Review by C.J. Bunce
It’s as good as it gets for Michael Crichton fans. Not only is The Andromeda Evolution a new thriller being released more than a decade after the author’s passing, it’s a sequel to a Crichton classic novel–his original science fiction cautionary tale The Andromeda Strain. Created by writer Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse) in collaboration with Crichton’s estate (CrichtonSun LLC), The Andromeda Evolution is nicely timed to arrive 50 years after The Andromeda Strain was first published, the book that launched Crichton’s fame as master of the technothriller. The Andromeda Evolution has all the components of Crichton’s best works–the trademark structure of a team of unique experts colliding to prevent catastrophe, the integration of cutting edge science to both inform the reader and carry the plot forward, and the surprising juxtaposition of the improbable and the unimaginable. And the ripped-from-the-headlines timeliness is eerily creepy–it all begins with a disaster in the heart of the Amazon rainforest, complete with government clashes and misinformation campaigns, and ends with a surprise that will stop you in your tracks.
Nothing defines Crichton’s storytelling as much as his interaction of characters, always an unlikely grouping of personalities that some far-off puppetmaster thinks is the right team to solve problems. A mix of the wise, the pragmatic, the cerebral, the sensitive, and the reactionary, common to the Crichton elite team are individuals who must struggle to get along like any group trying to complete a project in the real world. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, but can everyone survive long enough to contribute their piece? In The Andromeda Evolution that first means introducing us to Dr. James Stone, son of The Andromeda Strain bacteriologist Dr. Jeremy Stone. The son is a late addition to a core unit assigned to investigate and prevent the spread of what appears to be that dreaded, fast-moving viral strain his father faced so many decades ago that almost destroyed Earth. Haunted by a lifetime of living with the threat of the virus’s return, Stone has acquired expertise under his father’s wing. With the alert of a new threat, on a moment’s notice he’s dropped at Ground Zero with only hours to collect data with other similar elite minds to try to save the world again.
In The Andromeda Evolution, everything you think you know about the constructs of modern science and technology was a lie, dating back to the original Andromeda Strain virus, documented in Dr. Michael Crichton’s original account (recall Crichton was in medical school when he began his career as author). Hidden by world governments, never losing ground as the world’s primary threat to security and survival, the Andromeda Strain was real. NASA, the Center for Disease Control, all the framework for technological initiatives we think about every day from the 1970s forward have been preparing humanity for the return of the dreaded AS-1 and AS-2. And the biggest secret is staring us all in the face.
In fact you’ll probably want to read the novel as soon as it’s available in November and dodge social media, because some “spoiler types” on social media lesser and mainstream coverage will no doubt post even introductory photographs in their coverage that will spoil some of the secrets for you.
Many times new authors will take over the reins for long-time storytellers, as done with Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan and Ian Fleming’s James Bond stories (even back to the beginnings of the genre novel with authors like Doyle and Shelley). Rarely do they assimilate the style of the author. For The Andromeda Evolution to be successful, Wilson needed to emulate Crichton’s style. And he’s done it. How does it compare to past Crichton universe stories? For me, Jurassic Park was Crichton’s masterpiece, but The Andromeda Evolution is comparable to the best of the rest.
The influences and familiarity for readers in this tale may come from all over the spectrum. The pandemic and sci-fi themes may conjure callbacks to Tom Clancy’s Debt of Honor, Isaac Asimov’s Fantastic Voyage II, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Philadelphia Experiment, The Cloverfield Paradox, 2017’s Life, or Crichton’s own novels Sphere and Congo. What it is not is simply a modern, mainstream pandemic thriller, like Outbreak, Contagion, etc. It’s in the Crichton universe, so the unexpected lies ahead. This time the tale is also peppered with callbacks to storytelling beats from earlier Crichton novels. Wilson even sneaks in–as an aside–a humorous direct homage to Crichton himself, a memorable image from Jurassic Park. And Crichton’s science, ideas, method, research, and characters are all over this book.
The dynamic of the Crichton story approach is easy to grasp. Using experts in areas readers may not be experts on, the characters become accessible because they can’t help but exhibit the human frailties and quirks that everyone shares, so readers understand why it’s difficult to solve each new impossible task, and why they must overcome these barriers so the human spirit may live on, to fight another day. It also allows educated readers plenty of opportunity to have their own inner-arguments along the way, and no doubt some readers may be able to stay ahead of the science from time to time as not only scientific principles collide, but entire disciplines (and maybe even fiction genres).
The advance review copy from HarperCollins of The Andromeda Evolution echoes the marketing done for the Coma television series (discussed long ago here at borg), complete with warning labels (this kind of touch is in good company and a nice coincidence considering Coma, the film, was written and directed by Crichton). If you missed them, check out my previous reviews of Michael Crichton fiction at these links: From Crichton’s “lost” novels there’s Odds On, Scratch One, Zero Cool, and Grave Descend, and from his posthumously published novels check out Micro and Dragon’s Teeth.
The Andromeda Evolution is not available to the public until its launch date November 14, 2019. But it’s available from HarperCollins for pre-order now here (audio version read by Julia Whelan here). Consider it the year’s must-read for science fiction fans. And if you missed it, don’t forget the original novel The Andromeda Strain, now in a 50th anniversary edition, also available in audio, read by David Morse.