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First edition cover
|May 12, 1969|
|Followed by||The Terminal Man|
First edition cover
|May 12, 1969|
|Followed by||The Terminal Man|
The Andromeda Strain (1969), by Michael Crichton, is a techno-thriller novel documenting the efforts of a team of scientists investigating the outbreak of a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism in Arizona that rapidly and fatally clots the blood in most humans, while inducing insanity in a small handful of others. The Andromeda Strain appeared in the New York Times Best Seller list, establishing Michael Crichton as a genre writer.
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, a protocol for a government-sponsored team that counters extraterrestrial biological infestation.
The scientists believe the satellite, which was intentionally 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 hiding it 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 lab's plastic shields 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 synthetic rubber 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 prevent the spread of the infection. 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 a 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 before all the air is evacuated from the deepest level of the Wildfire complex. 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 had eaten its plastic heat shield and caused it to burn up.
Crichton was inspired to write the novel after reading The Ipcress File by Len Deighton while studying in England. Crichton says he was "terrifically impressed" by the book - "a lot of Andromeda is traceable to Ipcress in terms of trying to create an imaginary world using recogniseable techniques and real people." He wrote the novel over three years.
In 1971, The Andromeda Strain was the basis for the film of the same name directed by Robert Wise, and featuring Arthur Hill as Stone, James Olson as Hall, Kate Reid as Leavitt (changed to a female character, Ruth Leavitt), and David Wayne as Dutton (Burton in the novel).
In 2008, The Andromeda Strain was the basis for an eponymous miniseries executive-produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and Frank Darabont, and featuring Benjamin Bratt as Stone. Other characters' names and personalities were radically changed from the novel.
Reviews for The Andromeda Strain were overwhelmingly positive, and the novel was an American bestseller, establishing Michael Crichton as a respected novelist and science-fiction writer.
The Pittsburgh Press said it was "Relentlessly suspenseful... A hair-raising experience."
Detroit Free Press called it "Hideously plausible suspense... [that] will glue you to your chair.'
Library Journal said The Andromeda Strain was "One of the most important novels of the year (1969)."
The New York Times's Christopher Lehmann-Haupt said "Tired out by a long day in the country, I was awake way past bedtime. My arms were numb from propping up my head. By turning from side to side, I had driven the cats from their place at the foot of the bed, and they were disgruntled. I was very likely disturbing my wife's sleep. But I was well into Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain. And he had me convinced it was all really happening."
Current editions should have corrected the "air soluble" vitamins in the scientists' food pills, the word "exterminating" instead of "extenuating" by Peter Jackson, going "into status" after a diabetic fit, and the "27.00" per cent fluorine in the green material printed in the 1970-1 Corgi editions.