the grocery
Beyond his domestic duties, Jack has other concerns. Primary among these is the
increasingly distant and worrisome behavior of Julia, his wife of twelve years.
She misses events with the children, picks fights with Jack and their daughter,
works long hours and proffers inconsistent excuses that lead Jack to believe
she's having an affair. His growing but unconfirmed suspicions fill him with
doubt as he second-guesses himself. At his wits' end, Jack calls his sister
Ellen, a psychologist, who promptly comes to evaluate the situation under the
guise of helping look after the kids.
Ellen's arrival also conveniently frees Jack to take a consulting job with his
former employer, who coincidentally happens to be doing work for Xymos, Julia's
employer. On the surface, Xymos is developing microscopic robotic cameras for
internal medicine applications. Shortly after he arrives at their remote Nevada
fabrication plant, Jack learns that the company has taken nanotechnology to new
levels of sophistication.
Xymos' experiments run amok, of course. Crichton has changed his focus from
reanimated dinosaurs to seemingly sentient robots thousands of times smaller
than the head of a pin—call it Microscopic Park. His intriguing setup devolves
into just another thriller and the secondary characters turn into cardboard
automatons. It's a shame, really, for Jack's domestic situation is more
interesting than the dilemma he discovers at Xymos because readers can identify
with it on a personal level.
Hired to correct flaws in the programs controlling the nanoparticles, Jack's
humanity becomes less important. Because the plot depends on readers
understanding—at least superficially—some fairly sophisticated science,
Crichton needs to convey a lot of information through his characters. Jack, as
narrator, bears most of the burden. Action and dialog screech to a halt for
three or four paragraphs as Crichton-via-Jack explains in detail what's going
on. It's educational and interesting, but this amount of information dumping is
bound to turn off some readers. Equally distressing is Crichton's reliance on
coincidence to advance Jack toward his goal. When things seem at their worst,
something fortuitous saves the day. By the third or fourth time he escapes a
potentially deadly situation, Jack begins to appear unbeatable, which spoils
some of the book's suspense.
Prey is a cautionary tale, and not a terribly subtle one. Crichton shows his
hand in a preachy five-page introduction that describes the potential hazards of
nanotechnology disasters. He didn't open Jurassic Park by explaining why a theme
park populated with genetically recreated dinosaurs is a bad idea. He let the
story speak for itself. Unfortunately, Crichton allowed technological issues to
overwhelm humanity in his writing as well as the plot.
Web site and all contents © Copyright Bev Vincent 2007. All rights reserved.