The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

18726080The 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.


While I’ve watched Crichton before (ER, Jurassic Park) I hadn’t read any of his novels.  The Andromeda Strain is a natural entry point for me – medicine! science fiction! – and I ended up really liking it. The story is easy to sum up: the US government searches for organisms in space… and finds them.

The good:

  • The plot starts coming and it just keeps coming.
  • Medicine and doctors are important in figuring out what the Andromeda strain is and I got a kick out of thinking about diagnoses along with the doctors.  In that sense it’s puzzle mystery, and we get much of the info needed to reason things out as the story moves along, often in primary source format.  Huzzah for MDs writing fiction!
  • The book was written almost 50 years ago and it’s interesting to see what aged well and what didn’t.  Many of the medical gadgets still feel high tech while the computer references come off as quaint.  I don’t hold this against Crichton, quite the opposite, it strikes my fancy.
  • Andromeda StrainWhile the writing isn’t amazing it fits the mold aimed for, namely narrative nonfiction of a past event many people may have forgotten or never known about.  In that sense it reminded me of Command and Control.
  • Despite that the story doesn’t take itself too seriously.  There are a couple of moments I said “Oh.” along with a character, and there are some laugh out loud funny lines as well.  And the “References” listed at the end are a fun touch.
  • Crichton respects the reader.  He hints and points at things obliquely for us to figure out… and lets them be.  No knocking facts over our heads, no “did ya see that there, hmmmm?”  When a writer respects the reader I’m much more likely to respect them.

The not-so-good:

  • Not a lot of time is spent on characterization.  The space given is used well, but I’d like to see more.
  • Major Bechdel test fail, and I don’t remember a single character of color.  The 1971 movie took steps to correct this, making one of the scientists female and casting several people of color.
  • The “Odd-Man Hypothesis” is stupid idea and needs to die like now.
  • The ending is abrupt and bound to annoy some people.

All in all an engrossing read, perfect for a lazy summer day, a plane ride, or breaking a reading slump.  Especially recommended if you’re into medicine, or science fiction with a side of thriller.

4 thoughts on “The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

  1. I remember really liking this book when I first read it back in, like, 8th grade! I read several of Crichton’s book then and have always wondered how well he would hold up over time. Seeing your review of this made me smile and it’s good to know that, despite some clear flaws, it’s not all terrible. This makes me want to steal the book from my room the next time I’m at my parents’ house!

    1. I totally think it would stand up to a reread! In an odd way the flaws, while maddening at the time, sharpened my focus as I read. I found myself googling the Odd Man Hypothesis, thinking, “Please don’t be a real thing, please don’t be real…” 😉

  2. I really enjoy Crichton’s fast-paced books for their interesting take on science! Haha, it’s obviously been awhile since I read it though, because I don’t remember noticing the problems you mentioned (except, perhaps, the lack of characterization, which I think is typical of Crichton’s books). The Odd Man Hypothesis is infuriating, although perhaps not surprising, as I’ve definitely encountered descriptions of this idea without a name in books about the first women doctors, for example.

    1. Wait wait, the Hypothesis is not confined to the covers of this book? Gah! So glad I haven’t heard of it until now, as that means it hasn’t gained traction. 😉

      The fast pace, interesting ideas, and plot make up for most of the problems, thank goodness. I’m trying to find a way to get my hands on the original movie – for some reason it was never subtitled in Japanese so it’s not available here. Apparently they made one of the scientists a woman and diversified the cast a bit, which I won’t complain about!

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