Prey by Michael Crichton


Prey is a novel by Michael Crichton that deals with nanoparticles. This work is unique in the way that it is written in first person narrative; none of his other novels have this point of view (at least none of the other ones I have read).

The main character of the work is Jack Forman. A stay-at-home husband who is raising his three kids single-handedly while his wife runs a nanorobotics company named Xymos. When the novel opens, Jack begins noticing slight differences in Julia. She has begun showering when she gets home, is working late hours, and saying things that would suggest she is going to try to take the kids away from him. Jack becomes convinced she is having an affair, but is unsure of how to proceed. His sister says to talk to a lawyer and his lawyer says to go into counseling.

One night, when Julia has to go back to work, she has a car accident. While she is in the hospital she tells Jack to stay away from Xymos; the timing is peculiar as Jack immediately receives a phone call from an old co-worker, who is now working for Xymos. They have been using the programs Jack developed for the software of the nanobots and need Jack to come and help fix the potential issues.

It turns out that the potential issue is that a swarm of nanobots has escaped the compound and is now lose in the desert. It kills quickly, hunts as a unit, and learns—from others and themselves. The plan comes together to kill the swarms and they are able to do so, through much danger and death.

At this point in the novel, Julia comes back. She tries to kiss Jack, but he is no mood, especially after another person is found dead and he has seen video surveillance of Julia kissing Ricky (an old friend and co-worker of Jack’s). It turns out that Julia is involved in a symbiotic relationship with the nanobots and is trying to infect everyone. At the end of the novel only Jack and Mae (another co-worker) are left uninfected. They realize that a form of phage that develops on a strain of E. coli kills the nanobots, so they both ingest it and fight their way out of Xymos.

Ultimately Jack and Mae escape right before Xymos explodes, killing everyone, including Julia and the nanobots. Before her death though, Julia tells Jack that she kissed the children and Jack has to save them. He gives the children the phage and hopes it will work. Ultimately we will never know as the novel ends where it began, with Jack running through his symptoms and the kids vomiting in the bathroom.

I don’t think I particularly liked this work the first time I read it, but I very much enjoyed it this time around. I also like how it seems as if Crichton was finally beginning to experiment with his voice and the way he told a story. It shows some growth in the author that was lacking in his earlier works (I think the turning point really was Airframe).


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