Then, Jack gets called in to work a consulting job with his wife’s company. His priorities quickly shift from diapers and soccer practices to technology gone dreadfully awry. A swarm of nanobots has escaped the lab where his wife works and is wreaking havoc in the desert. They’re intelligent, evolving, self-replicating, and predatory. They’ve killed multiple people on the team working to stop them in rather gruesome ways. Jack and the remaining team members are racing against the clock in a desperate bid to contain this threat before the swarm grows too large, evolves too much, or spreads too far.
Then, suddenly, in the middle of it all, the phone rings. Jack’s sister, who’s taking care of the kids while Jack’s away, wants Jack to help mediate some argument that the kids are having, be made aware of something that one of them did or said that afternoon . . . The details hardly matter. And, that’s the point. Just a few hours before, that was Jack’s entire world—and ours, as the readers—and his wife was practically a villain for not caring as much as he did. Now, suddenly, we want to scream at both the sister and the kids about how little any of this matters compared to the horrors that Jack is currently dealing with. This brief interruption in the flow of the action serves to heighten the intensity of everything surrounding it, making it somehow more real, more desperate, and ultimately scarier.
The build of tension in this book is extremely slow; however, rather than a weakness, this actually acts as a strength. Michael Crichton was a master at his craft and is able to hold the reader’s attention even before the main action starts. One of the things that makes this book so scary is the fact that, like most of Crichton’s works, it’s based in real science. Crichton’s best works make it almost impossible to tell where the science ends and the fiction begins. And, suddenly, a swarm of killer nanobots seems like a very real danger.
For me, the scariest stories, be they books, movies, TV shows, etc. aren’t the ones that have gruesome monsters or psycho killers leaping out of the shadows at you. The best scares are the psychological ones, which is why this swarm of nanobots is far scarier to me than any zombie or vampire or boogeyman. The slow build helps to get us truly invested in who these characters are and what they’re doing, before throwing us headfirst into the danger that they’re facing. It taps into our own existing fears and paranoia, to make this danger as real to us as possible. The build may be slow, but once it takes off, Prey is an intense, fast-paced, nail-biting adventure that’s genuinely frightening in ways you never imagined.