The Invisible Threat

READING IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

Now that Humankind is unwillingly getting used to live surrounded by an invisible threat, a novel written back in 1969 where the “invader from outer space” is equally invisible, equally tiny and not less deadly has the quality of being disturbing and also alluring. The Andromeda Strain was written in an objective, effectual style and developed under such a realistic point of view that many people actually believed the book not to be a fictional account. As a matter of fact, Michael Crichton worked on this novel like an expert forger of documents, reports and tests. He even created a bibliography and made the main narrative look like an account of a real crisis, placing at the forefront a bunch of acknowledgements addressed to some of the characters in the story. The facts and data which the author provides through this mechanism lead across a labyrinth of mysteries and discoveries (the plot) till we get to the ending, which is probably the weakest piece of the whole construction, maybe because it is the least important. What really counts is the way with all its wingdings and the journey with all its stages and inventions.

While the author’s device feeds our curiosity, the scientists inside the Wildfire premises feed data to the computer with the method used at the time: punctured pieces of paper. The novel has the aroma of an old vintage, just like the film directed by Robert Wise and released in 1971. All the visual potential of the book spreads (like a virus) through the images, especially the interior architecture of Wildfire which benefits from the futuristic style of the sixties, that wonderful view of a future that will never be again. Both the film and the novel are beautiful machines were form is subject to function and purpose. Maybe the film is a little superior in this aspect. Maybe Chricton is not on top of literary art, maybe he did not even pretend to make art of any sort; still he was skillful as a writer and some of his works are masterpieces in their own genre. But what genre does The Andromeda Strain belong to?  It is well known that he was the inventor of the so-called techno-thriller, where the usual puzzles found in thrillers are of a technical and scientific sort. So the labyrinth of mysteries and findings is a very special one and has the power of teaching us an interesting thing or two on its way to the next discovery within the plot. This is an added value and dispels the risk of the general artifact (the novel) being too light, too directed to pure entertainment (which would actually be a little boring). But genres are arbitrary classifications that highlight qualities present in books so that by producing a quick tag potential readers can know what they may expect. The Andromeda Strain is a thriller and also a sci-fi narrative which brings into view auto destructive forces lying behind certain lines of investigation, the ambition of the powers of this world working to achieve even greater power by setting aside moral considerations. It is Humankind messing with risks it should avoid, like when we force our way into the last largely intact ecosystems and hunt species we had not had contact with, raising the possibility of being infected with lethal viruses. At the time when The Andromeda Strain was written it was quite original to highlight a threat of a biological origin instead of the nuclear doom everybody feared. In the novel, the scientists in the Wildfire crew learn that the interest towards their project which secured funds and resources was not of an innocent kind. And we, readers, learn that maybe the microorganism they have to deal with has its origin on Earth, and, being transported into space, has evolved as a totally different thing (one that should be feared). The author does not give only one explanation to the existence of the Andromeda Strain, but several. These are hypothesis which the scientists in the novel do not have time to prove or dismiss. The reader can choose the one that fits him best. After all, this is a work of fiction, one that is useful not only for escaping our everyday life but also to set our eyes on some questions that we can think over afterwards.

As of October 2019, the US Space Surveillance Network reported nearly 20,000 artificial objects in orbit above the Earth,[7] including 2,218 operational satellites.[8] However, these are just the objects large enough to be tracked. As of January 2019, more than 128 million pieces of debris smaller than 1 cm (0.4 in), about 900,000 pieces of debris 1–10 cm, and around 34,000 of pieces larger than 10 cm were estimated to be in orbit around the Earth.[9] When the smallest objects of human-made space debris (paint flecks, solid rocket exhaust particles, etc.) are grouped with micrometeoroids, they are together sometimes referred to by space agencies as MMOD (Micrometeoroid and Orbital Debris). Collisions with debris have become a hazard to spacecraft. [Wikipedia]

Published by Mary Wolfhouse

Writer and freelance journalist. Mary Wolfhouse is a pen name and also an Internet avatar.

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