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Study Guide: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton - BookNotes

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THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN: STUDY GUIDE / BOOK SUMMARY

THEMES

The bookís prominent theme is the danger that manís intelligence poses to himself. Man is capable of inventing all sorts of ways to destroy the planet, but not rational enough to control these means. Crichton believes that manís capacity for critical thinking breaks down too easily under stress. In the book, the army succeeds in bringing an alien bacterium to earth in the hopes of supplementing its biological weapons program. But once the "Scoop" satellite lands, the army can not control the bacteria and its wipes out an entire town. Despite the most elaborate preparations and all the precautions imaginable, the Wildfire team almost does more harm than good by detonating a nuclear device and giving Andromeda the energy it needs to further reproduce. In the end, it is not manís ingenuity or technology that saves the country form disaster; Andromeda just happens to mutate into a form harmless to humans.


MOOD

For this book, Crichton adopts a very cold, detached, scientific approach to the material. All the description is done in a very matter-of-fact tone, including even the characters. The only superfluous material in the book is the multiple explanations of past scientific theories or discoveries intended to enhance the clinical approach that pervades the novel. In terms of character development we get only what is necessary to advance the plot.


All this gives the book a very serious mood that makes it oddly convincing. This is partly due to the gravity of the events being described, but also due to the expert way in which Crichton supports his fictional storyline with actual scientific research. There are times during the book when the combination of the elements is so convincing that the reader may wonder to himself if the Andromeda Strain incident actually occurred.


Michael Crichton - BIOGRAPHY

John Michael Crichton ws born October 23, 1942 in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in Roslyn, New York on Long Island. He graduated from Harvard University (summa cum laude) in 1964 He then attended Harvard Medical School, where he graduated as an M.D. in 1969. After medical school he began his writing career. Called "the father of the techno-thriller," his novels include The Andromeda Strain, Congo, Jurassic Park , and Timeline. He has also written four books of non-fiction, including Five Patients, Travels, and Jasper Johns .

His books have been translated into thirty languages. Twelve have been made into films, including Jurassic Park and most recently, Timeline, now filming. He is also the creator of the television series ER.

Crichton has also directed six films, among them Westworld, Coma, and The Great Train Robbery. Always interested in computers, he ran a software company, FilmTrack, which developed computer programs for motion picture production in the 1980s; for this pioneering work he won an Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Technical Achievement Award (an Oscar) in 1995. His film Westworld was first feature film to employ computer-generated (CGI) special effects.

Crichton has won an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Writer's Guild of America award for ER. In 2000, a newly-discovered, small armored dinosaur was named for him: Bienosaurus crichtoni. Crichton was named one of the "Fifty Most Beautiful People" by People magazine in 1992, but, he observes, never again. He is divorced and lives in Los Angeles.


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

ďI thought THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN was a great title, but for many years I had no book to go with it. I worked on draft after draft, never completing one, obsessing about the project. And all because I was so fond of the title I couldn't abandon it.

The story itself was originally suggested by a footnote in George Gaylord Simpson's scholarly work THE MAJOR FEATURES OF EVOLUTION. Simpson inserted an uncharacteristically lighthearted footnote saying that organisms in the upper atmosphere had never been used by science-fiction writers to make a story.

I set out to do that.

Eventually I finished a whole draft and sent it to my new editor, Bob Gottleib, at Knopf. Bob said he would not even consider publishing it unless I was willing to completely rewrite it from beginning to end. I was twenty-five at the time, and Bob was only in his early thirties, but he had a very large reputation as an editor because he had edited CATCH 22. So I gulped, and said I would rewrite it according to his directions.

Bob said that the novel should read like a New Yorker profile, that it should be absolutely convincing. I wasn't really sure what that meant; I had read New Yorker profiles and found they varied widely. But he started me thinking about what THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN would look like, if the story were true. Where would I have gotten the information? How much I would know? And in what style would I write it, if it were true? I began to look at science non-fiction writing by people like Walter Sullivan, who wrote for the New York Times. And I began to imitate that factual, non-fiction writing style. It yielded a very cold, detached book that was also weirdly convincing.

After I sent Bob Gottlieb the rewritten manuscript, he called up and said I had done very good work, and therefore I only had to write half of it all over again. I gulped, and said I would. And after that, he would just call me every few days: rewrite the beginning of this chapter. Redo this description. This character isn't right; fix it. Add a chapter here. And on, and on. I began to feel persecuted by these demands, which seemed interminable, and increasingly nit-picking. (I did not yet know how rare good editing is.)

When the book was published, lots of people thought it was true. It was pretty interesting. After a while I stopped telling people that I had made it all up, because it turned out that it was true.Ē

- Michael Crichton


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