|The first edition cover of Prey by |
Michael Crichton shows his
fictitious swarm of nanoparticles.
Prey is a cautionary tale of what could result when we mix powerful biological concepts, creative engineering, and corporate pressure. At the core of this story is a corporate laboratory in the Nevada desert that is engineering nanoparticles, microscopic robots that work as a swarm to achieve noble goals. Injected into a body, they can form themselves into a camera to send medical images to doctors to help diagnose patients with blocked arteries or weak heart valves. Released into war zones, they can organize themselves into the ultimate spy machines that cannot be shot down because any bullet would simply pass through the swarm. A brilliant concept – and based on accurate scientific facts and theories.
Crichton’s nanoparticles are built using nanotechnology, a science reliant on chemistry and biology in addition to engineering. As you read Prey, you learn these concepts as you follow the main character deeper into his perilous predicament. Each microscopic robot is harmless in and of itself – What makes them a threat is their group behavior.
|A photo of a real flock of starlings. Photo by John Holmes at Wikimedia.|
|A photo of a real swarm of bees. Photo by Micha L. Rieser at Wikimedia.|
Without going into too much detail, the final scenes fall apart on the plausibility factor. In order to avoid spoiling the end for those of you who wish to read it (and you should), I won’t say how, but some of the biological events just could not have happened as he described. And Crichton should have known better – he had a medical degree from Harvard for Pete’s sake! But when push comes to shove, sometimes accurate scientific principles move too slowly for the action-packed pace of a best-seller.
|A photo of a real school of bigeye scad. Photo by Steve D. at Wikimedia.|
In the end, Prey is a fantastic story and Michael Crichton does an excellent job incorporating and explaining current scientific ideas and how their application may lead to leaps in medical advances or to horrific scenarios of death and destruction. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to overlook a biological detail or two in the name of excitement and intrigue. But my search for the perfect biology-centric science fiction book continues.
Do you have a favorite science fiction book that incorporates animal behavior? Share it with us in the comments below!