Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
The US government is searching for new biological weapons by sending satellites into the edges of the atmosphere to collect bacteria strains that may exist there but not on earth. Due to concerns of contamination on reentry, an emergency team called Wildfire is created as a contingency plan. When a satellite crashes in the Arizona desert, grotesquely killing all but two residents of a small town, the team of scientists is put to the test in a race to protect humanity.
An up-front confession: Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors. I love how realistic his science is, and he writes suspense quite well. I was therefore excited to read his first book. Unfortunately, Andromeda Strain did not live up to these expectations.
The suspense is killed right off the bat with the narration style. The story is told as if it is a report being written up by someone after the event. This means that we not only know that some of humanity survives this impending doom, but that society is still held together enough to want a report. If I’m sure that everything is going to turn out hunky dory in the end, I’m just not going to be all that concerned throughout the book. Similarly, the characters aren’t fleshed out as well as in later books. They are basically their careers. Here’s the bacteriologist. Here’s the professor. here’s the surgeon. They don’t come across as real, rounded people, so I completely failed to care about them at all. This isn’t good for suspense, because if I don’t care about the characters, I’m not going to worry about them too much.
Crichton’s ability to set a scene shines through well in this book, however. Wildfire’s underground station is vividly imagined, as is the scene at the small town in Arizona. It was simultaneously gruesome and exciting. Similarly, his ability to weave real science into a fake scenario is carried off flawlessly here. The glimmers of the writing that would later appear in Jurassic Park and Prey is clear.
Speaking of the science, Andromeda Strain doesn’t age well. An entire page is devoted to explaining binary like it’s this huge complicated thing, which it isn’t to anyone who grew up with computers. Indeed, a lot of the book is devoted to explaining the huge computer in Wildfire’s base. Unlike biological science, in which the basics stay the same, technology changes rapidly. I don’t think it’s a wise choice to focus on in a scientific thriller, unless you are projecting plausible possibilities in technology in the future. Or super awesome possible technology the government may already have. Crichton does this really well in Prey, which is all about nanotechnology. Science horror needs to take me into a world that is a bit more awesome than my own, not lamer. Thankfully, Crichton figured this out in his later books.
If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, The Andromeda Strain is worth the read to see where he started. If you’re new to him though, I’d recommend starting with some of his later books such as Jurassic Park or Prey.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Bought at Violet’s Book Exchange