The Andromeda Strain was one of the first science-fiction novels to explore the threat of extraterrestrial biological contamination of Earth. In writing a story of bacteria and organisms, Michael Crichton shifted the focus of science fiction away from physics, chemistry, or advanced technology to an area that surpassed them all in menace. The thought of mutating microbes invading Earth and causing madness and death seemed more frightening than the remote possibility of a planet off its axis or the invasion of aliens from outer space. Germs can be more frightening than guns, and the fear of invisible microbes working in mysterious ways to wreak havoc seized the public imagination.

In this novel, Crichton introduces stylistic tricks that later became the stock-in-trade of science-fiction and thriller writers determined to make their works realistic. He uses scientific jargon (for which he apologizes) to explain the scientists’ work. As an M.D., he is able to dazzle the lay reader with arcane medical terms. As a computer expert, he was one of the first writers to use computer language and format to lend an incredible story an aura of reality.

Another, now-familiar device he uses is to assemble a team of experts, complete with their vanities and eccentricities, yet somehow indistinguishable from one another. Character development is unimportant in a work of this sort. In fact, the only character who really emerges as an individual is...

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