Saturday, July 19

"The Andromeda Strain" - Michael Crichton

"Five prominent biophysicists have set up the Wildfire Project, to investigate the frightening possibilities of a biological emergency. They send an urgent warning to the President of the United States, that sterilization procedures for returning space probes may not be adequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.
Two years later, Project Scoop sends seventeen satellites into the fringes of outer space to 'collect organisms and dust for study'. But the real aim of the mission is kept secret - they have been sent to discover new biological weapons of war.
Then in the middle of the night, one of the probe satellites from Project Scoop crashes onto the tiny town of Piedmont, in northeastern Arizona. Soon after, all but two of the inhabitants are found dead from a strange disease that dried the very blood in their veins and caused death in minutes...The Andromeda Strain.
Time is running out for the scientists...they must discover the biological link between the two survivors and trace what is causing the horrifying virus. For they know it is only a matter of time before it will spread through their country, killing millions, and only they have the knowledge to stop it from doing so..."
I particularly enjoyed Crichton's "Prey" and "Timeline" - I liked how they managed to combine suspense and science (hence the 'techno-thriller' genre) and how they seemed to read like I was watching a movie. So I mooched this one from Book Mooch and ended up reading it in a day.
From my point of view, it seemed quite different from the Crichton books I'd read previously. Whereas the others interspersed passages of science and technology with action-driven scenes, The Andromeda Strain was very heavy on the science, to the point where the entire book seemed like one long explanation.
However, it was saved from sounding like a textbook by the fascinating sense of mystery that ran throughout the novel right up to the final chapters. The reading experience was almost like a book Agatha Christie may have written if she had a PhD in science. From my perspective, it was also saved by focusing on the area of science I'm most interested in and know comparatively the most about - that is, biology (rather than chemistry or physics). To someone utterly uninterested in the world of science, this would undoubtedly be the most boring book in the universe. However for someone who actually wants to pursue science as a career path, and hence actually understood approximately one-tenth of the science jargon mentioned in the book, the story was fascinating and I couldn't wait to get to the end and have the mystery solved.
The ending was classic Crichton, with an actionable ticking-clock climax and the hero racing to save the day, however the solving of the 'mystery' wasn't entirely satisfying. Still, it was a good read and I'm glad I managed to get hold of it.
The science was interesting, the mystery was intriguing, but the lack of action was irritating. 3 STARS

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