The United States government is given a warning by the pre-eminent biophysicists in the country: current sterilization procedures applied to returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere.
Two years later, seventeen satellites are sent into the outer fringes of space to "collect organisms and dust for study." One of them falls to earth, landing ina desolate area of Arizona.
Twelve miles from the landing site, in the town of Piedmont, a shocking discovery is made: the streets are littered with the dead bodies of the town's inhabitants, as if they dropped dead in their tracks.
The terror has begun . . .
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Some biologists speculate that if we ever make contact with extraterrestrials, those life forms are likely to be--like most life on earth--one-celled or smaller creatures, more comparable to bacteria than little green men. And even though such organisms would not likely be able to harm humans, the possibility exists that first contact might be our last.
That's the scientific supposition that Michael Crichton formulates and follows out to its conclusion in his excellent debut novel, The Andromeda Strain.
A Nobel-Prize-winning bacteriologist, Jeremy Stone, urges the president to approve an extraterrestrial decontamination facility to sterilize returning astronauts, satellites, and spacecraft that might carry an "unknown biologic agent." The government agrees, almost too quickly, to build the top-secret Wildfire Lab in the desert of Nevada. Shortly thereafter, unbeknownst to Stone, the U.S. Army initiates the "Scoop" satellite program, an attempt to actively collect space pathogens for use in biological warfare. When Scoop VII crashes a couple years later in the isolated Arizona town of Piedmont, the Army ends up getting more than it asked for.
The Andromeda Strain follows Stone and rest of the scientific team mobilized to react to the Scoop crash as they scramble to understand and contain a strange and deadly outbreak. Crichton's first book may well be his best; it has an earnestness that is missing from his later, more calculated thrillers. --Paul HughesFrom the Inside Flap:
"This book recounts the five-day history of a major American scientific crisis. As in most crises, the events surrounding the Andromeda Strain were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and ignorance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance, and moments of unaccountable stupidity...."
Thus begins this extraordinary novel of the world's first space-age biological emergency.
The Andromeda Strain sets forth with almost documentary verisimilitude the unfolding story of "Project Wildfire" -- the crash mobilization of the nation's highest scientific and medical resources when an unmanned research satellite returns to earth mysteriously and lethally contaminated.
Four American scientists, chosen in advance for their experimental achievements in the fields of clinical microbiology, epidemiology, pathology, and electrolyte chemistry, are summoned under conditions of total news blackout and utmost urgency to Wildfire's secret laboratory five stories beneath the Nevada desert. There -- surrounded by banks of the most sophisticated computer-assisted equipment, and sealed off from the outside world except for a telecommunications link with the national security apparatus -- they work against the threat of a worldwide epidemic to find an antidote to the unknown microorganism that has inexplicably killed all but two inhabitants (an elderly derelict and an infant) of the tiny Arizona town where the satellite was retrieved. Step by step they begin to unravel the puzzle of the Andromeda Strain, until, terrifyingly, their microbacterial "adversary" ruptures the hypersterile seal of the laboratory and their already desperate search for a biomedical answer becomes a split-second race against an atomic deadline.
With its narrative force, its scientific detail, its suspense -- as four brilliant individualists work together under ultimate pressure -- this novel makes real for the reader the real world of today's science and medicine at the top-secret levels of the Science-Space-Military high command.
The author is a trained scientist. Newspaper stories from NASA that have appeared since the completion of the manuscript read like details from The Andromeda Strain...
From the Hardcover edition.
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