The Andromeda Strain

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The Andromeda Strain (1969), by Michael Crichton, is a techno-thriller novel documenting the efforts of a team of scientists investigating a deadly extraterrestrial microorganism that rapidly and fatally clots human blood, while in other people inducing insanity, mostly ended in suicide or murder-suicide. The Andromeda Strain appeared in the New York Times’ Bestseller list, establishing Michael Crichton as a genre writer.


Plot summary

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. He is the 'odd man', since he is the only one without a spouse. 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 disseminated intravascular coagulation. 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 The 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, but lacks DNA, RNA, proteins, and amino acids, yet it directly transforms matter to energy and vice versa.

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