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Author Michael Crichton's long list of best-sellers includes "The Andromeda Strain," "Jurassic Park" and "Timeline." His latest novel, "Prey," combines scientific fact with fiction, examining the sometimes dangerous relationship between humans and technology. He talked about it on The Early Show.

After graduating from the Harvard Medical School, Crichton embarked on a career as a writer and filmmaker. His books have been translated into 30 languages. Twelve have been made into films. He is also the creator of the television series "ER" and has directed six films, among them "Westworld," "Coma," and "The Great Train Robbery."

Crichton received the Mystery Writers of America's Edgar Allan Poe Award in 1968 (for "A Case of Need," written under pseudonym Jeffery Hudson) and in 1980 (for "The Great Train Robbery"). Always interested in computers, he ran a software company, FilmTrack, which developed computer programs for motion picture production in the 1980s; for this pioneering work, he won an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Technical Achievement Award in 1995. His film "Westworld" was first feature film to employ computer-generated special effects.

Crichton has won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writer's Guild of America award for "ER." In 2000, a newly-discovered, small armored dinosaur was named for him. Crichton was named one of the "Fifty Most Beautiful People" by People magazine in 1992, but, he observes, never again. He is divorced and lives in Los Angeles.

Here is an excerpt from "Prey":

DAY 6
7:12 A.M.

With the vibration of the helicopter, I must have dozed off for a few minutes. I awoke and yawned, hearing voices in my headphones. They were all men speaking:

"Well, what exactly is the problem?" A growling voice.

"Apparently, the plant released some material into the environment. It was an accident. Now, several dead animals have been found out in the desert. In the vicinity of the plant." A reasonable, organized voice.

"Who found them?" Growly.

"Couple of nosy environmentalists. They ignored the keep-out signs, snooped around the plant. They've complained to the company and are demanding to inspect the plant."

"Which we can't allow."

"No, no."

"How do we handle this?" said a timid voice.

"I say we minimize the amount of contamination released, and give data that show no untoward consequence is possible." Organized voice.

"Hell, I wouldn't play it that way," said growling voice. "We're better off flatly denying it. Nothing was released. I mean, what's the evidence anything was released?"

"Well, the dead animals. A coyote, some desert rats. Maybe a few birds."

"Hell, animals die in nature all the time. I mean, remember the business about those slashed cows? It was supposed to be aliens from UFOs that were slashing the cows. Finally turned out the cows were dying of natural causes, and it was decomposing gas in the carcasses that split them open. Remember that?"

"Vaguely."

Timid voice: "I'm not sure we can just deny--"

"Fuck yes, deny."

"Aren't there pictures? I think the environmentalists took pictures."

"Well, who cares? What will the pictures show, a dead coyote? Nobody is going to get worked up about a dead coyote. Trust me. Pilot? Pilot, where the fuck are we?"

I opened my eyes. I was sitting in the front of the helicopter, alongside the pilot. The helicopter was flying east, into the glare of low morning sun. Beneath my feet I saw mostly flat terrain, with low clumps of cactus, juniper, and the occasional scraggly Joshua tree.

The pilot was flying alongside the power-line towers that marched in single file across the desert, a steel army with outstretched arms. The towers cast long shadows in the morning light. A heavyset man leaned forward from the backseat. He was wearing a suit and tie. "Pilot? Are we there yet?"

"We just crossed the Nevada line. Another ten minutes."

The heavyset man grunted and sat back. I'd met him when we took off, but I couldn't remember his name now. I glanced back at the three men, all in suits and ties, who were traveling with me. They were all PR consultants hired by Xymos. I could match their appearance to their voices. A slender, nervous man, twisting his hands. Then a middle-aged man with a briefcase on his lap. And the heavyset man, older and growly, obviously in charge.

"Why the hell did they put it in Nevada, anyway?"

"Fewer regulations, easier inspections. These days California is sticky about new industry. There was going to be a year's delay just for environmental-impact statements. And a far more difficult permitting process. So they came here."

Growly looked out the window at the desert. "What a shithole," he said. "I don't give a fuck what goes on out here, it's not a problem." He turned to me. "What do you do?"

"I'm a computer programmer."

"You covered by an NDA?" He meant, did I have a non-disclosure agreement that would prevent me from discussing what I had just heard.

"Yes," I said.

"You coming out to work at the plant?"

"To consult," I said. "Yes."

"Consulting's the way to go," he said, nodding as if I were an ally. "No responsibility. No liability. Just give your opinion, and watch them not take it."

With a crackle, the pilot's voice broke in over the headsets. "Xymos Molecular Manufacturing is dead ahead," he said. "You can just see it now."

Twenty miles in front of us, I saw an isolated cluster of low buildings silhouetted on the horizon. The PR people in the back all leaned forward.

"Is that it?" said Growly. "That's all it is?"

"It's bigger than it looks from here," the pilot said.

As the helicopter came closer, I could see that the buildings were interlocked, featureless concrete blocks, all whitewashed. The PR people were so pleased they almost burst into applause. "Hey, it's beautiful!"

"Looks like a fucking hospital."

"Great architecture."

"It'll photograph great."

I said, "Why will it photograph great?"

"Because it has no projections," the man with the briefcase said. "No antennas, no spikes, no things poking up. People are afraid of spikes and antennas. There are studies. But a building that's plain and square like this, and white -- perfect color choice, associations to virginal, hospital, cure, pure -- a building like this, they don't care."

From PREY. Copyright © 2002 by Michael Crichton. All rights reserved. HarperCollins Publishers. Used by permission.

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