Study Guide

The Andromeda Strain

by Michael Crichton

The Andromeda Strain Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Michael Crichton’s enormously popular novel The Andromeda Strain generated much of its appeal first by dramatizing the anxieties of its audience—playing on the “man was never meant to know” fears about space and science—and second by laying those fears to rest by demonstrating that the American doctor is equal to any emergency. The novel was one of the first to use “secret government research projects” as a villain, a device that has been used many times since. The premise of The Andromeda Strain is that a space satellite, the Scoop, has been sent into space by the United States to search for and to bring back to Earth samples of viruses and bacteria for study. Although scientists call for the study to protect both astronauts and the Earth from contagion by an alien bacteria, the government has quite another purpose: to bring back bacteria that might be used in germ warfare.

Under the pretense that its purpose is to discover new ways to prevent disease, the project is begun. After several failures, Scoop VII is sent into orbit in February, 1967. In the space flight, the Scoop is hit by something, a meteor perhaps, and begins to wobble. When the Scoop is brought to Earth, it lands in a small, isolated Arizona town. As the novel opens, the two men sent to recover the vehicle find all but two of the townspeople dead, and within a few seconds the soldiers themselves lie dead in their van.

The survivors, Peter Jackson, a sixty-nine-year-old drinker, and a two-month-old baby, are brought to Wildfire, a five-level underground laboratory hidden in the deserts of Nevada. A crew of scientists is hastily assembled to discover what factor has protected two so dissimilar people from the mysterious disease carried by the Scoop.

The novel is arranged in the form of a scientific report on the efforts that follow and contains numerous charts, graphs, and computer printouts. The narrator, speaking as an omniscient observer, comments on the work of the scientists during the four days of feverish activity following the disaster. The plot of the novel is arranged in strict chronological form, with background information on the characters interspersed from time to time. The book even adds a fictional bibliography including articles purportedly written by the characters.