The book opens with Chricton playing the roll of technoprophet and doomsayer. Quoting a horribly biased series of papers, he spews dire warnings about the hideous future of nanotechnology if it's not properly controlled. Another scathing evaluation about the reckless progress of new technology similar to the one against biotechnology in 'Jurassic Park'.
That's not all that's similar to Chricton's seminal techno-action novel, as Prey plays pretty well the same all throughout. With a premise reminiscent not only of 'Jurassic Park', but 'Timeline' and 'Andromeda Strain' as well, it's all too obivious how this novel's going to unfold from day one. Cue genius tempered with impatience, mix plenty of corporate irresponsibility, add a bit of disrespect for the powers of technology, and finish off with hubris slapping everyone in the face.
This time around, it's nanomachines and the corporation is Xymos. They've been working to produce microscopic machines to supply visual intelligence for military applications, and haven't been all that succesful. On the surface however, Xymos play's its' cards close.
Jack, an unemployed software engineer, is a stay-at-home dad. His wife Julia is a VP at Xymos which he believes is producing revolutionary medical technology. After Julia spends many nights working late, her attitude towards her family begins to change, Jack suspects she's having an affair.
Soon after however, Julia's is involved in a mysterious car accident. Shortly thereafter Jack is recruited by some of his friends to head out to Xymos's mysterious desert installation, where somethng has gone terribly wrong (Surprise!). A few of the nanotech swarms have escaped and seem to be evolving very rapidly. In fact, they seem to have developed a taste for flesh (Surprise!), and it's up to Jack to stop them from spreading. While he's at it, he'll discover the nature of a devious corporate secret (Surprise!) and gain respect for the complexity of life (Surprise!) be it natural or artificial.
Yeah, just swap out dinosaurs for nanotech insects, move to the desert, and you've got 'Prey'. It's complete with a desperate run to a shed puncuated by an attack with flesh eating creatures. Oh dear. It's a lot harder to be frightened of a bunch of swarming machines that buzz around, than a pack of velociraptors.
The amount of originality present in this book is really minimal, and almost all of it centers around the scientific aspects of the book. These are entertaining for the most part, if you exclude items like absolutely pointless lines of code Chricton seems to enjoy embedding into the book. They serve no purpose anddo nothing for the plot but seem to superficially smarten up the material. He explores the evolution and applications of nanotechnology pretty thoroughly, if not objectively. There's also some interesting insights into organic analogue computer programs as well as their applications.
The characters are universally flat. The computer techs are absolute stereostypes, and are insulting to anyone who knows how to program but prefers not to wear unix shirts. There's no originality here and Chricton doesn't manage to instill an iota empathy with any of them. The female lead is especially atrocious, as she's completely emotionless. It's difficult to remember her name from page to page.
Basically, the plot iscompletely pieced together and recycled from previous Chricton books. That isn't to say it's a bad plot, by any stretch of the imagination, just nothing you haven't seen in his work before. The action scenes are well written and immersive, although they're often times derivative as well.
In general, 'Prey' is just another tale of technology run amok, and mankind having to acknowledge the responisbilities inherent with said technology, and so forth and so on. It's more of the same, and that's good or bad depending on how you look at it. The way we see it, it's bad. There's nothing original here, just cobbled together pieces of more succesful books. Chricton hasn't evovled as a writer, if anything he's regressed to the point where he's desperate enough to pillage his own material for a measure of commercial success. If you liked the previous ones, there's nothing to stop you from liking this one. It's more prudent to find it at the library however, then to drop any money on it.