The Plot

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 470

With utmost secrecy, the U.S. government has been sending satellites into orbit to scoop up particles from outer space and bring them back to Earth to be studied. This undertaking is known as Project Scoop, and one of its purposes is to see if there are particles in outer space that are unlike anything known on Earth. Retrieval of the satellites poses a problem because no precise method of reentry exists that will bring a satellite to a predetermined landing site. Because landings can occur anywhere in the world, a system has been devised to either recover or destroy satellites, depending on whether they land in friendly or hostile territory.

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One night, a satellite is tracked to Piedmont, Arizona, a remote town with a population of forty-eight. The first trackers to get there find dead bodies all over the streets. The trackers hardly have time to react before they, too, are dead. The government has prepared itself for such an emergency by having a Wildfire Alert team on call at all times. This team consists of a group of scientists with credentials in biology, bacteriology, pathology, and surgery. Wearing protective clothing, two members of this team fly to Piedmont, where they find two survivors, a baby and an old man. They also find the satellite and see that it has been pried open.

The satellite and the two survivors are flown to a top secret underground facility in Nevada known as Wildfire. This impregnable complex consists of five levels of research laboratories and is programmed to self-destruct in three minutes should its chambers become contaminated beyond control. One member of the team, Dr. Hall, the only surgeon and the only bachelor, is given the only key that will deactivate the nuclear self-destruct device.

While the scientists of the Wildfire Alert team experiment unsuccessfully with rats and monkeys, news comes that a military plane flying over Piedmont crashed when all of its plastic fittings disintegrated. Piedmont was supposed to have been destroyed by an atomic bomb, but the president held off giving the order. This proves to be fortunate, because the scientists discover that the space organism (now code-named the Andromeda strain) grows fastest when it has a source of energy. They also discover that the organism thrives on carbon dioxide and that people who breathe rapidly, such as the crying baby and Sterno-drinking old man who survived at Piedmont, escape its effects. Soon thereafter, the scientists notice that the organism is mutating. Now, instead of attacking humans, it attacks plastic. This explains the plane crash.

The fittings of Wildfire’s chambers begin to disintegrate, and the automatic self-destruct system is activated. Dr. Hall barely manages to deactivate the system. By this time, the organism has dissipated into the atmosphere, where it continues to mutate into something benign and harmless.

Literary Techniques

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 813

Crichton, more than any other popular novelist, is a child of the age of film. He describes things cinematicalry, as though he is looking through a camera's eye. This is a familiar point of view for his audience; it permits the use of specific accepted visual and narrative conventions to be combined in interesting, acceptable, and effective ways, and it produces prose that is easily translated to the screen.

The most important element in Crichton's style is a realistic tone, a sense that the events being portrayed actually happened and that the author is merely reporting what took place. "I found," he has said, "you could make something more believable if you pretended not that it might happen or was happening, but that it had happened." Technological details and factual correctness, therefore, assume a paramount position in...

(The entire section contains 2991 words.)

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