The website of UK writer Dan McNeil

PREY

Michael Crichton | 2002
Back to previous page

I devoured my Prey in one sitting, as the blurb promised I would.

Unfortunately, this was simply because I wanted to get the turgid experience over as quickly as possible.  As with eating a second rate meal, I just have to see the experience of reading a terrible book through to the end – I’m incapable of stopping halfway, ever fearful of a sour taste lodging forever in my throat or mind.

You see, if there’s one thing I expect from a writer whose work I’ve read before, it’s their ability to demonstrate to you that they’ve evolved; you know, written a better story than last time. This of course makes you desire them in all sorts of ways, which in turn is good for them in all sorts of ways.

Crichton’s first book was The Andromeda Strain, an original and moderately gripping read, if somewhat pedestrian of prose. Twelve books later, Prey is a throwback to that first story, right down to the boffins trapped in the building routine, except that the boffins in Prey are dull, dull, dull – even the homicidal ones. Especially the homicidal ones; like Michael Gove, the baddies in Prey are scary for all the wrong reasons.

So, what’s this guff all about then? Well, capitalistic cost cutting combines with unbelievable stupidity (and the emphasis here is on unbelievable), causing the release of killer nanomachines, which go on the rampage. There. Thrilling stuff. Not.

OK, it’s not as unthrilling a story as any written by the convicted perjurer and inexplicably best selling author known as Jeffrey Archer. Oh yes, I heroically read one of his manuals once, and had to be mentally restarted after the dire experience with some DIY electrocution.

Anyway, when I was almost halfway through Prey and congratulating myself on that clever dodgy food analogy, the penny dropped. Prey isn’t a novel at all. It’s a Hollywood screenplay. How embarrassing that I, a sincere and qualified cynic, had failed to pick up on this fact. Yes, the film will star Ben Affleck and a selection of vacuous androids. The special effects will be entirely competent, the acting wonderfully wooden, and the public will love it.

So, in plot and character and everything else that needs to matter for the reader, Prey is a disappointingly lazy book. It’s not Jeffrey Archer dire, but it could have been better and it should have been better. It’s just about saved from complete Archerness by Crichton’s writing style, which is spare, terse and reasonably flowing. Very similar in fact to the operating manual of my washing machine. I wonder if Michael wrote that too?

©Dan McNeil 2003
[This review first appeared in Laura Hird’s Lit Mag Central]