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The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

The Andromeda Strain (original 1969; edition 1995)

by Michael Crichton

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7,14398500 (3.65)140
Title:The Andromeda Strain
Authors:Michael Crichton
Info:Arrow (1995), Edition: New edition, Paperback, 304 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)

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"Certainly the Wildfire team was under severe stress, but they were also prepared to make mistakes. They had even predicted that this would occur. What they did not anticipate was the magnitude, the staggering dimensions of their error. They did not expect that their ultimate error would be a compound of a dozen small clues that were missed, a handful of crucial facts that were dismissed."
-- From Chapter 24, The Andromeda Strain

Michael Crichton's 1969 techno-thriller is in some ways an update of H G Wells' The War of the Worlds, but instead of invading Martians being defeated by a earth-borne microbes (or "putrefactive and disease bacteria" as Wells has it, our "microscopic allies") here it is the extraterrestrial microscopic organisms that threaten humankind. Brought back to earth by a Project Scoop satellite, they kill human beings by almost instantly clotting their blood. A top secret team codenamed Wildfire is tasked with retrieving, analysing, assessing and counteracting this virulent invader before it spreads to the general population. Holed up in an underground lab, they have a scant few days to come up with solutions; this being a thriller, things do not go smoothly.

Put thus baldly The Andromeda Strain appears to be a fairly humdrum novel, its premise familiar from scores of dystopic novel plotlines and SFF films and TV series. But, bearing in mind the date of its release -- at the height of a flurry of manned space missions (though just three years from the last Apollo mission to the moon) and on the crest of a wave of optimism in the march of science and technology in the face of Cold War tensions -- its then impact isn't hard to imagine. The nightmare scenario of an invisible killer chimed in with fears of Russian aggression -- remember, the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies had in 1968 invaded Czechoslovakia, a country at the heart of Europe. While the US became more mired in a disastrous Vietnam conflict, despite opposing a technologically poorer nation, on the other hand it had sent a mission around the moon; and computer sciences seemed to be announcing new advances on a daily basis.

In such an extraordinary time of upheaval Crichton's novel comes as little surprise. For this work of speculative fiction he chose to write in what would now be called a creative nonfiction style, buttressing it with much that would not be unexpected in a scientific paper, such as diagrams, computer print-outs and an extensive academic bibliography. Though some of this material, typical of the so-called hard SF genre, has now dated, what to me seems extraordinary is that half a century later much of it is still recognisably current when compared to the less realistic SF offerings then available in popular culture, especially in the visual media (for example TV series such as Lost in Space, Star Trek and Doctor Who).

The Andromeda Strain is largely plot-driven. Few of the characters, though mostly distinctive, remain truly memorable: bacteriologist Jeremy Stone is team leader and near enough infallible; Mark Hall, a surgeon, is accorded almost the only chance to play action hero; because of equipment failure pathologist Charles Burton seems a real goner at one stage; and microbiologist Peter Leavitt's unwillingness to face a personal truth nearly puts the whole enterprise -- and the world's human population -- at risk. Otherwise their roles seem to be to, stage by stage, elucidate for us readers the team's findings and tentative conclusions. That is, until the next crisis develops.

These crises take various forms. First there are the purely mechanical and -- to a lesser extent -- system failures, which the team have to respond to on an ad hoc basis. Then there are the human errors, not least the release of the deadly bug in the first place. Some of these human errors are procedural, from not following protocols to the letter, while others are due to human failings, pure and simple, the result of fatigue and stress compounded by the urgency of the situation. Unless I have missed something, there doesn't appear to be a crisis engineered from sheer malice -- a relief to this reader, wary of the habitual insertion of a villainous adversary in much of the more populist examples of this genre.

In short, because of the clues presented right from the start we are aware that a crisis of global magnitude is averted, so that the jeopardy premised by the novel is ultimately averted. What Crichton only alludes to without revisiting it later on (leaving it to ferment in the reader's mind) are the habitual risks taken by governments in sending objects into space: the dangers of inadvertent contamination, the foolhardiness in deliberately searching for and possibly retrieving microscopic alien organisms (for what ulterior purpose?) and, most worrying, the potential disasters waiting from the steady and unceasing accumulation of space junk in orbit around the earth.

The catastrophic risks from these scenarios (particularly the last) have increased, not diminished, in the five decades since the author published his fictional account; in this respect The Andromeda Strain -- while undoubtedly entertaining -- in the final analysis takes on the role of a modern Cassandra. Let's hope it's not too late. ( )
1 vote ed.pendragon | Jun 22, 2017 |
Surprise - not as suspenseful the second time around. Still an enjoyable read. I do wish Crichton had made more clear what science he referenced was from the "Real World" and what was just there for narrative purposes. When I first read it, I really just glossed over the whole government cover up aspect. This time it really stood out.
  FKarr | Mar 11, 2017 |
most BORING book EVAH!!!!!!!!!!!!! ( )
  BookstoogeLT | Dec 10, 2016 |
Just a quick reread as it had been about fifteen years. This is lots of fun and shows off Michael Crichton's skills at making some pretty wonky science entertaining. The 1960's era computer stuff is pretty eye-opening for those too young to recall the Dark Ages. ( )
  5hrdrive | Sep 25, 2016 |
From Amazon:

The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.

Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to "collect organisms and dust for study." One of them falls to earth, landing in a desolate area of Arizona. Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town's inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.

My Thoughts:

Michael Crichton must be a psychic. Thirty years before researchers discovered the effects of microorganisms, Crichton predicted a virus just as deadly. The Andromeda Strain is a classic, terrifying novel of biophysics. The way Crichton combines facts and fiction results in a masterpiece. With the exception of some intense scientific vocabulary, the descriptive language used by Crichton in this novel is brilliant. Michael Crichton tells a simple but logical tale in this volume and as he often does in his books, makes it hard to distinguish between the real elements of science that he uses for the basis of the premise, and the fictitious facts he makes to take the premise to its conclusion. This is classic fiction, and the fact that it is over thirty years old takes nothing from it. Definitely worth the read. ( )
  Carol420 | May 31, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Crichton, Michaelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chris NothNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The survival value of human intelligence has never been satisfactorily demonstrated. — Jeremy Stone
Increasing vision is increasingly expensive. — R.A. Janek
Examination by unauthorized persons is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment up to 20 years and $20,000.
The courier is required by law to demand your card 7592. He is not permitted to relinquish this file without such proof of identity.
for A.C.D., M.D., who first proposed the problem
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A man with binoculars.
Er is nooit een afdoende bewijs geleverd dat de menselijke intelligentie van waarde is voor de overleving van het ras. (Jeremy Stone) Verruiming van inzicht betekent verhoging van de kosten. (R.A. Janek)
"All yours, Gunner." Wilson did not answer. He dropped his nose, cracked down his flaps, and felt a shudder as the plane sank sickeningly, like a stone, toward the ground. Below him, the area around the town was lighted for hundreds of yards in every direction. He pressed the camera buttons and felt, rather than heard, the vibrating whir of the cameras. For a long moment he continued to fall, and then he shoved the stick forward, and the plane seemed to catch in the air, to grasp, and lift and climb. He had a fleeting glimpse of the main street. He saw bodies, bodies everywhere, spreadeagled, lying in the streets, across cars ... "Jesus," he said. And then he was up, still climbing, bringing the plane around in a slow arc, preparing for the descent into his second run and trying not to think of what he and seen. One of the first rules of air reconnaisssance was "Ignore the scenery"; analysis and evaluation were not the job of the pilot. That was left to the experts, and pilots who forgot this, who became too interested in what they were photgraphing, got into trouble. Usually they crashed.
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This is the book The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton. Please do not combine with any of the film adaptations.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060541814, Mass Market Paperback)

Some biologists speculate that if we ever make contact with extraterrestrials, those life forms are likely to be--like most life on earth--one-celled or smaller creatures, more comparable to bacteria than little green men. And even though such organisms would not likely be able to harm humans, the possibility exists that first contact might be our last.

That's the scientific supposition that Michael Crichton formulates and follows out to its conclusion in his excellent debut novel, The Andromeda Strain.

A Nobel-Prize-winning bacteriologist, Jeremy Stone, urges the president to approve an extraterrestrial decontamination facility to sterilize returning astronauts, satellites, and spacecraft that might carry an "unknown biologic agent." The government agrees, almost too quickly, to build the top-secret Wildfire Lab in the desert of Nevada. Shortly thereafter, unbeknownst to Stone, the U.S. Army initiates the "Scoop" satellite program, an attempt to actively collect space pathogens for use in biological warfare. When Scoop VII crashes a couple years later in the isolated Arizona town of Piedmont, the Army ends up getting more than it asked for.

The Andromeda Strain follows Stone and rest of the scientific team mobilized to react to the Scoop crash as they scramble to understand and contain a strange and deadly outbreak. Crichton's first book may well be his best; it has an earnestness that is missing from his later, more calculated thrillers. --Paul Hughes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:07 -0400)

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The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere. Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to "collect organisms and dust for study." One of them falls to earth, landing in a desolate area of Arizona. Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town's inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.… (more)

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