Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (1969)


My Rating: 5 stars          Read: 2/10/2017


  • My Lifetime Challenge (1969)
  • Cloak & Dagger Challenge


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.


I read this for my Lifetime Challenge. I chose this book to read for the year 1969 over a number of others because a) it’s Michael Crichton and b) it’s a thriller. I thought it would be more exciting than something literary. 🙂

I read a lot of Crichton years ago — Prey, Congo, Timeline, Jurassic Park, Disclosure, Rising Sun. I love his blend of cutting edge technology, reality, and paranoia. I am easily sucked in by his “what if this went horribly wrongs”.

I have never read The Andromeda Strain, mainly because I’d already seen the movie. I was hoping that reading it now wouldn’t feel disappointing because I already knew the plot. It had been long enough ago since I’d seen the movie that I didn’t recall all the details, and though I remembered them as the book progressed, it didn’t stop my enjoyment of the novel.

I’m giving this five stars for a few reasons. First, I admire the research Crichton poured into this. There’s a ton of military, medical, and scientific protocol, from the details about how the secure lab is set up, decontamination procedures, the tests they run, how viruses work, etc. Most of this isn’t as apparent in the movie as it is in the book, and to me, it’s really fascinating stuff and makes the book worth reading. These details give the story an authentic (and thus scarier) vibe. Second, the story itself is quite intense and frightening and really held my attention.

In sum, a space satellite crash lands and everyone in the nearby town dies. The big question explored in the book is: what viruses and bacteria might exist in space that we have no biological defenses for, and what would happen if one of our many space probes brought one back? In the book, the US’s brilliant scientists are prepared for such a doomsday scenario and have a secret lab bunker and protocol in place for just such a contingency. It immediately goes active once this town of the dead is discovered. For the rest of the story it’s a race to figure out what came back on that satellite and how to combat it.

This scenario is quite believable. Far from giving in to epic doomsday hysterics, Crichton’s exploration remains small in scope (focusing on the team of scientists working on the problem), and explores questions such as human error, the natural evolution of pathogens, and both the advances and limits of science.

In light of Trump’s America, this is an interesting read because the science of the 1960’s is highly respected and it seems like it can do anything. Compare that to today’s apparent dismissal and reviling of science and… well, it’s pretty sad. Can I go back to 1969?

The Audiobook
I listened to the audiobook by narrator David Morse. Morse is good–his voice is mature and smoker-gravelly, which worked for the 50’s scientists in the book. However, the text isn’t an ideal one for audio narration. Crichton includes diagrams and transcripts and reports, things that don’t read well. Many of the diagrams are not in the narration at all and other things don’t translate well. There was one point that I had to skip in the audio because it drove me nuts — it was a transcript of radio communication and each line had a long time stamp on it. That’s the sort of thing your eye would just skim over, but the narrator read this long time stamp before every line and it was super annoying. Nevertheless, the regular story narration was good. I mostly listen to audiobooks these days because I can be doing other things at the same time, but if you have the option the ebook is probably a better experience.

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