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Book Review: The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Red book coverSummary:
The US government is searching for new biological weapons by sending satellites into the edges of the atmosphere to collect bacteria strains that may exist there but not on earth.  Due to concerns of contamination on reentry, an emergency team called Wildfire is created as a contingency plan.  When a satellite crashes in the Arizona desert, grotesquely killing all but two residents of a small town, the team of scientists is put to the test in a race to protect humanity.

Review:
An up-front confession: Michael Crichton is one of my favorite authors.  I love how realistic his science is, and he writes suspense quite well.  I was therefore excited to read his first book.  Unfortunately, Andromeda Strain did not live up to these expectations.

The suspense is killed right off the bat with the narration style.  The story is told as if it is a report being written up by someone after the event.  This means that we not only know that some of humanity survives this impending doom, but that society is still held together enough to want a report.  If I’m sure that everything is going to turn out hunky dory in the end, I’m just not going to be all that concerned throughout the book.  Similarly, the characters aren’t fleshed out as well as in later books.  They are basically their careers.  Here’s the bacteriologist.  Here’s the professor.  here’s the surgeon.  They don’t come across as real, rounded people, so I completely failed to care about them at all.  This isn’t good for suspense, because if I don’t care about the characters, I’m not going to worry about them too much.

Crichton’s ability to set a scene shines through well in this book, however.  Wildfire’s underground station is vividly imagined, as is the scene at the small town in Arizona.  It was simultaneously gruesome and exciting.  Similarly, his ability to weave real science into a fake scenario is carried off flawlessly here.  The glimmers of the writing that would later appear in Jurassic Park and Prey is clear.

Speaking of the science, Andromeda Strain doesn’t age well.  An entire page is devoted to explaining binary like it’s this huge complicated thing, which it isn’t to anyone who grew up with computers.  Indeed, a lot of the book is devoted to explaining the huge computer in Wildfire’s base.  Unlike biological science, in which the basics stay the same, technology changes rapidly.  I don’t think it’s a wise choice to focus on in a scientific thriller, unless you are projecting plausible possibilities in technology in the future.  Or super awesome possible technology the government may already have.  Crichton does this really well in Prey, which is all about nanotechnology.  Science horror needs to take me into a world that is a bit more awesome than my own, not lamer.  Thankfully, Crichton figured this out in his later books.

If you’re a Michael Crichton fan, The Andromeda Strain is worth the read to see where he started.  If you’re new to him though, I’d recommend starting with some of his later books such as Jurassic Park or Prey.

2.5 out of 5 stars

Source: Bought at Violet’s Book Exchange

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Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

February 9, 2010 2 comments

Two green faces looking at each other.Summary:
Elizabeth wakes up one morning to discover her boyfriend, Jeffrey, being distant and acting odd.  She nearly immediately intuitively senses that this man is not Jeffrey.  The only people to believe her are her boss, Matt, and an author and his wife.  Together the four of them struggle against the nearly invisible alien invasion of a type of plant that morphs human bodies in with their own personalities, thereby replacing the humans.

Review:
This is a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name.  I was told you don’t need to watch the 1956 version first, but now I’m not so sure.  A lot of the story just didn’t make any sense, and I’m wondering if those are plot points that were better addressed in the 1956 version.  For instance, what makes someone at risk to become an alien hybrid?  We know that the aliens came into Elizabeth’s household on a flower, yet her boyfriend morphs overnight whereas she does not.  Why?  Similarly, a process is started by the aliens and at some point it becomes dangerous for that person to sleep, for when they sleep, the metamorphosis completes.  Why isn’t everyone transforming in their sleep?  At what point is it dangerous to sleep?  Why does sleep complete the metamorphosis?  For that matter, why do the aliens duplicate the humans’ dna in a pod?  Why don’t they just invade the body and combine dna that way?  Why does the person’s body disappear when the pod is complete?  Why have they come to earth?  And for the love of god, why do they make that horrible screeching noise?  I’m pretty sure plants don’t generally make noise.  Obviously, this movie left me with a lot of questions and not many answers, and that’s something I don’t tolerate well from my scifi movies.  If you’re going to do scifi, do it well.  Build a world that is not our own but still makes sense!  It ruins the experience for me if I’m continually yanked out of that world by my brain going, “Wait…..what?!”

On the other hand, the special effects are really good for the 1970s.  The opening with the alien life wafting around space is impressive and reminded me of cgi.  The pods are simultaneously realistic-looking and grotesque.  Whatever noise they recorded for the aliens screeching is truly spine-chilling.

Two items of note.  The first is that you get to see Jeff Goldblum of Jurassic Park in another brainy, geek role, which is fun.  Also, there’s some brief nudity, which is always fun in a movie when it’s not in the context of awkward, obviously not really happening sex.

If you like scifi you won’t regret watching this movie.  Just be sure to have something to do while you watch it–like knitting, or a game of Clue–to keep your mind off of the glaring plot holes and unanswered questions.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Netflix

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2009 Reading Summary

December 29, 2009 15 comments

At some point (oh, about two or three weeks in), this blog that started out as a purely opinions blog (with a focus on libraries) turned into an about 50% book blog.  This really shouldn’t have surprised me.  I mean a librarian with a blog about opinions is going to *gasp* review books?  Say it ain’t so.

Being the reading freak that I am, I keep track of the books that I read over on LibraryThing.  I just finished a book, and I doubt I’ll finish another one in 2009, so without further ado, here are my reading stats for 2009.

Total Books Read: 52
Average Books Per Month: 4.33
Month Most Read: August with 10 (The only month I didn’t have school? Surprise, surprise).
Month Least Read: January with 1 (I was really sick).
Fiction: 47
Nonfiction: 5
Genres (some books counted as multiple genres):
–Scifi: 12
–Romance: 12 (This really surprised me!)
–Dystopian: 10
–Horror: 8
–YA: 8
–Classics: 5 (Pleasantly surprised by this).
–Historical: 4
–Memoir: 3
–Contemporary: 3
5 Star Reads:
–The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, review
–Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
–The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams
Honorable Mention with 4.5 Stars:
–Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Read and Reviewed on This Blog: 27

I’m not the type to set goals for myself with reading, since I do it for fun.  However, I will try to work in a few more nonfiction books as I’m a big believer in life-long learning.  I do think this is a bit skewed since a lot of my nonfiction reading is in the form of current scholarly journals as opposed to books.  I also think a book a week is a good pace for reading to still be enjoyable, but also not a neglected hobby.  We’ll see if I naturally speed up or slow down next year.  If you guys have any suggestions as far as specific books or genres for me to try in 2010, I welcome them!