December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

by Michael Crichton

You can always count on the best-selling author of Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain to find something new in the world to terrify you. In Crichton’s latest goose-bump-raiser, it’s the theoretical world of nanotechnology, the study of virus-size machines that can move individual molecules around, combined with the emerging field of computer programming known as artificial life. As usual in Crichton’s works, a cocktail of real and pseudoscience packs a kick as mankind’s techno-arrogance threatens the very planet.

The designated jargon explainer this time around is an out-of-work Silicon Valley tech manager named Jack. Besides dealing with his three kids, Jack also grapples with his wife, Julia, who is the vice president of Xymos Technology, a company that’s about to introduce a revolutionary nanotech-based medical-imaging system. Julia’s behavior grows increasingly erratic, and strange things begin to happen around the house. Jack becomes suspicious and takes a job as a consultant to Xymos. He eventually finds an excuse to head out to its fabrication plant in the Nevada desert. Unluckily for Jack—but luckily for the reader—there isn’t a simple explanation for all the mysterious happenings. That’s when an already fast-paced story really starts to accelerate.

Crichton’s megaselling books are straightforward thrillers built out of lean, effective characterizations and stacks of timely and frighteningly plausible ideas. Prey sticks to this tried-and-true formula like ants on a honey jar. (HarperCollins, $26.95)

BOTTOM LINE: Join the hunt

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