Today’s best thriller writers on one hundred classics of the genre…
My goal is to eventually make my way through all of these must-read titles. These books have been around for so long and read by so many that another generic review from your average reader seems unnecessary. Instead, I thought it would be fun to take a look at what some of the experts have to say about the stories that paved the way for their own success… and how their perspective compares to my own reading experience. Today, I’m looking at Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.
Five prominent biophysicists have warned the United States government that sterilization procedures for returning space probes may be inadequate to guarantee uncontaminated re-entry to the atmosphere. Two years later, a probe satellite falls to the earth and lands in a desolate region of northeastern Arizona. Nearby, in the town of Piedmont, bodies lie heaped and flung across the ground, faces locked in frozen surprise. What could cause such shock and fear? The terror has begun, and there is no telling where it will end.
Josh Conviser is our guide to the world of Michael Crichton. And this essay really is more about Crichton’s works as a whole than this particular book. As such, there’s not really much in there to dispute. If he didn’t actually create the techno-thriller genre, he greatly heightened its popularity. “Indeed, he took speculative fiction out of the future and slammed it into our backyard.”
The “what-if”s are Crichton’s biggest strength. He was great at taking these incredible ideas and making them seem plausible. While those familiar with whatever field he happened to be focusing on could see the line between fact and fiction clearly, that line was sufficiently blurred for the average reader, which of course makes for a great story.
Where he fell short — and this is my own opinion — is in the actual storytelling. His style, even among his books that I’ve enjoyed the most, is a bit dry. He has a very straightforward way of presenting his “facts,” and it’s the events that drive the suspense, but I rarely find myself excited by the writing itself.
As for The Andromeda Strain, I really enjoyed the majority of the book. I love stories that have high stakes, and potential pandemic situations are great for that. That this threat is potentially alien gives the story an added dynamic, a very topical one considering this was published in 1969, as the space race was in full swing.
Most of the suspense comes from Crichton’s heavy-handed foreshadowing. This kind of thing can get overdone very quickly, and it’s definitely not my favorite way to create tension. Still, it’s effective, and I enjoyed the journey. When I got to the end, though, it felt so abrupt and anticlimactic. It’s hard to go into specifics without spoilers, but I will say that the resolution — to me — seemed to render the rest of the events moot, and left me wondering, what was the point of what I just read?
So, while I can’t deny Crichton’s importance to the continuing popularity and evolution of the thriller, this particular book just didn’t do it for me.
Three down, ninety-seven to go…