The Andromeda Strain – Reread

When you’re graduating from reading young adult novels into more meatier fair, Michael Crichton is pretty much the perfect author to cut your teeth on. At least, he was back in the 90’s before the young adult genre exploded all over every dystopian future that ever existed. He was one of the first authors I read that didn’t write what amounted to Christian fan-fiction. No, Michael Crighton wrote about cloned dinosaurs, and alien artifacts under the ocean, and SO MUCH DEATH!

 

T-Rex roaring Do you have a moment to talk about Jesus Christ?

 

Rereading of one of my old favorite authors may seem like it might be connected to a recent Hollywood smash hit…but its not.  It’s simple ADHD in my Audible purchases last month.  They must have just re-released a bunch of the old audio books, because all of a sudden my recommended queue was full of Michael Crighton best sellers.  And one caught my eye.  Not the one with hungry dinosaurs, but rather the one with so many people dying from an alien virus: The Andromeda Strain.  I remember reading it when I was a kid, shortly after watching Outbreak and just gobbling it up.  To this day, my favorite kind of disaster / thriller is of the disease running rampant variety.

Just so’s you know, this is kind of a review of the audio book as well.  I actually do a lot of my reading via audio book, because it means I can code and read at the same time.  Also, I commute so basically I’m consuming stories all the time.  So, audio books, valid reading in my opinion.  If you don’t think so you can go to someone else’s blog and complain.

Anyway.  The Andromeda Strain was one of Crighton’s earlier novels, published in 1969 aaaaannnnnd it kind of shows. Crighton never wanted to be associated with the Science Fiction crowd, even though he was writing science fiction, if not straight up fantasy, but he wanted to be considered main stream and not genre.  Still, the science fiction vibe is strong with this.  Now, since the novel is fracking 46 years old, spoiler warnings don’t apply.  Really.  There’s a statute of limitations on these things.

For those who aren’t familiar, and have read my previous notice, The Andromeda Strain is about a team of doctors assigned to study an alien microbe that attached itself to a crashed satelite and killed at town out in Arizona.  Mistakes are made, the virus mutates, a couple more people die and it all comes down to the line at the end with our heroes almost destroyed by a nuclear detonation that would have kicked off World War 3 AND caused infinite propagation of the viruus.  Crighton has all sorts of elements in play here, talking at length about, what was, at the time, cutting edge technology, cold war paranoia, kinda-maybe valid science circa the 1970’s, and lots … and LOTS of description.

The big question is, did I enjoy the book? Yeah. It’s still a decent read.  But did I enjoy it as much as when I was a kid? Not really.  Having learned a lot more about writing and the construction of a good story, I’m finding its easier to pick things apart, and find ways to improve upon them.  For instance, The Andromeda Strain has a really, freaking slow start.  Crighton devotes a ton of time to explaining the Wildfire Initiative (the organization put together just in case an alien microbe ever started killin’ folks).  He talks about the history, the people involved, the facility they had built, and on and on before we even get our group of heroic doctors together.

The narrative skips between all of the doctors, who each kind of screw up equally in causing the near disaster, which is what drives most of the story.  And this is a great thing! It’s the good part.  But we don’t even interact with them until we’re several chapters in.  This is a book that really should have started, mid-crisis, as a tired and confused Dr. Mark Hall is dragged out to the Wildfire facility with little explanation, and then caught up on the shit that’s going down as they go through the quarantine levels.  They spend a lot of time talking about the quarantine levels of the Wildfire Facility… and very little story happens.  Its just kind of there for its own sake, because none of the things they go through impact the story in any real way.  The only thing that actually matters is the nuclear fail-safe, that only Mark has the key to for science reasons that they also explain in detail but aren’t really important.

 

4 doctors, standing side by side Three of these people made a terrible mistake.

 

But, in the end, it’s the nuclear fail-safe that might prove to be every bodies undoing, since they discover the virus would mutate uncontrollably and probably destroy all life on earth, if exposed to the energy of a nuclear detonation.  So, of course, the virus escapes containment, triggers the auto-destruct, and they have to abort the detonation sequence, which only Dr. Mark Hall can do.  Only, he can’t, because the government contractors who built the facility forgot to put the required number of safety stations into the place. Thriller!

No, it really is kind of tense there at the end…but not really because of the virus.  It mutates into a form that is deadly to polymers (a new technology!) but not to organic life.  So, its able to escape, but since it isn’t a threat anymore, its a non-issue once the bomb is defused.  In my mind, this is the weakest part of the book, since it literally means that, if no one had done anything at all, the threat would have passed and no one would have known.  The protagonists have literally nothing to do with solving the main conflict in the book.  The threat just goes away.

While The Andromeda Strain does take a while to get going, and has kind of a disappointing ending, it is still a pretty good read.  Although there are a few things kind of common to a Michael Crighton story; chiefly, the “person who does something sciency that everyone around them should realize is the dumbest thing ever”.  In Jurassic Park, it’s the idiot who kept breeding raptors, even after they discovered how magnificently deadly they were to have at a theme park, like hiring a guy to be Mickey Mouse even after you learn he’s a cannibal.  In The Andromeda Strain, it’s a general in charge of coming up with new biologic agents to use as bio-weapons, but darn it, they run into a wall and can’t create anything deadly enough from what’s on earth.  He read a paper that said there were probably super dangerous organisms in space, just waiting to be brought to earth that no one would have any resistance to and extremely hard, if not impossible, to cure.  So, this moron comes up with an idea to send satellites into space with the sole purpose of bringing back one of these super bugs, and NO ONE FIRES HIM ON THE SPOT! Or even protests.  His success condition is exactly the problem in the book…that still magically solves itself.  In the epilogue, no one mentions this guy getting fired into space himself…he apparently suffers no consequences.  Also, none of the main characters wonder just how someone that stupid could put on his own clothes in the morning, let alone be put in charge of a multi-billion dollar defense initiative.  Probably because Russia was just that scary?

Still, for all its faults, The Andromeda Strain is a decent read.  This is pretty much establishing Crichton’s great pattern of “kinda-science, isolation, people dying” but you’ll be able to tell its pretty dated.  I, for one, am happy that we don’t have automated doctor drones as standard in every doctor’s office, as was predicted. Now, every one go wash your hands.  And for Crichton’s sake, don’t use antibacterial soap.  We’ve got enough trouble with space rabies without all you people making super-bacteria here on earth! Put that anti-bacterial gel down! I’m watching you.

 


It’s been a while

I know, I know. I’ve been a very bad man about posting to my blog.  I have reasonable excuses for it, one of which being switching hosts (as you can see from the shiny new URL).  Please, let me be the first to welcome you to seth-swanson.com.  I’ll explain the reasons for my move in a later post.  Today, I’m posting with a purpose: that of revealing a book that I could read over and over and over … or books … pursuant of the #wanaFriday Twitter tag.

I know this will come as a shock to those who know me, but I’m not an overly complicated man.  I generally don’t read to better myself as a person, or to gain “culture”.  I enjoy me a bit of Shakespeare, but beyond that I give most literature a skip.  I’m sure its great and everything, but most of the “greats” have a decided lack of magic, monsters, swords or Jedi’s.  I’m ADHD, you have to keep me engaged in the book with the use of an array of shiny objects. Which brings us to my first book that I can happily continue reading forever:

I, Jedi by Michael A. Stackpole
I’ve loved the whole X-Wing series since I was in high school.  I know that its pulp fiction, but the first four books of that series are great.  I, Jedi is even better though.  As should be obvious, there’s Jedi, which also means there’s lightsabers and the Force.  Not enough?  How about a Jedi private investigator?  Still not enough?  Add in some space battles, a few clandestine operations and a great story.  I, Jedi is by far my favorite novel in the Star Wars: Expanded Universe and Stackpole is my favorite author who writes in it.  If you were ever curious about fighter ace Wedge Antilles, the X-Wing series fleshes him out nicely.  Corran Horn is also one of my favorite characters within that universe.  I spent years reading Star Wars books just looking for references to him and his distinct abilities.

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
Its about a city of magic zombies.  If you need more than that, we can’t be friends any more.  Brandon Sanderson is my absolute favorite author and anything he writes deserves to be on this list, but Elantris was the first book of his that I read.  If you aren’t familiar with him, then check out something of his.  He’s pretty well known by now for making completely unique and interesting magic systems.  I specifically like the symbol based Aon magic in Elantris, but I also love the metal based magics from the Mistborn series.

Monster Hunter Intl. by Larry Correia
Monster Hunter Intl. (Hereafter MHI) is pretty much a summer action blockbuster in book form.  Monsters, guns, government conspiracies, an impending world ending disaster, werewolves, vampires and one-liners.  I could read this whole series over and over again whenever I just want to read about stuff being blown up in creative ways.  Its just good fun.

So, there’s a peak into my mind.  I’m not going to win any prizes for the width and breadth of my reading, nor my tastes, but there you have it.  I also prefer cider to beer.  I’m a heathen and I know it.  Good thing it doesn’t bother me.

Come back a bit later for news on WordKeeper (my tool to help authors set and keep their word goals) and big news on Impervious!  For now, I’m off to Kansas City for the weekend with my lovely wife to celebrate our first anniversary!  Out.

Updated with links to other participants:


Catching up and latest reads

So, now that I'm all married, honeymooned, and settled back in, its time to actually get back to the business of being a writer. I'll admit, I probably could have kept up better with writing, blogging and twittering the last couple of months, but most nights I just didn't feel up to it. Work and wedding just left me too mentally drained to go about the business of being overly creative. Instead, I mostly read and played video games. While video games are largely a waste of time, they're also a terrific way to bleed off stress which is mostly what I needed.

Now that all that is over with though, I've got plenty of time to dig in and get back to writing. My goals from earlier in the year remain the same: Complete six 25k word months and finish Impervious by the end of the year. I'll have to cram a little make those six months, since I only have one of them done, but I still think its doable. To that end, I started a 25k month yesterday, writing a whopping total of zero words. Yeah, not a great start, but doing anything is nigh on impossible when you had the cold that I did yesterday. I'm feeling better, and doing better today, what with ranting over at Edge of December and actually blogging today. With those monumental tasks out of the way, I'll be able to get back to punching out the words for Edge and for Impervious.

If you're coming over from Edge of December, I promised some info on books that I've been reading lately, because I think that they need to be mentioned. So, here we go:

The White Dragon, by Anne McCaffrey. This is the third part of the original Dragonriders of Pern series and there's just not enough good things to say about the Pern series or about Anne McCaffrey. I know that her son has been taking up her mantle and releasing new books in the world, but trust me, start with the originals. They are classics of science fiction for a reason. Yeah, sure. There's definitely an element of “You got your fantasy in my science fiction. You got your science fiction in my fantasy!” Here, but when McCaffrey does it, they really are two great tastes that taste great together.

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. I know. Where have I been? There's a movie out now and everything. Even still, I probably avoided it because of the “Twilight Effect”. Harry Potter was awesome, and there can be no denying it. That was a sensation I could get behind because they were awesome books and it was an awesome story. And then the world blew up because of Twilight and it destroyed my faith in YA fiction for a while because of it and all the teenage vampire romance that flooded the shelves. So, I dug a hole and pulled the earth in after me and pretended that the world didn't exist for a while. Suffice it to say, I did Collins a disservice and would not have you make the same mistake. Hunger Games is a great example of a dystopian future and a marvelous use of the “lottery” story. I haven't read Catching Fire or Mockingjay yet, but they are most certainly on my to read list.

Star Wars: X-Wing: Rogue Squadron, by Michael A. Stackpole. I don't want to call this pulp, but I think it qualifies. If you're a nerd and you want to know what happened after The Return of The Jedi, then this is a great place to start. Michael A. Stackpole spins a good tale about the Rebellions most feared fighter squadron and this is only the first of them. The whole X-Wing series is a really good read and they've finally come to eBook format. If you're a fan of Star Wars I can actually recommend the entire Expanded Universe series of books, which covers a LOT of reading. But, if you want to start with small bites, the first four books of the X-Wing series is a great place to start.

I think that probably covers enough for now, I've got other things to write tonight and nobody's going to put up with a blog post that's as long as a chapter in the book they really want to read. But now, to writing…or actually dinner and then writing! Huzzah!


Making the move

Not much writing news for this week. The fiancé and I have spent the last week moving. I feel bad, but its really hard to want to do anything besides collapse after you’ve gone up and down three flights of stairs a dozen times carrying heavy boxes. I’ve had a short story for Edge of December that I’ve been trying to get work done on, but I’ve been making less progress on it than I’d like. To add to the general mess and business I’m trying to find a new job, a situation that I hope will be resolved soon.

I know, this sounds like a lot of excuses for not writing, and truth be told its just that. I didn’t set any writing goal for the month; no word count that I had to hit or project that I would absolutely have done. I think that’s a large part of why I haven’t actually been accomplishing anything in terms of producing a word count. That being said, April is coming, and I’m going to be so poor from paying double rent that I won’t be able to afford to do anything other than sit at home and write for the first two weeks or so.

While I haven’t been making time for my writing, I have been making time for reading. You can usually keep up with what’s in my queue with the little Goodreads widget on my homepage, or by following me on Goodreads. Once Impervious is ready to go, I’ll need a few followers to spread the good word. That’ll be a while, but it will happen, sometime next year I’m hoping. Anyway…books! I just got done with the Dragonflight, first of the Dragonriders of Pern series by the amazing Anne McCaffrey. I haven’t read this one since I was in high school and now I remember why I loved them so much. I’m not even going to bother anything like a review of Dragonflight, because I can’t possibly say anything that hasn’t been said before. Its a sci-fi classic for a reason. If you haven’t read them, do. Now, I’m reading The Hunger Games, because just about everyone I know is telling me that its worth my time and so far I have to agree with them. Coming late into the game though its hard to avoid spoilers, but I’m doing my best.

While we’re on the subject of books, I noticed on the Twitters today that the Harry Potter eBooks are FINALLY on sale. I mean…really. Publishers, you can’t complain that the HP books were the most pirated in the world. Do you know why? Because it was impossible to buy them before now. I would have thrown money at you the instant I got my Kindle if they would have been available before now…so, this fail is on you. For the record, I didn’t go out and download them, as I have them in physical form…just saying. If you want my money, then make it easy for me to give it to you and get the product that you want me to buy in the first place. Alright…now that I’ve spent a little time on the soapbox, I should actually get to writing. I’ll let you know how that goes next week.