Book Review: The Andromeda Strain

theandromedastrainTo say that Michael Crichton is fast becoming my go-to author for pulp fiction I can easily read on the train before work sounds like I am damning with feint praise but actually I really enjoyed The Andromeda Strain.  I finished it so fast!  It’s not long at about 280pp but after struggling through the 90 or so pages of The Old Man And The Sea for weeks it was extremely refreshing to have some so easy to read.

The plot of the book is that the US military sent a probe into space, it crashed in a small town and almost everyone in the town of Piedmont died.  Five scientists form team Wildfire, who had previously predicted such an occurrence, have to figure out what returned on the probe and how they can stop it spreading.  Apart from the beginning and tiny sections later on the ‘action’ is restricted to a secure sterilized facility where the men work in isolation from everyone else.   If you want a book that’s big on action and drama then this book isn’t for you Crichton but I quite liked watching people try to solve the strange mystery of how the people died.

The book was written in the 1960’s and that rang alarm bells in my head that it would be sexist and/or racist but it wasn’t (perhaps helped by the fact that the only characters were white men, I mean I assume they were white because it didn’t say they weren’t and normally that gets flagged up!).  In fact, bar a few references to US/Russian relations the whole thing is really quite contemporary and could have been written now.

I did enjoy this book but I felt like the ending was unsatisfactory, and I wanted to know more about The Andromeda Strain and what happened at Piedmont.  Once the story moves to the Wildfire facility it becomes heavily science based, which I found interesting but slightly dehumanised and I wish we had stayed in Piedmont longer.  Also there are some incredible silly bits, like one member of Wildfire must be unmarried because he will be responsible for preventing the facility from self-destruction should containment be breached.  Apparently testing was done and unmarried men made the ‘correct’ decision more often than married men which just seemed nonsensical but also this particularly member of the team isn’t told about his huge responsibility until he is already there. Seems like they perhaps should have run that by him first?

Anyway, I can see why Crichton’s books get turned into films (Jurassic Park is my second favourite film ever and the first one I saw at the cinema) because they have such interesting premises.  I think I’ll continue to read his books but I think a lot of people would be bored by the lack of dramatic action in this one.