The novel Prey by Michael Crichton follows a computer programmer through a modern science fiction world filled with corporations obsessed with nanotechnology and artificial life.

The main plot points of the novel focus around a swarm technology that has developed evolving intelligence and independence from its creators – ultimately a lethal, unstoppable, manufactured force of nature.

The biggest reveal at the end of the novel is that another "strain" of the swarm had infected many of the characters - surrounding them in an artificial "skin" and, presumably, driving their actions?

My questions are, ultimately: How does the swarm in Prey by Michael Crichton actually infect the various characters that host it? How does it go about controlling them, and what is its goal?

I, frankly, just don't understand this whole "infection" concept.

The counter-measures Crichton suggests (curing Amanda with an MRI scan, simply spraying the infected with a solution of water and phage for instant swarm destruction??) don't help to form an understanding.

  • 5
    Crichton was a great story teller, but a not so good story ender. Take Sphere for example. Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 5:13
  • @MajorStackings as a matter of fact, Sphere has one of the best endings, because it is kind of sad.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 7:59
  • I mean a good ending subjectively for me, of course. Unfortunately I find Prey lacking in facts and consistency, compared to his earlier works.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:46

1 Answer 1


Apparently by ingesting or being surrounded by a part or a whole cloud of nanoparticles, as there is a cloud inside/around every affected person.

Then as I watched, her lips turned dark red, and then black. She didn’t seem to notice. The blackness flowed away from her mouth across her cheeks and over her lower face, and onto her neck. I held my breath. I felt great danger.The blackness now flowed in a sheet down her body until she was entirely covered, as if with a cloak. Only the upper half of her face remained exposed. Her features were composed; in fact she seemed oblivious, just staring into space, dark lips silently moving. Watching her, I felt a chill that ran deep into my bones. Then a moment later the black sheet slid to the floor and vanished. Julia, normal again, finished removing her blouse, and walked into the bathroom.

This here is the most explicit description, although it's not infecting but a murder:

And then Julia walked up to Charley, and kissed him full and long on the lips.

Charley struggled, tried to wrench away. Vince grabbed a fistful of Charley’s hair and tried to hold his head steady. Julia continued to kiss him. Then she stepped away, and as she did I saw a river of black between her mouth and Charley’s. It was only there for a moment, and then it faded.

“Oh my God,” Mae said.

And here is how the cloud coexists with the host.

Firstly, the 'mind control' over the host body. This is the clue I found:

“Do you suppose these things get into your brain?” Charley said. “I mean, they’re nanoparticles. They can get inhaled, cross the blood-brain barrier ... and go into the brain?”

And secondly, the energy source. The swarms do probably devour their host, as the word "parasitism" was mentioned a couple of times and also

And then I thought of Julia, pale as a ghost and brittle thin

Which does not really explain why

She said, “They slept with the lights on.”

I nodded. I knew what it meant, now.

“They’re all infected,” she said.


  • So how are the humans infected? You've touched on mind control and the fact that there's evidence they're infected but not answered the actual question.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:32
  • 1
    @Edlothiad I kind of answer the question "How are the characters infected, instead of devoured?". Obviously both of those situations happen when someone comes in contact with a swarm. Maybe a more interesting question is "When were they infected"?.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:48
  • Suggesting more interesting questions or answering other questions isn't really the purpose of an answer. As a Q&A site an answer is strictly required to answer the question in the post, which in this case makes no mention of devouring. If you want to answer another question that doesn't exist you're welcome to self-answer a new question, but this post doesn't answer the question at hand.
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:50
  • @Edlothiad better now? I really thought that part is obvious.
    – Vorac
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 8:56
  • 1
    Now it looks like quite a good answer, thanks for being so compliant and willing to listen to constructive criticism!
    – Edlothiad
    Commented Jun 27, 2018 at 9:23

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