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The Andromeda Strain    by Michael Crichton order for
Andromeda Strain
by Michael Crichton
Order:  USA  Can
Avon, 2003 (1969)
Hardcover, Paperback, Audio
* *   Reviewed by Rashmi Srinivas

Two men are sent to recover a small unmanned satellite which lands near the tiny town of Piedmont, Arizona. When they reach the town, they find almost everyone mysteriously dead. Soon these two men are also dead. After some senseless and potentially deadly delay, the ultra-secret 'Project Wildfire' is triggered. The project was created in response to a letter sent to the President of the United Sates some years before by eminent bio-physicists. They claimed sterilization procedures for returning space probes to be insufficient and warned that extraterrestrial life, most likely in the form of bacteria, might be introduced to Earth.

A five-man team forms the core of this project. It consists of Nobel prize winner Jeremy Stone, microbiologist Leavitt, pathologist Burton, anthropologist Kirke and the odd man out, physician Mark Hall. Using extreme precautions, Stone and Burton manage to collect the satellite, as well as two most unusual survivors of Piedmont. All are then taken to the top-secret Wildfire Laboratory. After undergoing extreme and progressively more intense sterilization procedures, four of the five scientists descend through the underground conical lab until they reach the fifth level where the innocuous satellite resides, along with its deadly passenger. Will the scientists be able to prevent a worldwide calamitous epidemic or will they be destroyed in the attempt?

Originally published in 1969, The Andromeda Strain was Michael Crichton's debut effort. More than thirty years later, the novel still retains the power to terrify readers with a suspense almost overwhelming in its intensity. Since its release, many similar plots have come and gone, but this book remains by far the best. It establishes an approach which has so far not failed Crichton - that of pitting man against a potentially realistic foe - whether bacteria from space or dinosaurs in modern times - and showing how man copes with it.

The story of The Andromeda Strain outlines a mere five-day saga which threatens the very existence of life on Earth. While the level of detail is impressive, the story becomes very technical for the layman at times. Serious in tone and dire in its message, this first Crichton offering lacks an edge which his later novels possess in abundance. Overall though, the research is meticulous, the conception awesome and the execution compelling.

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