The Andromeda Strain: read-along, last discussion, on Day 4 and Day 5

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain,
by Michael Crichton,
1969
Science Fiction/Thriller
Goodreads

Today is the last post of my buddy read with Julie Anna.
In case you missed our previous posts, you can find them by clicking on these links:

Pre-read discussion
Day 1 and Day 2
Day 3

And today, here are our answers to my questions on Day 4 and Day 5:

1. What did you think about how the suspense is handled by the author, especially in Day 4 and 5?

Julie Anna
Days 4 and 5 actually didn’t go how I expected them to! I made the assumption that the strain would spread outside the town and be deadly and contagious, so after seeing what actually happened with the strain it wasn’t as suspenseful as I expected it to be? That’s all on me because of my expectations, but at the same time, I feel like the emphasis was so much so on the process of figuring things out that it wasn’t as suspenseful. The only exception I would say was at the countdown part – that was the most suspenseful part for me! But then with the ending you do feel that kind of relief when you do find out what happens to the strain as it spreads. Overall, I found that the book leaned more towards science than suspense towards the end, but I don’t mind that much at all.

Emma
I had actually problems with the way suspense was handled throughout the book. Earlier on, with a few hints here and there, you know most survived. It is to be expected if it’s science-fiction and not horror, but still, I prefer when I don’t know for sure until the end.
You are right that the countdown part was super suspenseful. But I remember reflecting when I got there, wow, finally some serious suspense, but we are already at 96% of the book! It was so suspenseful that for a few minutes, I did forget that the outcome was going to be ok.

2. How did you like the scientific explanations in this last part?

Julie Anna
I liked the emphasis on using simulations in this part to determine explanations and next steps! Where I went to school the surrounding area’s employers were in aerospace defense and so simulations like these were a big part of my curriculum. And while I didn’t go in that industry itself, the exposure we got to that in these parts (and throughout the book) were really cool for me to revisit. Computing is my most familiar topic when it comes to what’s discussed in this book, so I can’t help but be a bit excited when I get to see the applications, especially to see how they were used several decades ago when we had so little bandwidth to work with!

Emma
Beside the mutation part, I did enjoy these as well. It is also part of the author’s style to really focus on serious science, to make it sound as close as possible to reality.

3. What was your reaction to the nature of the strain and how it worked?

Julie Anna
It definitely wasn’t how I expected it to work! I really wasn’t sure how the survivors, well, survived, but we got to see a lot of figuring this out in Day 4 which I really enjoyed. And while I couldn’t quite guess this one and wanted to, I let that aspect go and enjoyed the journey. I particularly enjoyed the problem solving process and how they figured this one out, especially with the tools they used to get there.

Emma
Yes, that was a pretty cool explanation. And it totally makes sense when you remember that Crichton studied medicine.
I was struck at one point that one of the possible explanations they were considering was that “the organism acted by causing damage to blood vessels… if our organism attacks vessel walls”, which is basically what Covid19 does, attacking their lining. Spooky!

4. Do you agree with Churchill’s definition of genius?

Julie Anna
This was an interesting quote for sure! It reminds me of the comparison between book-smart and street-smart when people compare intelligence. I think that genius can be defined in so many ways and as a range of skills, if that’s the word? And I think that the ability to handle information in such a manner that Churchill states is a part of that equation. It might not be the complete definition in my mind, but I do think it’s a big part of it.

Emma
For those who forgot that part, “true genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information”. Who knows actually if Churchill really said that? Anyway, I also think that a genius would definitely have that trait, plus others.

5. How did you like the ending of the book?

Julie Anna
Again, it wasn’t quite what I was expected! I suppose I thought we were in for a really dark ending. I was hoping for a bit more exploration of topics we didn’t get to see as much, but at the same time, I like how the book pretty much stuck to the internal processes of figuring out the contagion all the way to the end. The ending also made me wonder how many potential dangers are out there that government agencies handle without the average citizen’s knowledge.

Emma
I found the ending rather anticlimactic (that’s another problem of the suspense handling): no one needs to do anything, just a mutation, and the problem is over.
The very last chapter indeed highlights how little we really know about big stuff happening. And maybe it’s better we don’t know. I wonder sometimes how heads of states can even sleep!

6. What are your final thoughts on how Crichton handled the topic of an epidemic?

Julie Anna
I feel like I was expecting more from the side of what the average person dealt with in an epidemic (since I expected this to spread really badly), so it was cool to see it from the perspective of working to stop it. Even though this book is older, it felt like such a timely read and gave us an idea of what the process looks like to understand new strains of contagious diseases and how scientists identify them and develop solutions. I thought it was interesting to have our current experiences with a pandemic combined with a profession neither of us are in, and relating that back to what we know!

Emma
Yes, focusing on the scientific side was really neat. I enjoyed that, even if it means the book is poorer as for character development.
But like you, I was expecting more about the spread, epidemic, and possibly a pandemic situation, though I am sure I would not have had that expectation before Covid-19!!

7. Was there anything you wish was explored that wasn’t?

Julie Anna
Although I said I liked the perspectives we had, I do wish we got to see things more from the side of an average citizen. However, this is also because I expected the strain to become deadly past Piedmont. I know I keep on going back and forth on this as well, because it would have been really interesting, however, tapping into the emotional side could have made it way too much subject matter for one book.

Emma
I think I would have enjoyed it more if the solution had been brought by something the scientists had to do. The experiments and research explained what it was and how it worked, but they didn’t need to do anything special for the problem to go away.
Though of course in real life, I wish that would be the case with Covid-19!

8. Are you going to watch the movie now?

Julie Anna
I feel like I always intend to watch film adaptations but never do (I’m a bit fidgety when it comes to TV and movies!). But I am really curious to see how they adapted this, especially considering how detail-heavy this book is. If I had to guess, I’m assuming the adaptation has some big differences compared to the book!

Emma
OMG, you have to watch it, I did yesterday night! I highly recommend also you watch it on DVD, I’m sure you can find it at your library or through inter-library loan, should be free through your library, because it has awesome interviews, including one by Crichton himself.
I was struck at how close they are to the book, including most of the dialogs. The only difference is the very end: looks like they didn’t like the simple solution more than I did, because in the movie, the solution does come from something the scientists do.
The countdown is also crazy suspenseful.
All the scientific part is awesome! And remember they did all this before what we can do with computers now! Nicely explained in the interviews.

9. Daniel H. Wilson wrote a sequel. Do you feel like reading it?

Julie Anna
I feel a similar way to this that I do to the sequel for Before the Coffee Gets Cold. I am satisfied with what I’ve read, but I’m also curious with what the direction the sequel will take. I’m also curious about Wilson’s writing style and how it will compare to Crichton’s. It’s definitely something I’m thinking about!

Emma
Rereading the end, it does make sense to have a sequel.
When I wrote the question, I was not really thinking reading it, because the name Daniel H. Wilson was not ringing a bell. Then I realized he is the author of Robopocalypse, which was very popular a few years ago – what, already ten years ago?! ( I haven’t read it yet!)
So now, I may give it a shot.

10. Are you planning on reading more books by Crichton?

Julie Anna
Definitely! I have my copy of Jurassic Park / The Lost World that will be next for me, and after that I’d love to see what else he’s written. I’m also curious to see how the level of detail in this book compares to his other writing, or if he’s experimented quite a bit with his writing over the course of his career.

Emma
Yes, I want to try some of his other books. In the interview after the movie, I discovered that he also wrote a lot under other pen names (because as a student  in medicine, he was afraid his teachers would take him less seriously if they discovered he was writing novels!!) They are more thrillers, and they do sound good. It would definitely be interesting to see how he handles other genres.

11. What will be your next science-fiction read?

Julie Anna
One of my Instagram friends kindly gave me their copy of War Girls by Tochi Onyebuchi, so that will likely be my very next sci-fi read. I also have a lot of unread sci-fi classics on my shelf by Asimov, Wells, and Bradbury that I’d love to read next. And in terms of what I don’t own, I’d love to check out the books by Okorafor and Liu you mentioned earlier!

Emma
Liu Cixin, yes! Amazing author. I have still to read his The Three-Body Problem, so I may read this one soon.
I actually just finished today reading Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir, that I started reading while reading The Andromeda Strain. I know, not my smartest move to read two scifi at the same time, though it was fun sometimes to make comparisons. Now, if you like a LOT of technical details, go for it! There are even more than in The Martian, if I recall correctly.  BUT the plot, twists, and character development are fabulous. I can’t wait to see that one made into a movie, it begs for it.

As for Asimov, I loved a lot I, Robot (ignore the awful movie), but was so so disappointed by Foundation.
Bradbury has some awesome ones, including The Martian Chronicles. I recently read Killer, Come Back to Me: The Crime Stories of Ray Bradbury (published August 18, 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers). Yes, he originally was a mystery writer! Near the end of the collection, you see how he slowly switched to scifi, and some stories in there were really fabulous.
Ad I also need to try Wells!!

12. Oops, I wanted to revisit the question, and I forgot to ask you, Julie Anna: would you consider this book a classic? Why, or why not?

Thanks so much Julie Anna for this buddy read experience. Definitely very enriching, and I have the feeling it will not be the last 😉

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? ARE YOU READING IT WITH US?
PLEASE ADD YOUR ANSWERS TO THIS PART, HERE OR ON YOUR BLOG.

IT WAS PUBLISHED IN 1969. WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT A CLASSIC?

The Andromeda Strain: read-along, discussion on Day 1 and Day 2

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain,
by Michael Crichton,
1969
Science Fiction/Thriller
Goodreads

If you missed them, please see what pre-read questions Julie Anna had prepared for our buddy-read of The Andromeda Strain. You will see both our answers, feel free to add yours in a comment there.

Obviously, our Q&A contain spoilers, so first read the book sections before coming here 😉

And today, here are our answers to my questions on Day 1 and Day 2:

1. As early as the foreword, it struck me how contemporary the book sounds to me. Did you have that feeling? For what particular aspects? I will share how spooky it sounds to me, when you compare the why of the Scoop satellites, and the possible origin of the current Covid-19…

Julie Anna
Yes, I did! Aside from the dated nature of the computer functionality, I was beginning to question when this book really took place. The only thing that exposed the time period for me were the references to more dated computer functionality. However, there’s also a lack of mention for the cultural events going on at the time of publication, which I believe was intentional in order to emphasize the timelessness of this story and its conflict. Since we are getting specific with computer limitations here, I’m not sure what the final intent of the setting is yet, but it does feel like it could be now. The origins of the contagion here vs. covid-19 are interesting as well – from our experiences, we know that by the time this city is placed on lockdown, it will have spread…

Emma
I like your idea that not specifying when this took place allows readers of different periods to relate.
What really spooked me were the revelations on the ultimate mission of the Scoops: nations realized they didn’t have powerful enough biological weapons, so they decided to go to space and collect foreign bacteria, bring them back to Earth, and use them to make “more satisfactory” biological weapons. With the still blurry origin of the Covid-19 strain, and still the possibility that scientists were working on it in The Wuhan Institute of Virology, this detail sounded too close to life!

2. How do you make the difference between reality and fiction in this novel? For instance, I thought first it was a clever way to insert the author’s acknowledgments as part of the story, but then I realized, are these real acknowledgments, or are these also fictional? And then I started wondering what scientific element was real or not. It’s kind of funny that there is indeed a Piedmont in Arizona, and the Vanderberg Air Force Base does exist as well. Then I felt like double-checking everything!! How did you deal with that?

Julie Anna
There is definitely also that feeling that this book was based on real events, which is incredibly unsettling as well! I do have a tendency to put books down for a moment to research things I’m unaware of, but Crichton is doing an excellent job of making it unclear of what’s real and what’s not. For example, I had to look up J.J. Merrick as I was convinced that his character and his studies were based on true events – turns out, they are not. But the research he proposes was written in such a realistic way that it was easy to believe that these scientific developments really happened. I think part of that also has to do with the fact that the research is so widely applicable to our current situation that it’s especially unsettling.
In terms of the science, I’ve been taking the same route of looking up what I don’t know much about. But I also feel that his explanations behind events are scientifically sound – it just seems like some of the storytelling elements themselves are not always real.

Emma
Same here, I could spend a lot of time researching every scientific detail, to see what’s real or not, but I guess that’s really not the point of reading scifi! I love how you put it, “his explanations behind events are scientifically sound”, that’s an awesome balance he achieved to trick the reader into believing this is real.
I was really intrigued by the Acknowledgement part. I actually wonder if some names could be real, and a way for the author to honor them. For instance, Murray Charles is an American political scientist born in 1943. With the amount of political issues in the book, I wonder if Crichton has read Charles and want to honor him.
I see this also with Jeremy Stone. I don’t know any Jeremy Stone who won a Nobel Prize, but Jeremy Stone was a research mathematician at Stanford, and may Crichton wanted to acknowledge his contribution.
Looking around about the Acknowledgement, I found this fabulous essay: Apparent truth and false reality: Michael Crichton and the distancing of scientific discourse. Stéphanie Genty has great passages on this point. I will just quote this, but the whole essay is definitely worth reading:

The fiction works because of Crichton’s mastery of the codes of scientific discourse – or at least his representation of them – which must correspond to that of the popular mind. The various documents which make up the narrative texture appear authentic since they respect the formal rules of argumentation and style. The narrator’s interventions appear to explain the technical aspects of the intricacies of the plot. But the fiction also works because of the reader’s suspension of disbelief, which is maintained in large part by the fact that he/she knows that the author has a scientific background, that he has access to experts in the field and has done thorough research and so, presumably knows what he is talking about.

So, while Crichton feigns authorial proximity to scientific reality and his narrator feigns proximity to the reader, he is actually pulling the wool over our eyes and spinning a yarn a tale which is “a long way off the truth”. The novelist’s use of fictitious fact may be compared to the publication of fabricated experimental results by unscrupulous scientists, or to the many humoristic parodies of scientific articles, both of which rely on a similar mastery of the codes of scientific discourse.

Her analysis makes me even more admire Crichton’s style and way of “pulling the wool over our eyes.” I think the whole “Alterations” section (at 38%) is also very instrumental in that respect.

3. What did you think of when we first met “the man in the white robe”?

Julie Anna
I had a feeling that things were going to get really interesting then! I wasn’t expecting for him to be introduced knowing how quickly (or at least assuming how quickly) this contagion kills. But having a possibility for more answers really piqued my interest.

Emma
I have to say, when he showed up that early (at 4%), I was a bit uncomfortable, because he looked like a religious figure to me, and I don’t really like mixing religion with scifi (with one major exception: The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell).
But at 43%, so far this dimension has not been developed.

4. Swear words have evolved a lot! I was getting annoyed at how many times the author used “Judas” as a swear word. Why focus on this one? Is there a special reason you think?

Julie Anna
I’m not sure honestly! I don’t know if this was a term that was used often at the time it was written, or if it will have any sort of meaning later on. I also wonder if using this particular term as a swear in place of others would have made this book more marketable at the time that it was published. Regardless, it’s a bit strange – you’d think that there’d at least be some variety in their vocabulary.

Emma
This got me even more nervous about the man in white robe! Looks like it was a popular swear word in the 60s, as a “minced oath”, so yes, maybe for marketing reasons.
It’s funny, I remember DNFing a famous and popular book, because the author used so much the f* word in the first pages, and I often criticize authors in my reviews when they constantly use this one, underlining their lack of creativity, and here same thing, couldn’t he have used various other terms, instead of always that one, lol!

5. Did his definition of a “crisis” resonate with you?

Julie Anna
It absolutely has, but especially in this past year it made me think a lot about our current crisis and how the world has been navigating it. I liked how the definition of crisis was expanded to many scenarios as well, yet the outcomes were the same. I also felt like the introduction of this definition really set the tone of this book in anticipation for what’s to come, and it’s definitely one of the more memorable quotes for me in this book so far.

Emma
I am quoting it here, “a crisis is a situation in which a previously tolerable set of circumstances is suddenly, by the addition of another factor, rendered wholly intolerable.”
I did stay for a while on it, reflecting on what that meant for our world this past year, and also if this could apply to some moments in my own life.
I like your perspective about its impact on the tone of the book.
Actually, a bit later on, he adds, ” A crisis is made by men, who enter into the crisis with their own prejudices, propensities, and predispositions.  A crisis is the sum of intuition and blind spots, a blend of facts noted and facts ignored.” This definitely resonates with me, especially with the “blind spots.” Often times, if we accepted to read the signs early enough, the crisis could be avoided.

6. I know you like serious technical details and data in scifi. How is it for you so far? Do you find these technical details modern enough, relevant today? What do you think about the balance: too many technical details not enough?

Julie Anna
Personally, I’m loving it! One of my favorite scenes so far was the phone number puzzle solved via translating numbers to binary digits. I wasn’t expecting a puzzle like that and I thought it was a fun addition. There’s also scenes about the history of the different sciences, proposed research, and computer models that we’ve seen so far, which add so much depth for me personally. I always miss having these details in space opera, and I do miss studying these subjects as intensively as I did in college. That being said, reading these details is a nice way of returning to those subjects. In terms of balance, while I personally enjoy it, I can see it not being the best fit for everyone. However, I do find it helpful that the book explains the logic behind the details so that the concepts are more easily understood.

Emma
I’m loving it as well!
Ah yes, the phone number puzzle. I even tried to understand it. I could follow the beginning, but then I got lost! Does it make sense, mathematically speaking?
I also liked the description of the Scavenger. With its “infrared multispex camera”, it really made me think of the Perseverance Rover that landed on Mars on February 18. I actually followed the event live through a Zoom event organized by my public library, in connection with Chicago’s Adler Planetarium and the NASA feed. It was really so well done, with scientific details explained for everyone.
And it was fun identifying scientific details that were scifi at the time, and are real now, for instance, “The technical quality here is quite good. Can’t read the license plates on the cars yet, but we’re working on it. Perhaps by next year.” I think many satellites have now that level of precision. There’s also the “finger and palm-print analyzer“, commonly used now, for security or even shopping! And the “electronic body analyzer”, that “would eventually replace the human physician as a diagnostic instrument”. Already in use, at least partially.””

I also liked the whole concept around life form: “an evolutionary progression from simple to complex life forms. This is true on earth. It is probably true throughout the universe.” The popular view of life in space is (or used to be) too often as large beings, but this novel (and Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir, that I’m currently reading) focuses on life as small as bacteria. With the possible idea that actually, it can be super developed, even if it’s tiny (just like our earthly technologies have gotten more complex and smaller at the same time).
Crichton even mentions “biosynergics, the future possible combinations of man and machines implanted inside the body”, which is now a reality.

7. Did some scenes remind you of any scifi movie (beside The Andromeda Strain movie, that neither of us has watched)?

Julie Anna
I’m honestly not a big movie-watcher, so I’m not sure that I could point out any in particular! But do feel the anticipation (and ominous nature) of what’s to come, much like many films in general. I think there’s that one horror moment where you know you’re dealing with something much bigger than you that you have no knowledge of, and this is one of those moments.

Emma
I don’t often watch movies either, but my husband has been working on educating me in classics, and I have watched a few scifi classics. When I read “They proceeded another mile, bouncing along the dirt rut, and then came over a hill. Suddenly Hall saw a large, fenced circle perhaps a hundred yards in diameter”, a scene came to mind right away, when Roy and Jillian discover the site in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (but obviously, our novel cane before the movie):the site

Now come this way to read our Q&A for Day 3

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK? ARE YOU READING IT WITH US?
PLEASE ADD YOUR ANSWERS TO THIS PART, HERE OR ON YOUR BLOG.

IT WAS PUBLISHED IN 1969. WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT A CLASSIC?

The Andromeda Strain: read-along, pre-read discussion

The Andromeda Strain

The Andromeda Strain,
by Michael Crichton,
1969
Science Fiction/Thriller
Goodreads

Read-along, pre-read discussion

I recently had a great experience doing a buddy-read with Julie Anna at Julie Anna’s Books on Before The Coffee Gets Cold .
So we decided to do it again, this time with a classic science fiction novel: The Andromeda Strain.

Neither of us has read the book or seen the movie, so it’s total terra incognita, which I believe is the best way to discover a book.

We just started our reading yesterday, so feel free to join us, by commenting on her/my posts, or by creating your own.

Before our first report, Julie Anna had the great idea to ask pre-read questions:

1. Have you ever read Crichton’s work previously, or seen any of the film adaptations of his works?
2. What are your feelings going into The Andromeda Strain, especially as we’ve spent a year in a pandemic?
3. Do you often read science-fiction books? If so, what sub-genres do you typically read?
4. Have you ever read a book about a pandemic, viral infection, or contagion?
5. The Andromeda Strain was written in 1969. Do you anticipate that this book and the science/technologies it discusses will be as futuristic/realistic in 2021 as they were in 1969?
6. Do you anticipate that the portrayal of the epidemic in this book to be similar to our experiences?
7. What are your expectations of this book in terms of scientific accuracy?
8. Do you think that any recent historical events inspired Crichton to write this book?
9. Do you have any other expectations regarding what topics or points of discussion we might see in this book?

Please go visit Julie Anna’s post to see our answers

And please come back here on May 17 to see our Q&A on the first 2 parts of the book, entitled Day 1 and Day 2

HAVE YOU READ THIS BOOK?
IT WAS PUBLISHED IN 1969. WOULD YOU CONSIDER IT A CLASSIC?