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Study Guide: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton - BookNotes

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THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN: ONLINE SUMMARY / CHAPTER NOTES

CHAPTER 3

Summary

In the opening narrative, Crichton describes the common nature of all crises and explains that the United States has never had a biological crisis - until the Andromeda Strain.

Back in the mission control center, Major Mancek slowly replays the tape from the radio broadcast from the van. Based on the rhythmic static picked up by the computer, Mancek decides that the van is probably still running and the van radio is still broadcasting. He orders a flyover of Piedmont and calls in a technician named Jagger to analyze the film. Minutes later, a scavenger plane drops phosphorus bombs around Piedmont and photographs the town. As Jagger analyzes the body temperature images picked up by the plane’s infrared camera, he determines that most of the people died quite recently. Further images indicate that one person is still moving around the town, checking the bodies. The plane’s motion pictures show the white-robed man, standing in the center of town, staring at the planes as they buzz past the town. Major Mancek puts in a call to General Wheeler and declares a state of emergency within the army base.

Notes

By moving the narrative from the town to the army base, Crichton heightens the suspense surrounding the disease and the lone figure that survived it.



CHAPTER 4

Summary

Sitting in a soundproof booth next to a telephone, Mancek decides to place a telephone call to a classified government agency called Project Wildfire. He remembers a briefing he attended years ago, where a government scientist explained the agency’s purpose: formulating responses for extra-terrestrial life forms introduced on American spacecraft returning to earth. After using a binary code to decipher the telephone number, Mancek picks up the phone and dials.

Notes

This chapter, a brief explanation of binary codes and computer language, highlights Crichton’s technical style and his fascination with scientific jargon and theory. The mechanisms of computers were still relatively new when the book was originally published in 1969. Project Wildfire is also introduced, although we learn little about it.


CHAPTER 5

Summary

Mancek leaves a message on an answering machine, stating that he is calling for a Wildfire alert. He waits for return calls but receives none. Instead, the Wildfire agency sends out a first telex confirming notification, and then a second telex with a list of names of people authorized to receive information. Because of an error with the machine, certain names are validated quicker than others, meaning some team members are not notified until early the next morning.

At 1 AM the next morning, two army men arrive at Dr. Jeremy Stone’s house near Stanford University and escort him away in the middle of a dinner party. On the way to the airport, Dr. Stone looks at a slim file with the words “Project Scoop” stenciled on the cover. He thinks back on a symposium several years earlier where he first heard a scientist named Dr. Merrick hypothesize that if mankind ever encountered extra-terrestrials they would most likely be in the form of bacteria. Merrick’s ideas inspired Stone and other scientists to warn the defense department about the possibility of alien microbes returning to earth aboard American spacecraft. This recommendation had led to the creation of new government agencies designed to study various aspects of microbiology. A team of scientists, including Stone was also mobilized to prepare the country for the possibility of a biological catastrophe.

"Project Scoop" had ostensibly been designed as part of this overall mission. Before this latest capsule, six other "Scoop" satellites had been sent into orbit, but each had either burned up during reentry or returned to earth empty-handed.

"Scoop" VII had been in orbit for two and a half days when it somehow malfunctioned, left its stable orbit, and had to be called back prematurely by mission control.

During his flight to Arizona, Dr. Stone is informed of the status of the other team members. Professor Kirke, an anthropologist from Yale, is in the hospital with appendicitis is thus will not immediately join the team. Leavitt, a clinical microbiologist, and Burton, a pathologist, will be meeting Stone at the site. The last person to be notified, a surgeon named Hall, is forced to leave a patient on the operating table and hurry out to meet Leavitt and catch a plane leaving for Nevada. When Hall asks he is involved in the project instead of other more distinguished surgeons, Leavitt replies that they wanted a candidate who was single.

Notes

In this chapter Crichton reveals that "Project Scoop" was, in reality, designed by the army as a way to enhance their biological weapons capability. Thus, it appears that the army’s efforts to bring back an extraterrestrial microbe for military use is now responsible for wiping out the town of Piedmont. The negative attitude towards the armed forces that begins to emerge reflects the anti-Vietnam war influences, which were at or near their height in 1969 when Crichton published The Andromeda Strain.

Furthermore, there is a question of whether or not the five scientists who make up this specialized task force will be able to work together to solve this crisis. Although Stone respects Kirke immensely, he does not care for Burton. In addition, both Leavitt and Stone doubt that Hall, who has not done any prior reading on Wildfire, will be of any benefit to the project.


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