Michael Crichton’s Prey is a parable for technological advancement gone amok. It starts with an introduction to “Artificial Evolution in the Twenty-first Century,” which allows Crichton to weave a better story and set the stage for Prey to read more like a play than a novel.
Not to be confused with the 2022 movie Prey that is part of the Predator series, Crichton’s novel does include some surprising similarities.
Luckily, the dust jacket doesn’t give too much away so I can quote it here: “In the Nevada desert, an experiment has gone horribly wrong. A cloud of nanoparticles—micro-robots—has escaped from the laboratory. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. For all practical purposes, it is alive. It has been programmed as a predator.”
The thing is this isn’t just the story of “an experiment gone bad.” It’s an argument for acknowledging just how much we don’t know. The ideas set forth in this book have come from the mind of the man who created Ian Malcolm, and it shows. This isn’t chaos; this is the unknown.
“The total system we call the biosphere is so complicated that we cannot know in advance the consequences of anything that we do. That is why even our most enlightened efforts have undesirable outcomes–either because we did not understand enough, or because the ever-changing world responded to our actions in unexpected ways.”
Prey is not an indictment on advancement, at least as I read it, but it is an indictment of our hubris and lack of understanding.
“We think we know what we are doing. We have always thought so. We never seem to acknowledge that we have been wrong in the past, and so might be wrong in the future. Instead, each generation writes off earlier errors as the result of bad thinking by less able minds–and then confidently embarks on fresh errors of its own.”
So far, I’ve only quoted from the lesson included in the Introduction. The parable is a good one. It’s one worth sharing and talking about, and while it may have been published in 2002, it will remain relevant forever. This book was written before crypto and blockchain became buzzwords, and it seems that some of those creators could have used such a parable such. Then again, perhaps there’s too much ego involved.
The thing is, like all other parables, you’re supposed to learn a lesson, and it’s a well thought out and well structured lesson at that. The thing that stands out most in this thriller-like action-packed novel is one sentence from the Introduction that probably rings the most true: “We are one of only three species on our planet that can claim to be self-aware, yet self-delusion may be a more significant characteristic of our kind.”
Even if you’re not interested in the parable and you skip the introduction, you’ll want to read this high-powered, action thriller. It moves quickly as it takes place over the course of one week.
Come to think of it, I’m surprised this hasn’t been optioned as its own movie yet. Perhaps it has and I just don’t know about it.
As a longstanding a fan of Crichton’s, I can’t recommend Prey enough.