When Daniel H. Wilson first read “The Andromeda Strain,” Michael Crichton’s account of “a five-day history of a major American scientific crisis,” he was convinced much of what he was reading was absolutely true.
“There were all these quotations from books and technical papers, so many specific citations from sources,” Wilson said. “And none of it was true. It was all a product of Michael Crichton’s incredible imagination.”
Published in 1969, “The Andromeda Strain,” about a group of scientists racing against the clock to understand and neutralize a deadly micro-organism brought to Earth by a falling satellite, became a best-seller and launched Crichton’s career as a novelist.
Now, to mark the book’s 50th anniversary, Wilson, a Tulsa native and member of the Cherokee Nation who is the author of such technologically-fueled thrillers “Robopocalypse” and “Robogenesis,” has written a sequel, “The Andromeda Evolution” (HarperCollins, $29.99), which will officially go on sale Tuesday, Nov. 12.
Set in the present day, “The Andromeda Evolution” begins when a terrain-mapping drone flying over the Brazilian rain forest picks up an anomaly — a distinctly alien form in the depths of a near-impenetrable jungle that has the characteristics of the deadly Andromeda microbe that wiped out an entire Arizona town 50 years previously.
An international team of scientists is dispatched to the area — one of whom, the roboticist James Stone, is the son of one of the scientists who battled the original Andromeda strain — where they are led by a soldier in charge of a company of native fighters and porters deeper into the jungle.
But it does not take long before the group realizes that their high-powered weapons and sophisticated technology are no match against the natural and alien threats they must face.
The project came about because Sheri Crichton, the author’s widow and CEO of CrichtonSun LLC, wanted to make sure that Crichton’s work would continue to reach new audiences.
“His work is so significant, and has had such an impact on so many levels,” Crichton said, “and it’s always been my passion to make sure Michael’s name continues to echo through new generations.
“I also want to celebrate what made Michael take up writing as his true profession,” she said.
Michael Crichton began publishing novels under pseudonyms while attending Harvard Medical School. Most were written under the name “John Lange”; one book, “A Case of Need,” which was credited to “Jeffrey Hudson,” would win the Edgar Award for Best Novel the year before he published “The Andromeda Strain,” the first book for which Crichton used his true name.
Since then, Crichton published a series of best-selling books before his death in 2008, including “The Terminal Man,” “The Great Train Robbery,” “Sphere,” “Rising Sun,” “Disclosure” and “Jurassic Park,” as well as writing and directing such films as “Westworld,” “Coma” and “Looker.”
Sheri Crichton said that she originally shied away from commissioning a sequel, saying, “It was going to have to be a matter of the stars aligning to find the right person to go down this path with us.
“And when Daniel came in with such great ideas, and because he was such an easy person to work with, we realize we had what it would take be make something incredible,” she said. “It was important for this book not to be just a sequel, but a true stand-alone novel.”
For Wilson, following in Michael Crichton’s literary footsteps into the world of “Andromeda” is something of dream come true.
“Michael Crichton is there in the pantheon of greats,” he said. “I’m drawn to the more science-fiction side of his work, and ‘The Andromeda Strain’ is the pinnacle of that for me. I remember going to the Three B’s used bookstore and getting an armload of his books, because he’s one of those writers that, when you read one of his books, you want to read them all.”
One of the advantages of writing a sequel to “The Andromeda Strain,” Wilson said, is that the world Crichton created is incredibly rich with possibilities.
“A lot is left literally up in the air in the original,” he said. “This was a chance to enter that world and open it up, and maybe answer some questions that hadn’t been answered before.”
Wilson immersed himself in Crichton’s work to be able to capture the tone of his work, and he worked to incorporate elements of the original, such as transcripts, footnotes and other official-looking items, to continue the illusion of reality.
“When Michael Crichton wrote his book, he didn’t have to worry about this thing called the Internet,” Wilson said. “So I had to bury some of the mythology within real news items. The Chinese space station, Tiangong-1, which plays a part in the story, is a real thing. It was fun to have the opportunity mingle fact and fiction to evoke that sense of awe and wonder the original novel had.”
But Wilson also includes elements that reflect his own views on science, technology, and storytelling.
“I wanted to make sure it had a diverse cast, and I wanted to get the story out of the United States,” he said. “And I liked the contrast of having people bringing the highest level of technology into the raw, primitive jungle, and see how that would work.
“I also wanted to set in the Brazilian jungle to include the uncontacted tribes who live there,” Wilson said. “The idea is that these people are primitive, but I don’t agree with that. I wanted to put them up against these scientists to show that in essence they aren’t different. Curiosity is curiosity, and people are people.”