A mysterious microbe lands in a tiny Arizona town and everyone who breathes it in are killed within minutes due to blood clotting. Only a drunk old man and a newborn baby survive. A group of four scientists hunker down in a 5-level high-tech facility to study the microbe and the survivors in a race to identify the pathogen and find a cure within 5 days.
That’s the premise of The Andromeda Strain, the first novel of Michael Crichton. The title alludes to the microbe’s codename, it does not come from another galaxy, but from Earth’s upper atmosphere where it is captured by a secret military satellite. With the CoVID-19 virus sweeping the planet, I chose this old favorite as engaging reading material to match our zeitgeist.
This novel has a fantastic first and second act. I was thoroughly engaged by the premise and nailbitingly awaited the reveal of why the baby and old man survived and how the world would be saved. Though a slim volume, this is technically Cricton’s strongest novel. How bacteria survives and spreads, composition of proteins, how electron microscopes, X-ray crystallography, and mass spectrometers work, all feature in the story. The novel is also way ahead of its time in featuring the coexistence of humans and bacteria and viruses, what we call microbiome and virome today. The best thrill is watching the scientists nerve-wrackingly peel apart the evidence to figure out how the pathogen spreads and how to stop it.
Sadly, the third act of this novel is weak and fizzles out. That is a minor quibble for a novel that is tense, engaging and educational upto that point. This novel was published in 1969, more than 51 years ago, which is a shock because it has aged so well and the questions raised in here are still pertinent. A biological techno-thriller not to be missed.