Panspermia 3.0 in Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Evolution

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By itself, the word “anomaly” shouldn’t be the cause for any sudden attention. It’s just something that deviates from the norm. An irregularity. An abnormality. It could be a sudden, temporary shift in the way people vote. It could be a sudden snowstorm in the middle of summer. Hell, it could be an unexpected act of kindness from a rival who is normally cruel and obnoxious.

Yet, context matters and when it comes to the Life Sciences, an anomaly can take on a much more ominous and disturbing connotation. Anomalies in x-rays, MRIs, blood tests, brain scans, and genetic tests are causes for concern, sometimes with fatal outcomes. In this sense, an anomaly represents a dangerous unknown to be viewed with susapicion, if not feared. For much of Michael Crichton and Daniel Wilson’s new book, The Andromeda Evolution (HarperCollins), the mysterious phenomenon referred to as the “anomaly” lurks in the Amazon festering off the rainforest floor.

This follow up to The Andromeda Strain picks up some fifty years after Piedmont, Arizona’s narrow escape from biological annihilation. A Top Secret international team of scientists called Project Wildfire keeps careful watch for any sign that the microbe may have resurfaced. After decades of uneventful surveillance, the system functions more from muscle memory than recent activity.

When a sertanista in the Amazon reports an anomaly growing in the rainforest, the various Project Wildfire alarms, set in place decades before, run up the chain of command until an international team of scientists set out to investigate whether the Andromeda Strain has returned. Included among the expeditioners is James Stone, the son of the man who dealt with the alien form when it first appeared on Earth. The effort not only spans continents but involves scientists monitoring the situation from the International Space Station.

When the team reaches the anomaly, they discover an organism devouring everything it contacts, plants and animals. It is less infectious than they thought. The microbes weren’t aerosolized yet. However, the sheer size of the alien growth alarms and confuses the scientists.

The structure was darkly menacing. Its skin was the black, green, and purple of solar panels, almost oily, reflecting the sporadic sunlight in greasy rainbows. At its base, the structure seemed to have cratered the ground, leaving waves in the dirt like a rumpled skirt, and a not unpleasant raw-earth smell.

The cosmic microbe infects the Earth’s surface, its skin. The anomaly is like bacteria replicating in a wound forming an impenetrable biofilm. It spreads in all directions while providing cover for its replication to take place. Uncertain what to do, the military’s solution is to torch the entire thing, a scorched earth policy to save the world. (The whole thing is a perfect metaphor for real world bacteria and the blunt weapon destructiveness of broad spectrum antibiotics.) Unfortunately, the army’s doomsday option isn’t viable. It will only spread the disease quicker.

The team soon learns that the anomaly is not what it seems. Ever since its first appearance on the planet, scientists were misreading it and its intentions.

The Andromeda Strain wasn’t a microorganism. It wasn’t alive, exactly. The extraterrestrial microparticle was in fact a highly complex machine.

Crichton and Wilson’s story goes full-tilt sci-fi by the time it hits the three quarter mark. At times, the book may actually make you scratch your head but that’s the nature of the beast. It’s not The Hot Zone and never claims to be. The Andromeda Evolution twists and turns will take readers on an unexpected journey that’s well worth the price of admission.

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IMAGE CREDIT: HarperCollins

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