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3.9 out of 5 stars39
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 7 September 2013
One of the things I like about Michael Crichton's novels is the presentation of quite difficult and challenging issues beneath what seems to be a simple storyline. In 'The Andromeda Strain', a group of elite scientists investigate the cause of a deadly bacteriological outbreak in a tiny town in north-eastern Arizona. The scientists confine themselves to a secret underground laboratory, an environment that provides an important backdrop to the story. There is a sense of fear and claustrophobia throughout, and the underlying theme is of how weak and futile human intelligence can be against the forces of Nature. We like to think of our technology as embodying perfection and exactitude, but no matter how intelligent and advanced human culture can be, we are nothing compared to the power of a tiny micro-organism, which if duplicated would wipe out our civilisation entirely. Our natural hubris lulls us into believing otherwise. Our technology is, after all, an extension of ourselves.

In tackling the fictitious Andromeda strain, the scientists and decision-makers adopt a thoroughly technological mind-set, even down to who will take the decision of whether to detonate the laboratory with an atomic weapon in the event of contamination. What is called 'The Odd Man Hypothesis' is based on the notion that an unmarried man is best-placed to make such a decision, as he is likely to be free of emotional entanglements. This type of narrow, logical approach seems to reduce a human being to a kind of cold machine and it's a style of reasoning that overlooks the complexity of the real world and the risk of 'false positives' and 'stupid' decisions. In practice, what the scientists find out is that there are just some things that we cannot understand.

The title of the book, and the codename given to the fictitious deadly strain, may be a reference to the Andromeda constellation or, alternatively, could be a reference to the Greek legend of Andromeda. The queen of Aethiopia, Cassiopeia, boasted that her daughter, Andromeda, was more beautiful than the daughters of the sea-god, Nereus. This offended Poseidon, often seen with Nereus, and so he sent a sea monster, Cetus, to attack the kingdom. To sate the monster, the king of Aethiopia, Cepheus, had his daughter chained to the rocks on the coast. She was then rescued by her future husband, Perseus. In 'The Andromeda Strain', there is a slight allusion to this 'princess and dragon' motif in the use of the Odd Man Hypothesis and the role of 'Dr. Hall.' The attack by the mythic Cetus could be seen as an allusion to an unwanted marriage from which Andromeda is saved by the hero Perseus, and likewise 'Dr. Hall' is unmarried and becomes an unlikely hero of the story.

'The Andromeda Strain' is written in a documentary style, making extensive use of the 'false document' literary technique. Various technical data, graphs and illustrations are interspersed with the text and there is a list of reference works at the end. I found the story gripping and I am now becoming something of a fan of Michael Crichton's work. He reminds me very much of the late Victorian sci-fi novelists, especially Jules Verne and Arthur Conan-Doyle, and I am in little doubt that he has been greatly influenced by them. 'The Andromeda Strain' is just the right length - not too short, not too long - and is well-written while also covering a great deal of technical information which will interest readers who are scientifically-literate. The characters are well-developed, and in particular I liked the ambiguity of 'Dr. Jeremy Stone'. At the end, I was left wondering what exactly his knowledge of events was and whether he might have been working to a different, larger, agenda. It's a pity a sequel wasn't written. It's also sad that Crichton passed away prematurely. The ending, which I won't spoil here, is hair-raising and one of the most dramatic I have read.
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on 20 August 2008
I found this book to be a perfectly conceived techno-thriller/earth bound science fiction story. I have enjoyed some other Crichton, John Wyndham and Arthur C Clarke stuff and often this sort of thing requires large leaps of the imagination to follow the story but I couldn't find any holes in the plot or behaviour of the characters.
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on 11 July 2014
When I started reading the debut novel by Michael Crichton I certainly did not expect to find myself already facing a little masterpiece. My expectations were low, however, they have been denied by a book that I feel compelled to include among my absolute favourites.
Maybe because of the matter (biology), which I know well, and therefore I was able to fully understand every passage of the work. Maybe because of the very original author's choice to present the novel as if it were a report of something really happened, including the credits at the beginning signed MC. Maybe because what is told could really have happened or could happen at any time.
In one way or another I found myself literally devouring this book in a few days and almost missing it when it was not with me.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Crichton's works is that in them science is not an excuse to tell a story. On the contrary, the story is an excuse to talk about science. So much that his novels are accompanied by an extensive bibliography, as if they were non-fiction books.
The real regret is that this author has died and that, although I still have to read some of his works, sooner or later they will end up.
However, he is a source of great inspiration to me and to those like me, man and woman of science, who loves fiction.

Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli, author of Red Desert - Point of No Return
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on 29 March 2016
I am already a big Michael Crichton fan and I devour one of his books every couple of months or so. This time I decided that I ought to read his first book but, as it was his first, I wasn’t expecting much and my expectations were low. I was so pleased to find that this is a great book!

The basic story is that a space probe has returned to Earth, after going astray and landing in the town of Piedmont. Unfortunately it seems to have bought back a bacteria from space and soon nearly everyone in the small town is dead, having died in a matter of seconds. There were only 2 survivors, a newborn baby and an elderly man. A small team of scientists are press ganged into Project Wildfire, their job: to investigate the incident and see if all life on Earth is at risk. They start with trying to understand why these 2 people survived and what they hold in common.

In typical Michael Crichton style, he manages to present a quite difficult and challenging issue beneath what seems to be a simple storyline. There are some areas of the book that are quite in-depth and over my head but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book or make me unable to follow the storyline. I agree with another reviewer here that said that “the most compelling aspect of Crichton's works is that in them science is not an excuse to tell a story. On the contrary, the story is an excuse to talk about science.”

This book has a high sense of drama and seems very realistic, I read it within 2 days. I loved the inventive use of possible future technologies and also that the scientists still seemed human throughout the book. In my opinion, it’s not Crichton’s best book that I have read but it’s still an excellent read if you enjoy his work.
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on 30 January 2014
The Andromeda Strain is simply a masterpeice.
A space probe has returned to Earth, gone astray and landed in the town of Piedmont, unfortunately it bought back a bacteria from space and soon everyone in the small town is dead, having died in a matter of seconds. A small team of scientists are press ganged into Project Wildfire, their job: to investigate the incident and see if all life on Earth is at risk...
It's key strength is the dry, documentary tone that Chrichton employs. While I accept this style will not be to everyone's taste it makes for a highly compelling, addictive read. You truly feel as if you are reading a post event report by an investigator, not a work of fiction. This makes for a heightened sense of drama. When the scientists are exploring Piedmont with bodies littering the streets, it is an eery, intense, even hoarrowing passage. The procedural analysis of the bacteria may be offputting to some but I always find it highly interesting. Crichton is an outstanding writer because he mixes a great prose style with immaculate ressearch. His intelligence shines through and he makes everything clear to understand. The story flows though and he has great flair and economy as a writer.
At heart the book is a mystery as the scientists battle to find out the cause of the disease and the various experiments they undertake in the way that detectives would piece together clues.
I wouldn't say this book has any weaknesses, though again I admit the style is not to everyone's tastes and some may want deeper, more interesting characters. For me though the central character is The Andromeda Strain itself.
Way ahead of it's time this is an exhilerating book you will never forget.
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on 26 October 2013
The Andromeda Strain - a biological threat from space - and the story of the battle to understand and contain it.

This is science fiction with the emphasis on the science. A lot of the book consists of scientific explanations about when is happening and why, but if this sounds heavy and daunting, it isn't really. Crichton has a great knack of explaining complex scientific ideas in an accessible way so that the scenario of the book seems utterly plausible. Whether the science is actually sound or not, I am not qualified to say, but the key thing is that it feels very real, very true.

I found Crichton's writing engaging and easy to get along with - the story moved along smoothly and I never found the book an effort to read. My only criticism of the book is that the ending seemed a bit contrived and convenient, and for me, Crichton's attempt to create a dramatic ending didn't really work - I never entirely got caught up in the fate of the characters and never felt part of the action. Unfortunately the characters in the book were not sufficiently well-drawn for my taste, but nevertheless there was plenty of interest here in a plot that develops in an unpredictable way through a mixture, of chance, inspiration, and human error.

I would certainly recommend this book, and will probably go back to read some more by Crichton in the future.
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Having watched the film and the mini series, it's surprised me how long it took to get round to reading this. However, it was worth the wait.

Many of the secrecy/ Government aspects of the book only need mobile 'phones and I Pads to be completely up to date; I think Crighton was well ahead of his time here. In general, the book did not seem at all dated; the only difference one would find if another writer wrote this today is that there would be a vast amount of swearing, and weaker science.

The premise, the general story and most of the description are really excellent.

In both the film and the book, the "There's a fire, Sir" line/ scene have always left a big impression on me.

As with any Crighton work, the characters are a little flat, taking a definite second place to science in the story, and while the science is generally very good, there are a few small errors visible. The semi-documentary nature of the prose sometimes seems to get a little lost, but it all rattles long nicely.I missed the cantankerous female scienist remembered so well from the movie.

As a read,the rather anticlimactic ending is the main disappointment, but then it's probably accurate, and the film had prepared me well.

Overall, a damned good read, and a book that has stood the test of time mazingly well.
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on 24 January 2010
This is the first Michael Crichton novel that I've read and when it turned up in the post I was mildly alarmed that it wasn't quite the thick 600 pager that I pictured and instead was more a novelette. The problem then being that the story line feels like it has to rush through the beginning, middle and end in only 3 hours+ worth of reading. This means that you don't really get a feel for the characters and they aren't really developed other than a couple of pages each on their background.
The advantage of such a fast-paced and punchy novel is that it grabs you right away and this was certainly a page turner with short chapters that make you want to 'just read one more'. But there's certainly downsides too.
The story itself is a great idea and really feels worthy of a more expansive effort, with more characters, perhaps a 'baddie' or two, greater impact on society of the virus, etc.
And as I was reading and getting aware of only a few chapters left - I was thinking how is this all going to be tied up. The ending is therefore the biggest disappointment and certainly feels like Crichton was working to a timetable to complete. This could have been so much better, but if you're looking for something to kill no more than a few hours on a flight, it's a good choice.
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VINE VOICEon 7 June 2009
The Scoop VII satellite scoops up something nasty and lands in a small town in Nevada. As the whole town die apart from a new-born and the town drunk, the search is on for the cause and can it be stopped.

It is written in documentary style as though recording a real event. The novel comes complete with a full technical introduction, acknowledgements to professional contributors from 'Project Wildfire' and a Reference section quoting scientific sources.

This 'cinema verite' syle extends to the text itself with use of 'official' documents, maps,transcripts, charts and graphs. This is either a strength or weakness depending on your viewpoint as other reviews testify. Indeed Mr Crichton is aware of this himself in his intro, '..if the reader must occasionally struggle through an arid passage of technical detail, I apologise.'

This novel hits you like a punch in the stomach and from then on I found it one long adrenalin rush to the finish.
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on 7 January 2001
This is an enjoyable book which is unfortunately let down by a poor ending. This book is a mock report of a supposedly real event where a rogue element is introduced into the earth's atmosphere which causes instantaneous death to many members of a town in America and the surrounding events. It is a bit of a page turner but not in the same class as Airframe or Timeline, as with all Michael Crichton books it is excellently researched and ultimately believable but there's no real twists as in other books by Crichton, in fact the ending is rather weak which I was very disappointed with - if this is going to be your first Crichton book then I'd advise you to read one(or all!) of either Jurassic Park, Congo, Airframe or Timeline (if you want a real page turner then I'd go with timeline but if you've already read these it's worth reading but you'll be slightly disappointed I think.
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