Book Review: The Andromeda Strain

This review will contain spoilers! If you want to avoid that and you only want the gerfunkle report, there are no gerfunkles in this book. Granted, there really aren’t any female characters whatsoever so that’s pretty easy on the author, but I digress! Level one gerfunkle, go ham my dears.

I dug this. Of course, I’m the ideal reader. I work in microbiology and I’m a science major. So naturally, I have an appreciation for SCIENCE. I was familiar with most of the terminologies thrown at me, and I found it easy to infer those I wasn’t. For those who don’t have my background, though, Crichton does a good job elaborating on what he means through metaphor. The metaphors can get lengthy, but if you’re interested in learning a bit about molecular structures and how contagions function, you’ll stay entertained.

I will say that to some degree this felt like a tense, drawn-out prologue. That’s not a bad thing. I have no issue with kicking off a series that way – and I can see there is a sequel to this book, though it wasn’t written by Crichton himself. What matters is that despite that vibe, plenty of things happen in this book. All of it, assuming I’ve pinned where this story is going, is very relevant information. It feels like a strong foundation to build on.

We’ll start with characterization. I can’t say it was very strong, so I’d give that 2/5 stars. Crichton does manage to give us a lot with a little: he defines cut and clear depictions of the characters at the beginning of the book, then pretty much leaves them at that. While I wouldn’t enjoy that in usual circumstances, The Andromeda Strain quite obviously wasn’t written to focus on characterization. It was written as a way to explore intriguing scientific theories. That means the characters are left weak – or at least as outlines that aren’t fully fleshed – but I wouldn’t say that’s unintended on the author’s part. He had somewhere he wanted to be, so he focused on getting there.

The plot was great. The book was lightning-fast paced, a swift read even as it threw heaps of scientific jargon up in your face. I have to laud the man’s ability to make a bunch of scientists working in a lab seem white-knuckle intense. I doubt I could do that shit, personally. Flashes of what’s happening outside of the Wildfire project lend fuel to the intensity too, all the more because for most of the book our intrepid nerd-men don’t even realize what’s going on due to a technical issue. The creeping horror of the Andromeda Strain mutating into something else is delightfully implemented. The reader gets a little bit of a break just for a moment when Stone and Hall realize that the virus has evolved beyond human virulence – but only for a moment. When Stone mentions that the organisms (which eat plastic and polymers now, oh boy,) are trapped in the atmosphere, I felt a cold dread.

The epilogue is about a spacecraft being compromised by the virus and crashing to earth, so that dread successfully manifested.

The plot gets a 5/5 from me.

Finally, we get to worldbuilding. Crichton’s strength here isn’t so much in pure creativity: everything happens on earth, based on very real science. His strength is the depth of his research, and the way he masterfully applies it to the terror of the Andromeda Strain. I think the most success comes at the end, where we as the reader are left with many delightful questions supplied by his steady drip-feed of information. It’s mentioned by Leavitt that the organism may be a means of transporting information through the vastness of space: as in, not natural, but created by another sentient species. When we’re left with a spaceship-eating virus drifting in the clouds – with the implication that it’s trapping us on the planet – that opens up a slew of uncomfortable possibilities. Was this an intended consequence? If so, was the intention to trap us on the planet? And in that event, were we the only species hit by this manufactured plague? Hell, is this Crichton’s take on the fermi paradox?

If so, it’s a fun one. 5/5 stars for worldbuilding.

All of this is really why I mentioned it felt like a prologue to me. I’m certainly eager to see where the story goes from here.

Finally, our gerfunkle report is pretty cut and dry. There’s no time for any of that bullshit here, we’ve only got SCIENCE to worry about. Probably the weakest thing about the book is the complete lack of character variety. Admittedly I had trouble telling Stone, Hall, Leavitt, and Burton apart (and even now I’m thinking there was a fifth guy, but I’ll be damned if I remember his name.) I just sort of pictured them all as the same generic cutout. The book might have been helped by a touch more variety in the ‘cast,’ but still, you can merrily read it without any worries for gerfunkles.

Enjoy, ladies and gents.

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