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A book by Michael Crichton

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The Eating Cloud: Prey by Michael Crichton

  • Jan 5, 2004
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A hallmark of Michael Crichton's work over the years has been the issue of technology with unintended consequences thanks to human error. We are not as smart as we think we are, in short. From his first book, "Andromeda Strain" (which later became a movie of the same name) his literary vision has been of forefront technology coupled with human error bringing about unintended and often disastrous results. In "Andromeda Strain," the spacecraft brings to earth space microbes that grow and kill. A concern that NASA took very seriously in the early days of the space program and now ignores as a virtual impossibility.

Of course, there was "Jurassic Park" where some dinosaurs were brought to life in the present, which did not work out that well. "Timeline" had its own technology issue where some of the characters didn't want to come back and were causing problems in the past. In his recent book, Michael Crichton picks bits and pieces of earlier novels as well as trendy topics such as being a stay at home Dad and corporate malfeasance to whip up a novel that reads almost like a B movie. To say this is a shallow book, at least in regards to characters, gives the concept of "shallow" a bad name.

Jack used to have it all. The super kids, the great cars, the nice house and a really cool job in Silicon Valley, California at MediaTronics. He was having a blast supervising the team and helping to create "distributed intelligence" programs. (Simplifying greatly, distributed intelligence programs as explained in the book are computer programs that mimic real world animal behavior to make computers work better and smarter. By acting like animals in a herd responding to stimuli, the computer program learns how to make the overall computer system work better.) However, Jack slowly became aware of a gigantic corporate fraud being perpetrated on the shareholders and employees. In doing the right thing, he got himself fired and black balled by his former employers at the age of forty. For the last six months, he has been a stay at home Dad while his wife Julia has been working more and more hours.

She is a corporate big shot for Xymos Technology. The company is at the forefront of Nanotechnology by using a different approach than normal. They are combining genetics with some elements of nanotechnolgy and distributed intelligence programs to create a different form of nanotechnolgy. The problem is that the company is desperate for Venture Capitalists and their financing and time is running out.

The strain at work is clearly taking a toll on Julia. The strain of Jack being out of work after six months in the Silicon Valley, which is a virtual death sentence in the world of cutting edge computers, is taking a tremendous toll on both of them. With resentment on these issues as well as a host of others, Jack suddenly concludes Julia is having an affair. Not only is she dressing differently and subtly more beautiful despite the long hours she puts in at the office, her whole physical appearance seems to be changing. The way her body looks from head to toe seems to be subtly different and an improvement on her. Her personality seems to be shifting as well.

But, his marital problems seem to slide onto the back burner when his old employers want him back temporarily on a consulting basis. It seems that Xymos Technology bought a computer program he designed called PRED/PREY and are having problems with their use of it. Not only did Julia never mention that they had bought it despite being in a position to know, Jack can't figure out what use they would have for it or why it won't work. The program is designed as a model of predator and prey behavior reactions in the wild and while fairly accessible does not really work for what Xymos is working on. But, he needs a job even if it is for a few days and with so many of his former team working for Xymos and acting strange, he takes the job.

He is flown out to the fabrication lab for Xymos out in the Nevada desert. Once there, he finds out things are far different than he was led to believe. There has been a massive release of nanoparticles from the laboratory. The initial swarm of nanoparticles has apparently given birth to succeeding generational swarms of nanoparticles. Each generation is slowly becoming more complex and sophisticated as they evolve and using the PRED/PREY program, the swarms are learning. So far, the resulting swarms have proved unstoppable to this point and are deadly to animal and human alike. With each new generation of swarms, the fate of mankind becomes increasingly dim and soon they will be totally unstoppable.

While the basic story is entertaining, it is a typical end of the world disaster type book. The typical-- we made something, it got released into the environment, we screwed up, and guess what, we are really screwed because it will kill us all. The characters are very shallow even in the case of the main character Jack. He seems two dimensional even in the places where he is supposed to be complicated and interesting and the initial marital setup section before the action gets going is way too long. The other characters who shift continuously in importance also seem to have a lack of depth and substance especially the computer programmers and others of his team.

They read like the often-wrong Hollywood versions of techies in that these characters are extreme in personality, dress, and behavior. Some reviewers have criticized the author in that these characters frequently curse and therefore are offensive to the reader. While the cursing fits the characters as portrayed and did not really bother me, what I found offensive was the stereotypical portrayals of the characters as a whole. Cut from cookie cutter molds, they seem to have as much substance as sugar cookies.

Mixed into this morass are frequent long lecture sections on genetics and computer programs that were quite often completely over my head. For those so inclined, there is a multi page section at the back of the book involving a detailed reading list on the source material covering the topics fictionalized in the book. Michael Crichton is well known for doing his research and this clearly was no exception.

While the novel managed to hold my interest and was a fast read, too often it felt like I was reading a shallow novel interspersed with a college textbook. The work as a whole reads like the novelization of the latest Hollywood disaster epic as well without the really neat special effects. Considering the character complexity of many of his other books, "Prey" in that regard was a disappointment. But, I am sure Hollywood will love it.

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review by . November 12, 2010
I have had little success with popular thriller writers.   Clive Cussler's writing is comically inept (but not enough to make me read a second title), and Dan Brown's DaVinci Code is passable but tepid and hardly worth a followup.  This Michael Crichton came highly praised for its technical topic, as his books always are, and since I hadn't read any of them, I thought to try it.      Well, it is better than Cussler, faint enough praise, and about on …
review by . August 19, 2010
   Prey is science fiction in a much more pure form than what most science fiction writers put out. Michael Crichton was always brilliant about that. He did the same thing for Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, and for many other subjects in his books. Crichton takes a real idea with real science behind it and takes it to the logical (extreme) conclusions. What would be the logical conclusion (taken to the extreme) if we figured out how to get Dinosaur DNA and started cloning them? What would …
review by . April 15, 2008
Pros: Exciting, freakish, well-researched and well-constructed novel     Cons: Some things I think Jack should have figured out (because I did before him)     The Bottom Line: The scary part is that this is something that could happen sometime in the future...     Jack Forman is unemployed. Bummer. He used to be in charge of creating computer programs that are based on animal behaviors, this way the programs can run on their own and still …
review by . May 31, 2005
As per usual, Michael Crichton takes a top that he is currently interested in (nanotechnology in this case) and weaves an entertaining story around this central theme. Better than Crichton's last book (Timeline), I quickly got through this story and wasn't disappointed in the slightest bit.    For all Michael Crichton fans I would recommend "Prey" and I think you would find it a good, albeit light read. If for nothing else, Crichton's meticulous research into the field of nanotechnology …
review by . September 20, 2004
A repeated theme in Michael Crichton's "Prey" goes something like this: "Things never turn out the way you think they will." I find myself wishing that this were true of the novel itself. "Prey" is a novel that only Michael Crichton could have written, and that comes with both the good and the bad.    Crichton's plot, timing, and his ability to keep a story clipping along at a brisk pace are all in evidence here. Michael Crichton books are sometimes better than others, but he …
review by . June 10, 2004
Crichton does an excellent job of writing a heart-pounding high tech thriller! This is a story of nano-technology gone out of control. Those familiar with Ben Bova's tales (Venus, The Asteroid War series, etc.) would know the concept of nano or microscopic computer technology going in. In both cases the potential is there for both good results and total disaster. It is scary because science is probably trying very hard to perfect this technology and the way things seem to be designed today; the …
review by . March 05, 2004
Remember the plot of Jurassic Park? The well meaning scientists, the crazed mercenaries, the bewildered civilians and the villians---tons of ready-made living dinosaur meat cultivated from Jurassic era DNA? All this made for a good story and a fully blown cinematic spectacle when the creatures were brought to life on the big screen.     That's pretty much the tale of Prey---instead of dinosaurs, the menace consists of a "swarm" of nano-sized computers created by a Silcon Valley …
review by . February 09, 2004
Michael Crichton has produced another high-tech page-turner that will hold your interest to the very end. You might call it Andromeda Strain meets Jurassic Park since the human-engineered malevolence is at the microscopic level in the form of nanoparticle-sized machines that have escaped from their laboratory and begun reproducing at an alarming rate.The narrator of this adventure, Jack Forman is an expert in distributed programming. Only now his career has been interrupted by some Silicon Valley …
review by . January 29, 2003
this was highly intersting and suspenceful. Jack is a lovable character, and one roots for him, through this weird ordeal he got himself into. The enemy is hard to evade, since it can be invisible, unless it forms into a big black swarm. It's kinda like the 1986 Chernobly accident, the invisible radioactive rays that killed so many people. The silent and invisible enemy! You think it's not there, untill you see what happens to ya! awesome book, one of Crichtons bests!
review by . January 06, 2003
Crichton introduces his cautionary tale of technology run amok with a fairly dire summation of human shortsightedness. "The total system we call the biosphere is so complicated that we cannot know in advance the consequences of anything that we do." Add greed and arrogance to ignorance and technology and you have the basic ingredients for one of Crichton's page-turning plots. "Unfortunately, our species has demonstrated a striking lack of caution in the past. It is hard to imagine that we will behave …
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Kevin R. Tipple ()
Ranked #90
My stories have appeared in such magazines such as “Lynx Eye,” “Starblade,” “Show and Tell,” and "The Writer's Post Journal" among others and online at … more
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InPrey, bestselling author Michael Crichton introduces bad guys that are too small to be seen with the naked eye but no less deadly or intriguing than the runaway dinosaurs that made 1990'sJurassic Parksuch a blockbuster success.

High-tech whistle-blower Jack Forman used to specialize in programming computers to solve problems by mimicking the behavior of efficient wild animals--swarming bees or hunting hyena packs, for example. Now he's unemployed and is finally starting to enjoy his new role as stay-at-home dad. All would be domestic bliss if it were not for Jack's suspicions that his wife, who's been behaving strangely and working long hours at the top-secret research labs of Xymos Technology, is having an affair. When he's called in to help with her hush-hush project, it seems like the perfect opportunity to see what his wife's been doing, but Jack quickly finds there's a lot more going on in the lab than an illicit affair. Within hours of his arrival at the remote testing center, Jack discovers his wife's firm has created self-replicating nanotechnology--a literal swarm of microscopic machines. Originally meant to serve as a military eye in the sky, the swarm has now escaped into the environment and is seemingly intent on killing the scientists trapped in the facility. The reader realizes early, however, that Jack, his wife, and fellow scientists have more to fear from the hidden dangers within the lab than from the predators without.


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ISBN-10: 978-0066214122
ISBN-13: 0066214122
Author: Michael Crichton
Genre: Mystery & Thrillers
Publisher: Harperaudio
Date Published: November 01, 2002
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