Donovan's Reviews > The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Feb 08, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: sci-fi, thriller
Read in November, 2010

Although this book is quite dated, there is that element (that Crichton is famous for) that is as valid today as it was back then when looking at how humanity would respond to certain situations and the morality associated. This is a classic story and was made in to a movie around the same era it was written. It has its dry moments, but over all it is not a bad read.

Plot ***Spoilers***
When a military satellite returns to Earth, a recovery team is dispatched to retrieve it; during a live radio communication with their base, the team members suddenly die. Aerial surveillance reveals that everyone in Piedmont, Arizona, the town closest to where the satellite landed, is apparently dead. The base commander suspects the satellite returned with an extraterrestrial organism and recommends activating Wildfire, the government-sponsored team that counters extraterrestrial biological infestation.

The Wildfire scientific team studying the unknown strain is composed of Dr. Jeremy Stone, bacteriologist specialist; Dr. Peter Leavitt, disease pathology; Dr. Charles Burton, infection vectors specialist; and Dr. Mark Hall, M.D., surgeon, biochemistry and pH specialist. Hall is the "odd man", since he is the only one without a spouse. The Robertson Odd Man Hypothesis states that unmarried men are capable of carrying out the best, most dispassionate decisions during crises and he is given the only key that can disarm the self-destruct mechanism. A fifth scientist, Dr. Christian Kirke, electrolytes specialist, was unavailable for duty because of appendicitis.

The scientists believe the satellite, which was actually designed to capture upper-atmosphere microorganisms for bio-weapon exploitation, returned with a deadly microorganism that kills by nearly instantaneous disseminated intravascular coagulation (lethal blood clotting). Upon investigating the town, the Wildfire team discovers that the residents either died in mid-stride or went "quietly nuts" and committed bizarre suicides. Two Piedmont inhabitants, the sick, Sterno-addicted, geriatric Peter Jackson; and the constantly bawling infant, Jamie Ritter, are biologic opposites who somehow survived the organism.

The man, infant, and satellite are taken to the secret underground Wildfire laboratory, a secure facility equipped with every known capacity for protection against a biological element escaping into the atmosphere, including a nuclear weapon to incinerate the facility if necessary. Wildfire is hidden in a remote area near the fictional town of Flatrock, Nevada, sixty miles from Las Vegas using a sort of purloined letter approach, by locating it in the sub-basements of a legitimate Department of Agriculture research station.

Further investigation determines that the bizarre deaths were caused by a crystal-structured, extraterrestrial microbe on a meteor that crashed into the satellite, knocking it from orbit. The microbe contains chemical elements required for terrestrial life and appears to have a crystalline structure, but lacks DNA, RNA, proteins, and amino acids, yet it directly transforms matter to energy and vice versa.

The microbe, code named "Andromeda", mutates with each growth cycle, changing its biologic properties. The scientists learn that Andromeda grows only within a narrow pH range; in a too-acid or too-basic growth medium, it will not multiply — Andromeda's pH range is 7.39–7.43, like that of human blood. That is why Jackson and Ritter survived: both had abnormal blood pH. However, by the time the scientists realize that, Andromeda's current mutation degrades the plastic shield and escapes its containment. Trapped in an Andromeda-contaminated laboratory, Dr. Burton demands that Stone inject him with Kalocin ("the universal antibiotic"); Stone refuses, arguing it would render Burton too vulnerable to infection by other harmful bacteria. Burton survives because Andromeda has already mutated to nonlethal form.

The mutated Andromeda attacks the neoprene door and hatch seals within the Wildfire complex, racing to the upper levels and the surface. The self-destruct atomic bomb is automatically armed when it detects a containment breach, triggering its detonation countdown to incinerate all exo-biological diseases. As the bomb arms, the scientists realize that given Andromeda's ability to generate matter directly from energy, the organism would feed, reproduce, and ultimately benefit from an atomic explosion.

To halt the atomic detonation, Dr. Hall must insert his special key to an emergency substation anywhere in Wildfire. Unfortunately, he is trapped in an unfinished section with no substation. He must navigate Wildfire's obstacle course of automatic defenses to reach a working substation on an upper level. He barely disarms the bomb in time. Andromeda eventually mutates to a benign form and is suspected to have migrated to the upper atmosphere, where the oxygen content is lower, better suiting Andromeda's growth.

The novel's epilogue reveals that a manned spacecraft, Andros V, was incinerated during atmospheric re-entry, presumably because Andromeda Strain ate the plastic heat shield of Andros V and caused it to burn up.

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read The Andromeda Strain.
Sign In »

No comments have been added yet.