The first time Michael Crichton scared the bejesus out of me I was about twelve years old. It was called The Andromeda Strain, and I still remember the feeling of not being able to wait until I could get back to that book from whatever chore, homework assignment or parental-forced event kept dragging me away.
Prey had the same effect on me. I picked it up, and I might as well have been on vacation from the rest of my life; everything else I was doing was done half-assed until I read the last word in the last sentence of the last chapter, having once again been sucked into a world so realistically terrifying that I just couldn't stop reading it, the way the gerbil just can't stop hitting the cocaine button until he's dead on the Discovery Channel.
Crichton is great at making you feel like you are smart enough to be a highly specialized scientist working on the cutting edge of whichever field he happens to be writing about. This time it is nanotechnology, and about a hundred pages into it I was ready to write a paper on the subject for Popular Science. I remember when I read Jurassic Park I was suddenly all about Chaos/Complexity Theory, checking out non-fiction books on the subject from the Denver Public Library, and worrying about mad genetic scientists.
Another thing that Crichton does really well is tell you about real science, explaining how cool it is, and doing a really good job of dumbing it down into laymen's terms. Then he tells you an extremely plausible story in which that very cool science goes more horribly wrong than you could possibly imagine. By about halfway through most of his books you find yourself really upset and terrified about things you didn't know existed 250 pages before. You feel like marching on Washington to get some things changed around here before those greedy bastard scientists get us all killed!
The thing is, nanotechnology really is scary stuff. The idea that a cloud of dust could actually be an army of tiny computerized machines controlled by the military, government officials or just my next-door neighbor really creeps me out. I mean, how do you defend against that? And what would happen if a bunch of capitalist corporate executives started making decisions about nanotech development the way that they have about U.S. healthcare? The results could be disastrous.
And in Michael Crichton's Prey, they are. The story follows a software designer as he is called in to consult on an emergency situation regarding experimental nano-robots. He slowly discovers what is really going on at the same time we do, which is really an exciting way to hear a story unfold. This is typical Crichton-esque storytelling, where readers identify heavily with the protagonist because he is an outsider to the situation - just like the readers are. Crichton's books usually start near the end of a sequence of events that are so far along the road to disaster that there is almost no hope for the human race to survive. His protagonist usually isn't told how bad the situation is, but only gradually figures it out.
In Prey Michael Crichton once again helps your imagination run riot. If you have ever enjoyed one of his novels, I suspect that you will love this one. It's the kind of a book that leaves you wanting more, and when I finished, I damn near went to the library to check out whatever I could find on nanotechnology.