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.
This episode we talk about Michael Crichton’s newest posthumous release, Dragon Teeth. We also talk about your other favorite Crichton posthumous releases, Micro and Pirate Latitudes. And then things get away from us as we imagine the Lizard sharing clothes with the Hulk.
Needless to say, I find more reasons to talk about Jurassic Park. And if anyone thinks that the Timeline movie is better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park, let me know because I will physically fight you outside the location of your choice.
I reviewed Dragon Teeth here on the blog, so if you want something a little more detailed, check it out. A quick summary is that I enjoyed having a new Crichton book, but it’s not a fantastic story. If I had to rate the books released after Crichton’s death, I would pick Micro, Dragon Teeth and then Pirate Latitudes. And Micro seems a little unfair because it was actually intended to be released. I’ll read anything they find on Crichton’s computer, but I don’t think we need to any more.
See you next week, podcats!
I read Dragon Teeth months ago because I got a Advance Readers Copy because I’m a librarian, but I’m talking about it now because I’m a bad blogger.
So this is a western, using dinosaur bones as a means of getting me to read a genre I tend to avoid. In fact, this might only be third western I’ve ever read (the other two being Doc by Mary Doria Russell and Appaloosa by Robert B. Parker, both recommended). I can’t say I’m not disappointed by Dragon Teeth, because what I wanted was dinosaur-facts and paleontology. And, to be fair, the cover wants so badly to remind us of Jurassic Park that we can’t be faulted for expecting something else.
But what about this book as it is? It reads like Crichton’s early work, having more in common with The Great Train Robbery than Jurassic Park. This is history brought to life through action and characters that are almost on tour through the world’s events. Our main protagonist, William Johnson, is that classic Crichton non-character, a cipher for the world and ideas the author wants to explore. Johnson is our lead because he has to get to the dinosaur bones, because he has to get to Deadwood, because he has to meet Wyatt Earp. He’s not going down as a great character, but then, which Crichton characters do we remember apart from their movie counterparts? Even Ian Malcolm is more of machine to ramble chaos theory than a living, breathing character.
The action is fine in Dragon Teeth, this isn’t a book of ideas but history and the history never stands out. You miss the depth of research presented in Crichton’s other work, those wonderful paragraphs of information that trick you in to learning.
But we have to be patient with this book. It’s not like Crichton wanted this read. He didn’t submit this to be published. It strikes me that he finished it, decided the Terminal Man and Congo were better and simply moved on from this draft. Reviewing this book feels unfair because what we’re reading is a draft, written by a younger man who learned better from it.
While it’s incredibly sad for me that this will be (most likely) the last book we see published under Crichton’s name, it’s not the best one to go out on. But being a book that was written so early in his career, there’s a nostalgia to it as well. It almost brings all his work full circle, asking us to start all over again.