This book confused me at first. I saw it in the bookstore and thought, “hasn’t Michael Crichton passed?” The answer is yes, yes he did. So why is his name taking up the top third of the book? An eye-grabber no doubt. Effective too, dammit.
I was vaguely aware that he wrote The Andromeda Strain some fifty years ago but I’ve never read the book. I have, however, read many others by him and enjoyed every one. I’ve also read a couple of books from Daniel H. Wilson so I thought I had an idea of what to expect.
Because I was confused about who wrote this book and why two authors would have their names on the cover, I flipped through it while waiting in line at the bookstore. An afterword by someone named Sherri Crichton shed some light. Apparently, to paraphrase a bit, SC collaborated on this book with DHW and was excited to have MC’s world spotlit for new readers.
So, the collaborator’s name didn’t appear on the cover, but the deceased person who created the world took up the top third. Okay. I mean, I feel like that’s a bit unfair, but okay. This made me believe the book is basically fan fiction that I paid for instead of reading it for free on AO3.
Let’s jump in.
The Gloss: I bought the trade paperback size which was nice. Not too big and not too small. I really enjoy reading books in this format, so it was a delight to hold.
It has the same rubberized texture that I’m starting to see is common now. The red lettering stands out nicely on the black cover, but the silver lettering of the title blended into the background too much. It’s almost like the publisher wanted to catch people’s eye with the author name rather than the title.
There’s a hexagonal pattern evident as well, this relates nicely to the story and is effective in giving a pleasing, simplistic cover design. The Moon for an ‘o’ in ‘Andromeda’ is a nice touch, but irrelevant. The International Space Station would have been a better choice, but it doesn’t look like an ‘o’.
The pages were a nice off-white and thick enough that the print didn’t bleed through to the flip side. The font was nice too, but unremarkable. Good glue as well, giving a nice relaxed and light feel to the book.
The Characters: There were many. I won’t name them all because I don’t remember them all. The team dealing with the Andromeda strain/evolution was five. Diverse cast, something I’m interested in reading as not everyone has skin the colour of mayonnaise.
None of the characters stood out though. I don’t recall any character development and I couldn’t tell them apart in their dialogue or actions. Considering I read books for characters, this was not good.
The Plot: It was weak. Basically, the microbe was discovered by a team whose purpose it was to look for it. Once found, Project Wildfire was activated, a diverse team sent out to….eradicate it? Battle it? Study it? I’m not really sure. Twist was that the International Space Station was involved, specifically one person who spent her lifetime preparing for just this moment. There’s potential for a lot of action or tension, but the book lacked both for me.
The Story: In a nutshell, the story was about humans fighting against each other, both sides believing their view is The Right One, with an alien microbe as the false antagonist.
For most of the book, the story was about Project Wildfire’s mission to get to the microbe. Almost all of it was unremarkable. Some of the team died. They were warned off but continued. They arrived. The team discovers the microbe, which is growing out of the earth as a giant protrusion. It’s part of a power station and is evolving into a space elevator. The International Space Station would be the weight at the end of the elevator. There’s a battle between the ISS inhabitant and the remaining members of Project Wildfire. Now that part was reasonably interesting and, in my opinion, could have been expanded a great deal, but it was in the last bit of the book.
The format of the story is reconstructed/recovered footage. Sometimes this can work. It didn’t here. I knew humanity as a whole survived because someone assembled all the data for the reader to view. This removed the threat of the Andromeda Strain away, successfully decreasing any tension.
The World: This is our world with an alien microbe that exists in our atmosphere. That’s all we’re told. It attacked humans with one strain and matter with another, and those two strains pretty much ignored each other. There wasn’t much mention of how the strain impacted humanity or space travel, and the strain was kept confidential. I was disappointed in the lack of world building here.
Nitpicks: Oh my. Here we go. I had several nitpicks with this book.
Let’s start with pov problems. Here’s a direct quote for me to nitpick:
“Putting the dream out of his mind, he focused on the brightening jungle outside. He must have felt a sense of raw anticipation. As a child raised by a daredevil scientist, he had finally, at the start of his fifth decade, found himself joining an adventure to rival his father’s.”
That first sentence allows the reader a glimpse into the character’s head. He’s putting a dream out of his mind. Okay, I can accept that. But then the second line, about how he ‘must have felt’ a sense of raw anticipation…..no. The author already allowed us into the character’s head. It’s jarring to read how the same damn character ‘must have felt’ rather than telling us how he felt. Or showing us, which would have been better all around. Point being: the phrasing felt amateurish to me.
Also, this bit: “child raised by a daredevil scientist” bugged me. All characters had descriptors like this. To me, it’s just lazy writing, like the author can’t be bothered to develop a character and instead trusts the reader will believe this description without any kind of backup activity/action/demonstration.
Next, the dialogue had a lot of exposition. On a television show, characters frequently state things that they should already know. Mostly because the medium doesn’t have time for a lot of backstory and it’s a good shorthand to get the story moving. Books, however, have the time. Sometimes I can forgive it, sometimes I can’t. I couldn’t here:
“It wouldn’t,” said Stone. “A weapon like that only works if the microparticle spreads everywhere life could possibly evolve–all over the galaxy–lingering in the upper atmosphere of any planet or moon with an atmosphere. It’s John Samuel’s Messenger Theory–one of the first ideas put fort by my father to explain the Andromeda Strain.”
“Clarify,” said Vedala.
“The Messenger Theory was proposed as the best, and possibly only, way to communicate…..”
Stop. Just stop. Don’t authorsplain something. Find a better way of including the information from the previous book or create better dialogue so it’s not so obvious that the author wants the reader to know this bit.
Also, the bunny-hopping of time was annoying to the point that I had to forcibly tune it out by page 50. This is where the author provided new information, then went back to explain something, then back to new information, but wait let’s go back again and give old information, then new information and so on. I believe the author could have found a better, smoother way of integrating information from the original book.
Yet another nitpick was the foreshadowing. It was heavy-handed and much too frequent. Like the author was always saying, “oh look here! Look at this! Remember this part!” Very annoying. There simply wasn’t enough time to build tension before yet another dollop of foreshadowing.
Speaking of tension, there was none. At no point in the entire book did I feel like I was on the edge of my seat or wondering what was going to happen. I wasn’t invested in any character and didn’t care whether they lived or died. Even the twist was meh. Actually, the last bit of the book, when the team discovered what the mircoparticle did, was somewhat interesting. The real story began there. In my opinion, the chunk before that should have been edited harshly, then extend the battle between the space station and Earth.
Am I done with nitpicks? Oh nay nay. I felt like this book didn’t see a professional editor. An example of this was a toxin introduced on top of page 123. This toxin is used by local tribes to hunt monkeys. Then, at the bottom of page 124 it’s mentioned again and explained again that the toxin is used to hunt monkeys. I felt like the author couldn’t trust the reader to retain the information. Again, amateurish. I really wanted to throw the book at the wall over this but I just painted and I didn’t want to wreck the new coat.
On to some more nitpicking. Setting this book up as an exploration through recovered footage does not allow for describing a recurring dream of one character. The two are jarring together. The only way I could see this as a resolved issue was if we, the reader, followed the dreamer exclusively throughout the story. No head-hopping, no omniscience, just living inside this character’s head to flesh out the documents and footage. This was not the case in the book. So, so frustrating. Also, while I’m on this topic, the dream itself was reasonably relevant, but the author never addressed why this character would have this dream, why it would recur, and whether or not that recurrence was due to the microparticle or just plain luck.
Hoo boy. Here’s another one: footnotes. I don’t mind them, sometimes the information adds something to the story. Here, though, some didn’t, so why were they there? Why would the author include a footnote about the US Navy and tobacco sales? Why? Does this serve any purpose in the story? No. Was it interesting? Somewhat, but it’s complete irrelevance to the narrative made it a distraction that yanked me out of the story.
I’m almost done. Last point: don’t include pictures in the book. Just don’t. As an author it’s your job to explain something to me in a manner in which I can picture it in my mind. Am I going to picture it exactly as the author intended? No. But that’s okay. You don’t need to have a ‘recovered’ photo of a space elevator, or a diagram of the International Space Station, or a diagram explaining a fulcrum. Although, yes, this book was formatted as recovered documents, so I guess the one photo could be allowed as a piece of recovered information. The diagrams, however, were irritating and unnecessary.
Overall: I had to drag my eyes through this book. I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t paid actual money for it. I’ve read other books by this author and don’t remember being quite so frustrated with the text. Maybe I was though, maybe I blocked it out. I definitely wasn’t reading with a critical eye like I do now though.
As I prepared to type this review I re-read the afterword and remembered it was a collaborative effort. My harsh, salty, last thoughts are: the book was poorly constructed, badly told, and weak in story. I expected better from this author and I don’t know if the poor result was because of collaboration or because the author lent the name to the book while it was ghostwritten by someone else.