Throwback Thursday – The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

The Andromeda Strain Cover.jpg

Publishers: Brilliance Audio (Audiobook Edition – 26 May 2015)

                        Knopf (12 May 1969)

Series: Standalone/Book 1

Length: 8 hours 15 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

For this week’s Throwback Thursday I take a look at a classic techno-thriller from legendary author Michael Crichton, The Andromeda Strain.

The Andromeda Strain was released nearly 50 years ago, in May 1969, and represented a bold new direction from Crichton, who had previously done several pulpy crime novels, such as Odds On and Scratch One, under the name John Lange, as well as the medical crime thriller A Case of Need, which he wrote under the name Jeffrey Hudson.  The Andromeda Strain was considered to be part of the new techno-thriller genre and is still considered to be a major example of this genre.

I have only read three of Crichton’s books before, including Jurassic Park (for obvious reasons), The Lost World and Pirate Latitudes.  While I have always intended to go back and read some more of Crichton’s works, I have never had the time to do so.  However, with the recent announcement that The Andromeda Evolution is being released in November to correspond with the 50-year anniversary of The Andromeda Strain, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to check out one of Crichton’s earlier books.  For that reason, I listened to the audiobook version of The Andromeda Strain narrated by David Morse.

When a military satellite comes down in the small town of Piedmont, Arizona, nearly all the residents in the town die.  They are victims of a mysterious new pathogen that either instantly clotted all the blood in their body or drove them to suicide.  The military quickly activate the Wildfire protocol, and a small government team of scientists and doctors take command of Piedmont and the satellite.

Believing that the satellite contains an extraterrestrial organism, the team bring it and the two survivors of Piedmont, an old man and a baby, to a secret and secure underground Wildfire laboratory for study.  Deep in the laboratory, the team attempt to identify and categorise the organism which has been given the codename Andromeda.  However, Andromeda is evolving a way no member of the Wildfire team believed possible, and not even the laboratory’s nuclear bomb safeguards may be enough to keep it contained.

After listening to The Andromeda Strain over a couple of days, I found it to be an extremely thrilling and complex novel that I really got into and which I am eager to review.  However, after 50 years and thousands of reviews I am not too sure how much I can really say about this book that has not already been said.  That being said, when looking at this book from a 2019 perspective, I feel that The Andromeda Strain is still an extremely strong techno-thriller, with some expert storytelling and an in-depth scientific base that is still relevant in this modern era.

In this book, Crichton utilised a very dry, detailed and scientific approach to his writing, slowly covering every aspect of the events unfolding before each of the protagonists, while also providing the reader with backstory on the characters and briefings on the various relevant scientific and political components of the book.  Despite this somewhat less exciting writing style, Crichton is still able to create quite a thrilling atmosphere throughout the book as the story gets closer to the inevitable disaster part of the plot.  Crichton really adds to the suspense by mentioning the various mistakes that the protagonist are making and hinting at all the problems going on around them that will eventually lead to the release of the Andromeda microbe.

I did feel that the book ended rather suddenly, and I was surprised that the investigation part of the story was still going with only a short amount of the book left to go.  I found it interesting that the part of the story that dealt with the release of Andromeda and the subsequent race to stop the nuclear explosion about to wipe out the lab was introduced so late in the book and solved so very quickly.  I was expecting a large portion of the story to focus on the main characters getting past all of the impressive contamination protocols in order to stop the nuclear explosion.  Instead, this was all solved within about 10 minutes of audiobook narration, or probably five to 10 pages of a normal book.  While I was surprised about this, I suppose it does make sense in the context of the rest of the story, where the characters and briefing material did mention several times that there was a three-minute delay between the bomb arming and the explosion.  This was all extremely thrilling, and I felt that the book is still capable of keeping authors on the edge of their seats.

One of the things that really surprised me about the book was the advanced level of technology that was featured within a story written and set in 1969.  Perhaps this is simply ignorance as a result of being a child of the 90s, but I feel it is more likely the result of Crichton having a great understanding of technology and potential future advances that might be utilised within a high-level government laboratory.  Certainly, the scientific features of this book are extremely impressive, and I felt that they were still extremely relevant and understandable in a 2019 context.  For example, all the extreme quarantine methods surrounding the Wildfire laboratory sound like perfectly reasonable steps that modern laboratories could use to keep pathogens contained.  All the discussions about viruses and micro-organisms were also incredibly detailed, and I felt that much of the information discussed around those is still relevant today, and modern audiences will still be able to understand and consider it quite easily.

I did find the concept of the Odd-Man Hypothesis to be extremely interesting.  In essence, the Odd-Man Hypothesis states that out of all the humans in the world, unmarried men are the most likely to make the best and most dispassionate decision in the face of an emergency.  This becomes a key part of the story, as one of the characters is designated as the Odd-Man and is the only person with the ability to shut off the laboratory’s nuclear self-destruct device.  Now this is one theory that does not translate to more modern times, although, in fairness, most of The Andromeda Strain’s characters did not take it that seriously either.  That being said, it was an extremely intriguing element to read about, and I enjoyed the discussion around its viability and use within the context of the story.

As I mentioned above, I chose to listen to The Andromeda Strain in its audiobook format.  There are actually a number of different audiobook versions of The Andromeda Strain out there, each with different narrators, such as an earlier version narrated by Chris Noth.  I ended up listening to the most recent audiobook version of this book, although I imagine a new version is sure to follow soon, especially with a sequel about to come out.  The version I listened to was narrated by actor David Morse and was released in 2015.  This version is 8 hours and 15 minutes long, and I found myself powering through it very quickly.

I think that the audiobook was a really great way to listen to The Andromeda Strain, as it allows the reader to absorb the huge amount of scientific detail and discussion a lot easier.  I felt that David Morse was an excellent narrator for this book, and that his basic narration voice perfectly fit the books tone and style.  Morse also comes up with some great voices for this book, and I was particularly impressed by his weary old man voice.  As a result, I would highly recommend the audiobook version of The Andromeda Strain, as it is definitely an outstanding way to the listen to this fantastic story.

Overall, I loved this dive back into the past and I had a lot of fun listening to this classic techno-thriller.  Crichton is an amazing author, especially when it comes to a more science-based story, and I am incredibly impressed that his story still holds up 50 years after it was first published.  I am extremely curious to see where the upcoming sequel, The Andromeda Evolution, takes the story, and how well new author Daniel H. Wilson replicates Crichton’s style.  This book has also encouraged me to check out some more of Crichton’s works, and I am looking forward to reading some more of this author’s excellent techno-thrillers, as well as some of his intriguing historical fiction pieces.

The Tall Man by Phoebe Locke

The Tall Man Cover.jpg

Publisher: Wildfire

Publication date – 12 June 2018

 

Prepare to explore an urban legend in this dark and complex thriller from author Phoebe Locke, whose inclusion of a number of disturbing horror elements that have been influenced from the Slender Man phenomenon turn this exciting story into a must-read book for horror fans.

For years the mysterious Tall Man has haunted the minds of many people throughout England, but is he a figment of their imagination, evidence of their mental instability, or something far more real?  In the 1990s, three girls pledge their loyalty to the Tall Man in the dark woods around their home.

In 2000, a young mother flees the demons of her past and abandons her newborn baby.  16 years later she returns to her family, believing the threat from the Tall Man has passed, but something is still stalking her and her daughter.

In 2018, after a teenager is cleared of murder in a controversial and highly publicised trail, she embarks on a worldwide tour, followed by a documentary film crew.  Is she an innocent victim, or is she the latest tool of the Tall Man?  Each of these events is connected to this sinister figure, but is he the powerful legend that these people believe he is?  You decide, but remember, The Tall Man can make you special if you let him.

The Tall Man is the debut book from Phoebe Locke and is an intricate and deeply unsettling thriller that will hold an interesting appeal to fans of the horror genre.  Overall The Tall Man is a fantastic thriller that makes full use of its horror elements to create an effective story that is both compelling and creepy at the same time.  Locke has written in a number of shocking twists and turns for the reader to enjoy, while all of her characters are either afraid of or have been damaged by interactions with the Tall Man.  The constantly haunting Tall Man is an interesting and unique addition to this story, and its effect on the book’s plot and the characters is truly powerful.

The book is broken into three parts, each focusing on different time periods during the 1990s, 2016 with a couple of chapters in 2000, with the final part set in 2018.  Each of these parts is told from the viewpoint of different but related characters and is somewhat distinctive in style.  The stories are also interconnected in a variety of ways, although the significance and full connections are not revealed until later in the book in some powerful and emotional scenes.

Without a doubt, the most intriguing and noticeable part of The Tall Man that readers will enjoy is Locke’s clever utilisation of one of the most interesting horror phenomenon in the world today, the Slender Man.  The Slender Man is a fascinating fictional character introduced around 10 years ago that has had a surprising influence on society and some specific people.  With the Slender Man film coming out in a few weeks, Locke has chosen a great time to use a pastiche of Slender Man in her story.

The Tall Man elements are a remarkable part of the book, and Locke has used them to full effect to enhance her story and to make the thriller elements more disturbing and creepy.  Locke has included a number of references to the Slender Man lore, including his shadowy presence and his targeting of young children.  There are also some captivating elements to the book that have been clearly influenced by real events tied to the Slender Man.  This includes Locke’s own fictional version of the infamous Waukesha Stabbing incident of 2014, which is key plot point within the book and results in several shocking twists that will really stick in the reader’s memory.  Locke also ensures that the reader is constantly left wondering about whether the Tall Man is a real supernatural being or whether he is a mere fantasy in the minds of the main characters that becomes a group delusion among the other characters.  This element of uncertainty is a fantastic addition to this book and readers will be considering what the answer is long after they have finished reading The Tall Man.

While the storyline set in 2016 represents the most significant storyline plot-wise, I personally enjoyed the chapters set in 2018 the most.  These chapters are based around a documentary film crew who are trying to make sense of an incident that occurred in the 2016 storyline.  The documentary makers in the 2018 storyline are essentially trying to come up with the next bestselling true crime series, and there are several allusions to current documentaries, such as the Making of a Murderer series or the real-life Beware the Slenderman documentary that was released on HBO in 2017.  As a result, the reader is taken behind the scenes to follow the filmmakers as they research the Tall Man phenomenon.  This part of the book features detailed examinations of Locke’s Tall Man lore, and how it has affected a number of people, including the other storyline’s main characters.  It is interesting to see how Locke’s fictionalised Tall Man differentiates from the classic story of The Slender Man, and readers will enjoy examining how Locke has created a fictional replica of an already fictional character.  The 2018 storyline also has a series of hints about the climax of the book’s other storylines, all of which were chronologically set before it, and it was fascinating tying these hints together with the actual storyline.

 The Tall Man is the perfect read for those looking for something special and who aren’t afraid of some eerie horror in complex and heart-pounding thrillers.  With her debut book, Locke has proven that she is definitely an author to look out for and I’m excited to see what she comes up with next.

My Rating:

Four stars