I thought for sure I was done reviewing Michael Crichton books. I mean, the man passed away in 2008. But, I guess CrichtonSun is a thing now and it seems that The Andromeda Evolution is the beginning of a Crichton-verse. What does the future hold for this line? Will all of Crichton’s books start getting sequels? Is this the expanded universe of the techno-thriller. How long until, piece by piece, these books start to take place in the same universe? Will the gorillas from Congo be recruited by Jack Forman from Prey to stop Elizabeth Halpern from Sphere from using her powers to resurrect the Eaters of the Dead from Eaters of the Dead? Will they bring Westworld into it? How small is the market for Crichton-related references like that?
Written by Daniel H. Wilson, The Andromeda Evolution is is not a lost manuscript or unfinished work. This is an original sequel by the Robopocalypse author. Back when I first read that book, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Wilson and Crichton. But, with that book, Wilson was obviously influenced by Crichton’s style. Here, with The Andromeda Evolution, Wilson is trying to mimic Crichton and he can never get the trick to work. You can wear your dad’s hand-me-downs, but it doesn’t mean they fit.
The Andromeda Evolution takes place fifty years after the first Andromeda Strain. The first conceit that took me a second to get through is that this sequel treats the first book as a scientific report released to the public by author Michael Crichton. Luckily, the book doesn’t dwell on that and goes right into this new story. The Andromeda Strain seems to be back, this time in the jungles of South America and a team of four scientist is put together to figure out why, how and what needs to be done.
My biggest issue with this book is how excessively Wilson uses “Crichton-isms”. The first book, and most of Crichton’s writing, had these moments of foreshadowing or reminders that what we were reading was a debriefing, a post-report of the whole situation. And, to be fair, it’s been sometime since I picked up The Andromeda Strain. But, in this book, the amount of “this decision would prove to be fatal”, “inferred footage of the scene shows”, “little did he know, he had determined the fate of four billion people” and all that becomes too much. Perhaps, Crichton was better at following up on those little moments. Perhaps, time has faded those from my memory.
Crichton himself was never great at character work. Many of his protagonist were simply mouthpieces for his ideas and theories and, sometimes, dinosaur food. But, the characters in The Andromeda Evolution are, aside from one or two, incrediblely paper-thin. The backstories that Crichton would provide are lacking in detail with this book. Wilson, I know, can right characters I care about. I couldn’t put down Robopocalypse. But, in trying to ape the coldness of Crichton’s writing without the thoroughly thought-out histories, we’re left with action figures without much to say.
That’s sort of the problem throughout. Wilson is a skilled writer who can write science fiction and action and loves his robotics, but he doesn’t have the interesting ideas of Crichton. There’s no science or theories so detailed and compelling that they feel like they could be their own book, no musings about the danger of our technology that we haven’t seen before. Many of these thoughts feel like Twitter comments made paragraphs. And, when the mysteries of this new Andromeda Strain are revealed, you begin to wonder why Wilson chose this project in the first place. He obviously has bigger things he wants to write about other than humanity dealing with a deadly microorganism. While what Wilson presents at the end of this book is interesting and would be something I’d want to read on it’s own, it no longer feels down to Earth. Some of Crichton’s concepts were so frightening you’d have to simply not think about them in order to live your life. The Andromeda Strain was that type of semi-realistic techno-thriller that, while very much science fiction, had a real world element. The Andromeda Evolution goes full blown science fiction and, while it might have it’s audience, it’s far and away from “smallness” of the original novel.
It took me longer to finish The Andromeda Evolution than any Crichton book or Wilson’s own Robopocalypse. It lacked the page-turning quality of either writers. There’s a twist or two I enjoyed, but the destination was not worth the rather dull journey. A promising start about the failures of human apathy becomes a tour through some rather uninteresting jungles and more.
And, look, I’ll keep reading these things. If they put out Michael Crichton’s The Greater Train Robbery by C.J. Box, I’ll read it. If these are the thing I’m weirdly dedicated to reading, fine. I’ll join the tradition of reading a late author’s universe like Tom Clancy and Robert B. Parker. I suppose that’s what Marvel comics are anyway. But, outside of current Crichton fans, I’m not sure who the audience for this book is. I’ll read anything with Crichton’s name on it, but the random browser? Will that name mean anything to them anymore?
I just hope the quality rises. Daniel H. Wilson is not a bad writer but he took on a task that’s not always so easy. Being influenced is one thing, but imitation is a lot harder.