Harper, 384 pages, $29.99
Grab the Purell.
Fifty years after Michael Crichton published The Andromeda Strain, that deadly microbe has mutated again. Prepare yourself for the extinction of mankind in The Andromeda Evolution.
Yes, the end is near — but not for Crichton’s brand. If you thought his death in 2008 was enough to stop another outbreak, you know nothing about extraterrestrial germs or American publishing. Crichton isn’t just a late author; he’s a valuable commodity. Like John Hammond in Jurassic Park, Crichton’s publisher has scoured the land looking for bits of literary mitochondria for new books. Since his death, we’ve seen Pirate Latitudes, Micro, and Dragon Teeth.
Now, streaking across the sky like a meteorite comes The Andromeda Evolution, a sequel written by Daniel H. Wilson, in collaboration with Crichton’s estate. Wilson is a robotics engineer, a writer of witty books about technology, and the author of a ridiculous thriller called Robopocalypse.
The Andromeda Strain described the panicked efforts to stop the spread of an alien microparticle that turned human blood to sawdust and dissolved plastics.
When The Andromeda Evolution opens, a drone spots a metallic-looking shape growing up out of a remote spot in the Amazon jungle. Mass spectrometry data acquired by military satellites indicate that the quickly swelling mutation is “an almost exact match to the Andromeda strain.”
A scientist announces, “There is an alien intelligence behind this,” which I have often thought when I clean out the refrigerator. “We are facing an unknown enemy who is staging an attack over the gulf of a hundred-thousand years and across our solar system and likely the cosmos. This is war.”
The elite Wildfire crew will trudge into the jungle and try to keep the planet from being infected. In accordance with the requirements of the inevitable movie version, the Wildfire team consists of a small group of contentious scientists who are dangerously ill-equipped. Their leader is an interesting character: a woman who rose from the slums of Mumbai to become a world-renowned expert in nanotechnology. But alas, the rest of her crew are drawn from a fetid petri dish of stereotypes.
Predictable as this group is, their adventure is at least as exciting as Crichton’s original story — and considerably more active. The jungle provides an ominous setting for some spooky scenes. And the episodes set in outer space are particularly thrilling.
Wilson replicates Crichton’s tone and tics, particularly his wide-stance mansplaining. “There is a category of event that, once it occurs, cannot be satisfactorily resolved.” And the pages are larded with lots of Crichtonian technical explanations, weapons porn, and so many acronyms that I began to worry Wilson had accidentally left the caps lock on.
But who cares? These various lapses may be irritating, but ultimately they don’t derail what is a fairly ingenious adventure. As the story swings from military jargon to corny implausibility, the fate of the Earth hangs from a thread of rapidly mutating cells. Finally, our hero says the words we never tire of hearing: “Technically, it’s doable. It’s insane. But it’s doable.” That portentous claim launches one last spectacular scene that would make Crichton proud.
Tom Cruise: Call your agent. Scaling Dubai’s Burj Khalifa was like climbing a stepladder next to this.