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Michael Crichton

HarperCollins £17-99 ISBN 0 00 715379 1

Reviewed by Ali Karim

So we finally have the long awaited novel from Michael Crichton, which if legend is correct earned the master of the techno-thriller a $30 m advance from HarperCollins (for a two-book deal). The first question is whether his publishers were wise in awarding such a huge sum? I can't answer that directly, but what I can say is that 'Prey' was completely outstanding. It is carved in Crichton's trademark style of taking an emerging technology and showing how it can run amuck in the wild. This time around he takes three emerging technologies - genetics, distributed intelligence and nanotechnology and brews up a terrifying tale of science gone well awry. One criticism often levelled at Crichton's door has always been with regard to characterisation playing second fiddle to plot. With 'Prey' the plot is so inventive and 'out-there' that no character could compete. Having said that, I must add that this first-person narrative has very interesting protagonists.

The story starts off in a most straightforward manner, with software guru, Jack living the life of a house-husband after being fired from a shady Silicon Valley firm. He suspects that his wife Julia (a high-powered computer executive) is having an affair. She is spending more and more time at her firm's (Xymos Corporation) experimental fabrication plant in the barren desert of Nevada. Xymos are having a few problems with its prototype nano-device and so Jack is hired to investigate.

The narrative is loaded with technical details and makes for a very enjoyable and plausible read, if you like techno-thrillers. Crichton then pits man against the swarm of nano-particles in a time-constrained thriller, which caused me two conflicts. Firstly, I wanted to zip through the pages like a madman to reach the conclusion, but at the same time I wanted to read slowly to absorb the concepts that 'Prey' outlined. The novel reminded me of three books I had read as an adolescent. It shares a great deal with Crichton's own 'The Andromeda Strain' in term of plot and Jack Finney's 'Invasion of the body snatchers' in terms of its paranoia. It also reminded me subliminally of Frank Herbert's little known masterpiece 'The green brain' with its understanding of 'hive-minds' and distributed intelligence.

It is however, totally it's own book, and for me, I'll never look at a Nikon catalogue in the same way again. Highly recommended and big on ideas as well as one of the fastest evolving plots I have ever read. It has a high scare factor. The scenes in the desert is worth the cover price alone.

Worth $30m? - Judge for yourself as everyone's going to be talking about this book over Xmas.