Generally I only use a title in my review posts, but Prey is far too common a word in titles. I ran it through Barnes & Noble’s website and searched in ‘Books Only’. I got 2,372 results. My favorite of which is a vampire romance parody novel of Eat Pray Love titled Eat Prey Love. I will however be reviewing the 6th hit on the page, Prey by Michael Crichton.
It’s beach season and I love a good page turner of a novel to lounge in the sun with. This book certainly filled that need. It was a little slow early on, drawing out the anticipation a bit much, but it made up for that in the second half. Nice action scenes along with steady tension made the last 200 pages really fly by. I left feeling remarkably unsatisfied though, and I’m laying most of it on the shoulders of the main character.
He is supposed to be an incredibly bright project manager who is on the forefront of computing technology that uses genetics based programming. It is a real branch of computing and Crichton does include an interesting half bibliography half ‘would you like to know more?’ reading list at the end of the book. If you’ve read or seen Jurassic Park, the main character is supposed to be Dr. Grant. He is the specialist who has the know how to save the world from the evil that science has accidentally unleashed in it’s rush for progress.
In Jurassic Park though we had the two kids to ask the questions the audience needed answered in order to follow the plot. In Prey the main character jumps back and forth between brilliant deductions and asking really basic questions that I found it hard to believe he didn’t already know. When you’re writing sci-fi, and even though Prey is set present day there is fictional science running amok so I’d classify it as sci-fi, it’s important to have a character the audience can identify with that can help the reader feel like they aren’t completely out of their depth.
A classic example is Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies. The character is on a journey of growth and knowledge, so the audience can follow along in this strange world and still feel included. It’s fine to also have an Obi Wan Kenobi type intelligent character, but when that character is the protagonist and asks Luke level questions about basic things going on in the story, it makes the whole narrative feel substantially weaker.
In one scene the main character made some remarkably astute observations about how the program he helped write was behaving and used his environment to save his life and the lives of two others. It all flowed nicely and didn’t feel like a stretch for his character as all. On the other hand it takes him 400 pages to connect some mysteriously disintegrated computer chips he finds in the opening chapter with the entity he is fighting that he knows consumes carbon and other computer components. It felt repeatedly like the intelligence of the hero was entirely dependent on what the plot needed from him at the time and that killed the immersion I had and the enjoyment I took in his clever solutions.
On a similar note of immersion destroying but sadly cliched tropes, there is a scene about half way through in which two characters are killed. The two people are good friends with the main character and they’ve been close for many years. At no point does anyone suggest to call the police or get any sort of authority involved. Later on, phone lines get cut too, so it wouldn’t have been that hard to cut off communication earlier. Instead we have these two deaths happen and our lead just accepts it and gets back to business. The frequency of this plot hole is so sad that it is hilarious, or sad-larious if you will, but I generally thought Michael Crichton was above it.
As long as you’re prepared from truly questionable writing with the main character there is a lot of enjoyment to get out of this book. It did have some fun science ‘what if?’ scenarios and the action scenes are well handled. It isn’t the best of Crichton and it isn’t the best of the genre, but you can do worse if you’re looking for a light summer read.
★★★☆☆ – If you like Crichton go for it, just be prepared to not buy into the main character on any level. A reminder of my rating system