Review: “The Andromeda Strain” by Michael Crichton

andromedaThis review is my second review for the Guardian 1000 Books You Must Read challenge. It does not count toward any of the requirements other than the 10 books, since it is also in the Crime section. You can also see all the reviews for this challenge.

In The Andromeda Strain, after a spacecraft crashes to Earth a “biological crisis” ensues and certain Top Secret government protocols are initiated. Can the most brilliant scientists in America prevent disaster?

This book is very short and very easy to read. It only took me three days to blow through it. This is in stark contrast to most of Crichton’s other work that I’ve come into contact with (like, say, Jurassic Park). I think this was mainly an artifact of the abrupt ending; the book could have probably been twice as long as it was, it just sort of ends with a twist instead and leaves you to sort out the pieces.

I was also surprised to find it in the “Crime” section on the list: I would have thought it more science fiction, although I suppose the bulk of the book is CSI-style investigation using fairly realistic science. The only unrealistic science (at least, it seems that way to me) is when Crichton extrapolates the technology he feels the government must have in its secret labs based on what technology was available publicly at the time.

Ths book rubbed me a little bit the wrong way on some things, mainly due to my libertarian sensibilities. Crichton appears to put great confidence in the ability of the government and top scientists in the private community to both make and keep secret scientific discoveries for long periods of time. One such example is a pill that causes all bacteria in your body to die that apparently “cures cancer” though with negative side effects. Another example is the existence of the lab featured in the story itself. I don’t feel the government is competent enough to conceal this kind of information.

Overall this is a book definitely good enough and short enough for everyone to enjoy. The Guardian made a good choice here.

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10 Books in 11 Months

booksLast month, I signed up for The Guardian’s 1000 Novels Challenge, which is to read 10 books off of this list before February 1, 2010 and then blog reviews of the books.

I was supposed to start doing this last month, but I have been catching up on some reading that had been lent to me. I’m hoping to be able to start very soon. I know that many of my 5 readers are book people, so I was going to let you all in on the secret too. I’ve already gotten one friend participating. Maybe I can borrow a book or two from one of you (she offered me “Lolita.”)

Anyway, you should check out the list. I compiled a list of the ones that I have read so far; I tweeted about them already but I thought I would share the list with you. If there’s something on the list that you think I absolutely have to read that isn’t listed here, give me a shout! If you’re my Mom, tell me which of the ones on the list you have and I can borrow!

The ones I’ve read:

Comedy
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

Crime
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Family and Self
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Love
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
My Antonia by Willa Cather
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

Science Fiction and Fantasy
The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick
Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
Neuromancer by William Gibson
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Shining by Stephen King
The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
The Time Machine by HG Wells

State of the Nation
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Animal Farm by George Orwell
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovtich by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

War and Travel
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
The Call of the Wild by Jack London
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Slaughter-House Five by Kurt Vonnegut

I guess we see where my loyalties lie!

I better get reading.

The Nerd’s Dream Cabinet

There has been much talk lately about who Obama will appoint to the U.S. Cabinet. I don’t know enough about the current mix of possible nominees to make predictions or picks, and I’m sure the people he picks will be statists and so I won’t be a fan.

So, I decided to come up with my own list! The rules: the Cabinet is made up of fictional characters, and only one is allowed from each SciFi “universe” (although I play fast and loose with that definition and include characters from, for example, multiple incarnations of Star Trek). Here’s what I came up with:

Position Nominee Rationale Policy Statement Photo
Secretary of State Jean-Luc Picard The best diplomat in the Federation! “Time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. Make it so.”
Secretary of the Treasury Hank McCoy With things being what they are today, we need the smartest we can get. Plus, he’s blue. “As Churchill said, ‘There comes a time when every man must…’ Oh, you get the point!”
Secretary of Defense Bill Adama If he can lead the military of the entire human race, he can definitely do the same for America.  Besides, is there a difference? “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”
Attorney General Nathan Petrelli He’s a lawyer. Are there any other SciFi lawyers? “Only together can we be the stewards of our own destiny.”
Secretary of the Interior Clark Kent If anything bad happens, he can fly fast enough around the world to reverse time and fix it. He needs to be in charge of something American, since that’s what he stands for. “Truth, justice, and the American way.”
Secretary of Agriculture Samuel Beckett He has multiple PhDs, and the best picture I could find of him he was holding a pig. Plus, we need farmboy Clark Kent at Interior. “Oh, boy.”
Secretary of Commerce Quark A small businessman. Also, we need a token Republican. “Greed is the purest, most noble of emotions.”
Secretary of Labor HAL 9000 In the future, all labor will be performed by robots. We need someone who they can identify with. “I know I’ve made some very poor decisions recently, but I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission. And I want to help you.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Stephen Franklin A true doctor’s doctor. “Sometimes you have to heal the family before you can heal the patient.”
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Lando Calrissian The mayor of cloud city has experience in an urban environment. “Here goes nothing.”
Secretary of Transportation Hoban “Wash” Washburne C’mon, he’s Wash! “Like a leaf on the wind…”
Secretary of Energy Tony Stark He built a tiny and safe personal nuclear reactor! “Is it better to be feared or respected? I say, is it too much to ask for both?”
Secretary of Education Clara Clayton We need some more diversity on the team: not enough time travelers. Plus, what other teachers are there in scifi? “Golly!”
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sarah Connor She certainly understands PTSD and the way a soldier thinks. “The unknown future rolls toward us. I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope. Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”
Secretary of Homeland Security Fox Mulder He is the only one who sees the truth that is out there. Aliens. Threatening the homeland. “Sometimes the only sane answer to an insane world is insanity.”

Dystopian Book Club

Some of the guys at work like to joke about being members of the dystopian book club. They compete to see who can come up with the most dystopian books they’ve read that are of a high quality. Just for kicks, I’m listing what I can come up with here:

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four – George Orwell
  • Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • The Time Machine – H. G. Wells
  • Harrison Bergeron – Kurt Vonnegut
  • Neuromancer – William Gibson
  • Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler
  • Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson (?)

As an adjunct, the dystopian movie club:

  • Brazil
  • Blade Runner
  • Equilibrium
  • The Matrix Trilogy
  • Planet of the Apes
  • Children of Men
  • Logan’s Run
  • Escape from New York

A lot of the movies appear to be from the 70’s, which is interesting.

Can you come up with any more off the top of your head? No cheating!