Last Thursday, at the Auckland City Library, I happened on a recent novel by Michael Crichton.
I had long since stopped reading his books, but as a teenager would eagerly devour each and every one, immersing myself in the exciting world of techno-science.
So, feeling slightly nostalgic, and needing a new book for my platelets donation on Monday, I decided to give it a go.
I started reading Prey late Saturday night, and finished it Sunday morning.
The plot centers around nano-technology, and a company that has discovered how to achieve molecular assembly on an industrial scale.
The company programs each nano-bot with some basic low-level instructions. In isolation the nano-particles are useless, but in a group, or swarm these instructions allow them to obtain collective intelligence, similar to an army of ants, or flock of birds.
Of course the swarm gets out of hand, and it is up to a lone programmer to find a weakness in the code and destroy the swarm.
Much like a day from the TV series 24, the storyline is techno-trash, the science questionable at best, but the action is non-stop.
Despite being littered with fragments like “The system uses Internet browser technology, meaning you can keep going back”, I had to continue reading.
But now as I have finished the book, I can’t help but feel hit by an anti-climax. I was sucked in at each page with an anxious need to discover what the swarm of rapidly evolving nano-bots had learned next, and quite happily over-looking the major plot-flaws along the way.
Nonetheless Prey is still an enjoyable read and follows a reasonably standard techno-science storyline formula.
A company develops a new technology that could change the world. But then it somehow falls into the wrong hands, and things start going horribly wrong.
Here’s my own attempt:
Only a week ago, Tom was on top of the world. After three years of long hours and constant debt, his company, ETR systems, turned a profit.
For years, he had researched genetic algorithms for modeling financial systems. Two weeks ago, his algorithm made him $8,500 in the stock market. Last week, he made $656,000.
He’d achieved the impossible. After three years of finely tuning thousands of dynamic input variables, Tom finally found a way to model what up until now had been believed to be a chaotic system. He could predict the stock market.
But things were about to go horribly wrong.
Dan, Tom’s sole employee, was missing. Tom was the primary suspect in the police investigation. But that was the least of Tom’s problems. There wasn’t a government in the world that wouldn’t kill for his algorithm. In the wrong hands it could cause the collapse of any one of the world’s major financial institutions. And that was just the beginning.
Someone had found out, and they had gotten to Dan. Tom knew that Dan would be able to reproduce the algorithm and source code in a matter of weeks. But without the micro-controller the software ran on, the algorithm was useless.
Tom had the micro-controller.
And now they were after him.