Friday, June 14, 2024

Karen S. Wiesner Oldies But Goodies {Put This One on Your TBR List} Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

Oldies But Goodies

{Put This One on Your TBR List}

Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

by Karen S. Wiesner

The Andromeda Strain was the first book Michael Crichton wrote under his real name and one of the earliest techno-thrillers to become a bestseller when published in 1969. Wikipedia describes this genre as "a hybrid…drawing from science fiction, thrillers, spy fiction, action, and war novels. They include a disproportionate amount of technical details on their subject matter (typically military technology)... The inner workings of technology and the mechanics of various disciplines…are thoroughly explored, and the plot often turns on the particulars of that exploration." Crichton and Tom Clancey are considered the fathers of modern techno-thrillers.

With almost documentary-style precision, the crash of an unmanned research satellite is chronicled after it returns mysteriously to Earth and lands near the small town of Piedmont, Arizona. Every human being in Piedmont dies, save two--and old man riddled with health issues and an infant. From there, the world's first space-age biological crisis unfolds as the lethal contamination by an extraterrestrial microbe is investigated by leading scientists. In the initial acknowledgement that begins most of Crichton's novels and gives almost a "true story accounting", he says, "This book recounts the five-day history of a major American scientific crisis. As in most crises, the events surrounding the Andromeda Strain were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and ignorance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance, and moments of unaccountable stupidity." Well, so much for heroes! 

As usual, right from the beginning of this book I read more than a decade ago and recently re-read, Crichton made me believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that this work was based on real-life events. The author states that he got the idea for the story after reading the spy novel, The IPCRESS File (so named for the undesignated protagonist's personal report to the Minister of Defense) by Len Deighton. That story describes Cold War brainwashing, a United States atomic weapon test, as well as the Soviet Union's first atomic bomb. In The Andromeda Strain, Crichton attempted to "create an imaginary world using recogniseable techniques and real people".

The point of view characters in this story are varying scientists and military personal, but all are almost beside the point. From start to finish, the dispassionate, mutated Andromeda is the clear focus, neither protagonist nor villain--simply a lifeform striving for survival at all cost. I've always been drawn to fiction that contains extreme examples of verisimilitude such as this one, of alien creatures testing the bounds of what humans are capable of--both good and bad. It's difficult to imagine what those striving to save humankind from a threat beyond what any has ever experienced before go through in this effort. On one hand, they're forced to rethink everything we know as fact, to employ creativity and leaps of faith in the face of sheer ignorance and uncertainty, but also deal with the moral quandary of destroying something that may simply be acting and reacting in an attempt to survive, devoid of anything more than instinctive motivation and not actual evil. In that, an alien--virus, evolving microorganism, or something else altogether--is no different than any of us. How can we blame it for its existence and innate impulse to exist? But how also can we not fight back when we're threatened, as the entire world is in this novel, by Andromeda breaking free and destroying everything in its single-minded quest to endure?

This book was made into a movie in 1971 and a miniseries in 2008. An authorized sequel, The Andromeda Evolution, was written by Daniel H. Wilson in 2019, 50 years after the original release and eleven years after the author's death. This is definitely a golden oldie you might want to read or re-read.

Next week, I'll review another Oldie But Goodie you might find worth another read, too.

Karen Wiesner is an award-winning, multi-genre author of over 150 titles and 16 series.

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