As corona-life settles into just the way things are, I pulled out my copy of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. I read this in high school, and, judging from the state of my copy I originally found it in the book bin at Goodwill. I actually didn’t remember how the book ended, but some of the scenes—particularly the bizarre suicides that the virus first initiates—stayed with me. I really felt no compunction to read it again until our daily reality was one of infection, protection, and fear. In other words, the time was right. I can say that I found Crichton’s confident prose a bit overblown at times, especially given the resolution of the crisis, which I will not give away here. Some of the rest of you may want pandemic-themed reading, after all.
Something I had forgotten, and since this is near the beginning I don’t mind giving it away, is that the Andromeda Strain was brought to earth by military intentions to develop new biological weapons. Although the death toll is nowhere near what that of COVID-19 has been, the potential lethality of the strain is what keeps the compressed five-day story tense. That tension makes for quick reading, and it seems pretty clear that some of the ideas here have been used for other pandemic story-lines. I’ll write about one of them later this week. The extraterrestrial life form of Andromeda is cause for discussion in the novel, but the explanation is never clarified. Crichton’s later novels improve on this score.
A clear point in the novel is that the government, although aware of and complicit in the experiment, lacked the foresight to successfully see it through. Governments are only human, after all, and can function effectively only when those with superior abilities are in charge. Looking out for oneself and exploiting others are not superior abilities. We can see the result of this with our own, nonfictional pandemic. Still, the novel does raise the specter of dabbling in things we don’t fully understand and can’t, in any real sense, control. The thread of the plan being military in origin isn’t fully seen through, but it does raise the larger question of morals. Some of us go through ethical training for our jobs. Some of us have it often. It’s obvious, however, that the real deficiency of governments tends to be their lack of ethics. In this current day and age that qualifies you for the sobriquet of evangelical Christian. And now we have our own strain to deal with.