In Review: The Andromeda Evolution

A fun read that captures the tension of the deadly microbe from the original novel.

The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson

Published by Harper Collins on November 12, 2019. Hardcover of 389 pages at $29.99. Also available from HarperAudio and HarperCollins e-books.

Note: I read an advanced copy so anything may have changed by publication.

The cover: A series of metallic hexagons serve as the background. Michael Crichton’s name is in large red letters at the top. The title is just below the midway point of the cover in white letters; the letter o is created by a missing hexagon that shows the planet Earth in space. Below this is A Novel By Daniel H. Wilson in red capital letters. Granted, Crichton’s name is what will get Joe Public’s attention, but he didn’t contribute to this novel except through quotes and the creation of the novel that spawned this, The Andromeda Strain. Otherwise, this is an appropriate cover. Overall grade: B+

The premise: From the inside front cover: “The Evolution is Coming. In 1967, an extraterrestrial microbe came crashing down to Earth in Piedmont, Arizona and nearly ended the human race, killing all but two of the town’s residents. Over the course of five tense days a team of top scientists worked valiantly — and secretly — to stave off an epidemic of unimaginable proportions. In the ensuing decades, research on the micro-particle continued even as the world believed it was safe…Now a Brazilian terrain-mapping drone has detected a bizarre anomaly of otherworldly matter in the middle of the jungle — and the tell-tale chemical signature of the deadly micro-particle. If a new generation of scientists cannot reach the quarantine zone, enter the anomaly, and stop its evolution, all life as humankind knows it will be annihilated.” I loved the first book and I love the film, so I’m very than interested to see how this tiny terror can continue to threaten the planet Earth. Overall grade: A

The characters: There are six primary players in this novel: General Stern, a four-star general currently in command of NORAD who controls the missions from Colorado; Nidhi Vedala, an expert in nanotechnology; Harold Odhimabo, a specialist in xenogeology, geology, anthropology, biology, and physical sciences; Peng Wu, a soldier, medical doctor, and pathologist; Zachary Gordon, ranger elite light infantry and battalion senior medic; and Sophie Kline, aboard the International Space Station, an expert in nanorobotics, nanobiology, and microgravity research. Stern leads the group through spoken and written transmissions, never meeting any of the other characters. He’s the expected no-nonsense military leader who will do anything to protect the planet. It was welcome to read his character since he’s not the stereotypical “blow it all up” military leader. Kline is on the space station and also communicates in a similar fashion as Stern for the majority of the novel. She was engaging, very smart, and instantly created sympathy with her physical disability. The other four characters, Vedala, Odhimabo, Wu, and Gordon, go into the Brazilian jungle to study what’s fallen down. They are an interesting mix, each with their eccentricities and secrets. Gordon’s character seems the most out of place in the novel, until trouble breaks out and he proves his worth. That said, it does seem as though the characters of this book are checking boxes off for nationalities and character traits, especially for supporting characters that I’ve not named. It was noticeable while reading, but I rolled with it. The antagonist of the novel is the Andromeda Strain, which does threaten to destroy the Earth, but in this larger state reveals itself to have a specific purpose. I liked how the Strain evolved, as it did in the first novel. What it does makes biological sense, which is key to buying in to its threat. I was happy to see that other nations played a part in this novel, with certain countries responsible for certain actions. The characters, though scientists, are relatable and kept me turning pages. Overall grade: B 

The setting: The Brazilian jungle is the primary setting because that’s where a Chinese space station has gone down that was carrying the Andromeda Strain. The heat and all the troubles that go with the jungle create problems. I definitely got a feel for the temperature and the expected troubles of this locale. What’s become of the fallen space station is also a setting and it’s fantastic. I could have spent much more time in this location, but the story has a countdown clock ticking, so it went more quickly than I had expected. I won’t reveal where the final act of the novel takes place. However, it was believable and I liked how there was just enough futuristic hardware there. Every setting in this book is good. Overall grade: A-

The action: This is a page turner. There’s plenty of action from all directions. There’s the overriding danger of exposure to the Andromeda Strain, which is death, but there’s all the built in tension of what its evolution might be capable of. The physical manifestation of what the Strain is doing in the jungle frightening, as is what its arrival has done to any mammals. There’s also some solid tension among the team, with Gordon getting quite a bit of it from one individual. After arriving at the crash site the book goes in a completely unexpected location, being incredibly tense. A countdown clock naturally kicks in at this point with threats from above and below, including the constant threat of nations electing to nuke the location. The action in the last third of the book didn’t resonate with me because it went through every expected science fiction trope. I’ve read a lot of sci-fi, so what occurs there wasn’t surprising. Every twist has been written before in story or comic book format. It has some fun moments there, but I’d encountered these threats before. This last third lessened my love of what I was reading. Overall grade: B-

The conclusion: The book has only two possibilities for a character in the climax. It chooses one and it was fine. It could have gone the other way and I would have been as equally satisfied. Either possibility was expected. I thought the ending in the Resolution was too neat and tidy — it should have been omitted. Overall grade: B-

The final line: This was a fun read that captures the tension of the deadly microbe from the original novel. It captured Crichton’s ability to blend science and fiction for an entertaining read. The tension builds nicely, leading to an epic ending. The characters were familiar archetypes, but were enjoyable. This reads like a movie script, which will undoubtedly be considered by a studio at some point. If you like science thrillers, I would suggest you read this book before it evolves into something else. Overall grade: B

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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