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Book of the Month: Prey

  • Post category:Culture

By Javen Calhoun

Edited by Ben Hurst

It’s not uncommon for one to be absolutely terrified of the capabilities of modern day technology. As the possibilities increase for engineering and technological fields, the fear of such newfound possibilities does as well. Such is the case in Michael Crichton’s Prey. Within Prey and many of Chrichton’s other novels such as Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain there is a cautionary tale about what could happen when you experiment with science that is not yet completely understood. A mix of sci-fi and psychological horror work to keep the story of Jack Forman, an unemployed software developer, a harrowing and curious adventure. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering are all major topics of interest and terror in this story of what could go wrong if science gets “too ambitious.” The relevance of this novel in today’s society extends past the troubles that Jack faces in his personal life and into the increasingly advanced technologies we work with today. If you are a sci-fi enthusiast, and you don’t trust robots, whether it be because of some dystopian world or your own intuition, then you will enjoy this novel.

As a STEM major, the endless possibilities of what could happen as we explore new technologies has always interested me. I find myself constantly pondering what could happen as we travel into the uncharted territories of science. For me, this book resembled more than just another case of poorly hidden pessimism about robots; it resembled a real possibility of what might occur should our tech start to transcend past our original intentions. I think it is important as an engineer to explore more than the positive avenues of what comes with a seemingly good idea. The cynical realism of this techno-thriller left me wanting to do more than simply become afraid of new technologies: it left me wanting to create them and to master them in a way that the characters in the novel could not.

Chrichton’s past medical and technological expertise is on display as he explores the background of the antagonistic killer nanobots of this cautionary tale. All the computing and mechanical vernacular that Prey uses give the story another layer of horror as it makes it more realistic. Reading this novel will probably cause you to lose some trust and faith in the scientists and engineers who are constantly conducting secret research. The inspiration of this novel actually came from the increasing amounts of studies that institutions such as The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) had been conducting. Announced by President Clinton in 2000, the NNI was one of the first public and government funded companies capable of probing into the complex world of nanotechnology. Chrichton also likely found himself motivated by the growing examples of what artificial intelligence could do as companies like IBM, MIT, and Honda designed their own functional AI’s that could do things like play chess, recognize and simulate emotions, and much more. Knowing that the inspiration for such an advanced subject came from all the way back in 2002, you can only imagine how close we might actually be to the events of this story.

As this is being written, scientists and researchers have already designed nanotechnology capable of entering bloodstreams, surgery, and much much more. Since it is a techno-thriller, this novel is almost timeless as the fear of technology will always be universal. Furthermore, contrary to how society typically imagines robots as metal humanoids that stick out like a sore thumb, Chrichton chooses to paint them as something that can be found and disguised in nature, thus creating an unexpected sense of terror by hiding them in plain sight.

For those hoping to one day get into the medical engineering field, or any other sort of technological STEM career, this book is perfect. It relays a realistic story about fear and possibility, urging even the most carefully creative scientists and engineers to consider what could happen as technology advances. To say I encourage a read of this book is an understatement, just be careful when digesting it since it is easy to become a cynic and paranoid of the new and unknown. Technology is sometimes a hard concept to understand, and in the same sense, it can be even harder to control. Especially, if it advances to the point where it begins to control us. Chrichton really puts civilization under a lens as he analyzes our society all the way down to the core ideas we hold as a people. This book is as much a psychological thriller as a technological one, and it will constantly leave you wondering about the validity and justification of the advancements we have made as a society. It taunts your imagination by sewing the seeds of possibility, only to later ruin the soil by watering it with terror and doubt. Prey is a rollercoaster to say the least, but it is definitely a ride worth riding until the wheels fall off so I suggest you find a good place to read and buckle in because it will get bumpy.