Prey by Michael Crichton ($3.99)
High-tech whistle-blower Jack Forman used to specialize in programming computers to solve problems by mimicking the behavior of efficient wild animals–swarming bees or hunting hyena packs, for example. Now he’s unemployed and is finally starting to enjoy his new role as stay-at-home dad. All would be domestic bliss if it were not for Jack’s suspicions that his wife, who’s been behaving strangely and working long hours at the top-secret research labs of Xymos Technology, is having an affair. When he’s called in to help with her hush-hush project, it seems like the perfect opportunity to see what his wife’s been doing, but Jack quickly finds there’s a lot more going on in the lab than an illicit affair. Within hours of his arrival at the remote testing center, Jack discovers his wife’s firm has created self-replicating nanotechnology–a literal swarm of microscopic machines. Originally meant to serve as a military eye in the sky, the swarm has now escaped into the environment and is seemingly intent on killing the scientists trapped in the facility. The reader realizes early, however, that Jack, his wife, and fellow scientists have more to fear from the hidden dangers within the lab than from the predators without.
The monsters may be smaller in this book, but Crichton’s skill for suspense has grown, making Prey a scary read that’s hard to set aside, though not without its minor flaws. The science in this novel requires more explanation than did the cloning of dinosaurs, leading to lengthy and sometimes dry academic lessons. And while the coincidence of Xymos’s new technology running on the same program Jack created at his previous job keeps the plot moving, it may be more than some readers can swallow. But, thanks in part to a sobering foreword in which Crichton warns of the real dangers of technology that continues to evolve more quickly than common sense, Prey succeeds in gripping readers with a tense and frightening tale of scientific suspense. –Benjamin Reese