Picture a Cartesian coordinate system wherein the y-axis plots a book’s literary merit and the x-axis a book’s time in publication. High up on the graph, approaching infinity, there’s a line representing Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Somewhere much lower, running parallel, there’s a line representing Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain. This is a useful image because The Andromeda Strain is essentially a Moby Dick light for the Bacterial Age.
The parallels are there. Both novels feature a classic man against nature conflict. Melville has his characters chasing a giant whale. Crichton has his analyzing a killer microscopic organism. Both feature extended scientific passages, though Moby Dick’s whaling passages are just a bit – just a bit - more extended than The Andromeda Strain’s stuff about biology, bacteriology and metabolic acidosis. Finally, Melville’s characters chase their target in a self-contained ship called the Pequod. Crichton’s chase theirs in a secret underground laboratory called Wildfire.
Naturally, there are differences between these two novels. Moby Dick deserves to be read and, Lindy Effected, re-read. The Andromeda Strain deserves, at best, one read. If you’re into a decent pop science fiction page-turner it’ll work for you. It’s fine for what it is even if it does suffer from a fatal dose of deus ex machina to save the heroes rather than have them save themselves with their own smarts. It has this going for it at least: I stayed up past my bedtime last night to finish it.