The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H Wilson.
It’s 50 years since the alien virus known as The Andromeda Strain almost wiped out humanity when it emerged in a remote US town. Although the particular type of virus was believed destroyed at the time, a mutation escaped into the atmosphere. This variant upon the original is not dangerous to human physiology, but does attack plastics, effectively making it much more difficult to build space-going vehicles. Humanity abides.
This contains spoilers.
In a remote monitoring station in Brazilian Amazonia the scanners see something that should not be there. An unusual anomaly has sprouted up from the jungle in one of the most inaccessible areas there is. The only people who move through that part of the forest are uncontacted tribes, so data is scarce. But fear not, for the US government, guardians of the universe, have made plans for exactly such an eventuality. Cue Project Wildfire and its team of experts.
Nidhi Vedala is team leader. She’s 42, Indian and an expert on nano-techology and materials. She’s a feisty gal. Harold Odhiambo is 68 and from Kenya. His speciality is xenogeology with a helping of anthropology thrown in for good measure. Peng Wu is a 37 years old Major with the Chinese Air Force. Peng Wu is a Taikonaut, pathologist and soldier with medical training. Zachary Gordon (no relation to Flash, but also attempting to save the Earth) is 28 and a US Army, Ranger Elite, Sergeant. It’s his job to keep the team safe. Sophie Kline is 32 and an expert in the Andromeda strains known as AS-1 and AS-2. Kline is a paraplegic currently based in the International Space Station (ISS). She is well-versed in nano-robotics and nano-technology as well. Finally, we have the last member of the team and a man who was a last minute inclusion; James Stone is a roboticist of some renown. He’s also the son of Jeremy Stone, the scientist who fought the original Andromeda Strain 50 years previously. James’ addition to the team does not find favour with everyone as he is about to find out.
When the team first meet, it’s in the deepest Amazon, 30 miles from the anomaly. They find that they have a number of tribal guides to lead them close to ground zero and to help with all of their bulky equipment. But it’s not easy going and they struggle to make headway as you would expect. A freaky occurrence has the entire group spooked. They encounter a mass of monkey skulls, skinned and bloody, left in an apparent warning to the team; Go no further.
But Project Wildfire cares little for dead monkey heads and so they push on until, that is, they run into those who left the heads. A fight ensues, guns against arrows and darts. It’s a massacre with guides dying alongside all of the attackers, who turnout to be members of an as yet uncontacted tribe. But not every person in that tribe dies. A boy, who eventually identifies himself as Tupa, is watching from the trees.
With the miracle of modern technology, James Stone is able to access linguistic data-banks and, using his robotic canaries (yes, you read that correctly), he is able to conduct a rudimentary conversation with Tupa. It seems that the dead tribesmen were all from Tupa’s village and some were his family. The boy is understandably distraught. He tells James about how there was a massive explosion and the men of the tribe went to see what had happened. They found the anomaly, a black monolith that had grown up quickly in the jungle. Approaching it they found that it could be utilised as blades for their axes much superior to those they already had. But Tupa claimed that the rocks made the men sick. They behaved strangely and very aggressively, hence the monkey heads. It’s valuable insight for the team. They push onward.
When they eventually reach the ominous black monstrosity, they discover that it’s still growing. They also realise that it’s consuming all organic matter in the vicinity to fuel the growth. They find a tunnel into it and, being the adventurous sort, decide that they must explore. Tupa is ordered to remain behind but, boys being boys, he sneaks after them. It’s a good thing he does too, for Tupa is smarter than the team think.
Meanwhile, back at the ISS, Sophie Kline has decided to go bananas, or perhaps always was bananas but no one noticed. Sophie turns out to have a Messianic Complex as she puts her long-term plan into full effect. You see, folks, Sophie has found a way to manipulate both of the AS strains. She has engineered the Amazonian growth with a view to turning it into the base station for an earth-to-space elevator. She has also designed a variant of the virus that will provide the cord that links the planet to the ISS. What a premise for a novel.
Within the black AS mountain, the team are being whittled down in number. They meet their maker in a number of gruesome ways. Soon only Stone (good strong name that for an action hero, unless he’s from Belfast in which case he’s a serial killer), Vedala and Tupa remain alive. But for how much longer, that’s the question. You no doubt wait with baited breath…
This is an awful book. OK, it has all the elements for a good sci-fi thriller. The character list is impressive and the personalities strong. The setting is great. It is building upon an already establish and lauded story. But it’s so over-the-top as to be laughable. Stone and Vedala, for example, jury-rig the elevator and then take it up to space, all the way to the ISS. Once there, they have to avoid the latest AS strain, one which Sophie Kline didn’t foresee. This newest variant combines both AS-1 and AS-2 and is hungrily consuming the entire space station. Out two intrepid heroes must avoid all contact with it as Kline tries to kill them with a robotic arm. James Stone can do it but James Bond would absolutely shit himself and crumble. But then again, Bond’s English, ain’t he guv’nor. Turns out Stone has immunity to the virus, as he was the child who survived the first incident 50 years previously. It seems no one either knew, or cared enough to run a few tests to develop a vaccine. Too busy building weapons of mass destruction instead, so that Iraqi, Venezuelan and Syrian oil could be stolen for the benefit of the ruling US elite, small in number as they are.
Tupa, (you remember the distraught tribal boy?), is still inside the AS anomaly where our two heroes abandoned him. First his family all die horribly, and then the people who befriend him leave him inside an alien growth as they throw themselves into a deathly battle. They don’t even notify command about the boy’s circumstances. What a couple of wankers. Of course all’s well that ends well. Vedala and Stone survive and adopt Tupa who exchanges his leafy underwear for a pair of Levis and gets a starring role in the latest Hollywood blockbuster. He also appears on Oprah to talk about his ordeal as the Queen of chat-shows tries not to patronise him to death. Oh fuck me pink. Someone needs to mount a rescue mission to save Tupa.
This story was written with the permission of the Michael Crichton estate. Crichton expired in 2008 at the age of 66. It was young for someone with his resources and access to medical treatment. The world of literature lost a great mind. Sadly, his legacy is not being helped by allowing a story premise to be degraded in this way. The Andromeda Evolution is a terrible extension to the original. It could have been great. Alien virus? Mutations? The entire planet as a setting? Should have been wonderful. Disappointing. Very disappointing. Rebel Voice did not enjoy this book (in case you haven’t noticed).
Sult scale rating: 3 out of 10. The Andromeda Strain was a good book, well written and ahead of its time. The Andromeda Evolution is a wash-out as a sequel. The premise of this story is as stretched as the alien ribbon in it that reaches to earth from the International Space Station. The ribbon was cut and destroyed. It’s a pity no one thought to do the same for this book at manuscript stage. Avoid like an alien plague.
Enjoyed this? Why not share?