This is both a very solid science fiction novel and an utterly ridiculous example of bad science fiction (and bad fiction) habits of the 1960s and 1970s. So the bad habits here is this bizarre attention paid to sexuality and gender in a book in which the sheer finite numbers of hours could prove to be the difference between humanity’s survival and its destruction is so silly and distracting it’s almost embarrassing for the book. So the book is about a satellite whose mission has been to collection space particles and small debris in order to possibly harvest organic material from outside of Earth’s atmosphere. In part this is to advance science, but mostly it’s to hopefully collect material that could be used for a biological weapon. The satellite has returned and in the process of retrieving it, it’s discovered that the small town in Nevada where it landed there’s been an extremely alarming catastrophic event.
So the book then kicks into overdrive as we gather the teams of doctors and scientists and military men who must determine the extent and nature of the danger involved. We get a very cinematic and almost documentary set of details and visuals about the secure facility, the procedure for investigating the material/virus, and all the action of the book. It’s clearly a book Michael Crichton wrote in order to sell as a film (something he’s been known to do), and it works on all those levels.
For whatever reason it’s also important for us to know that one of the men is SO MUCH A MAN (with a brain) that he can’t hold down a marriage (he’s 40 and on his third) and there’s a bizarre thread in the book in which another of the doctors keeps finding himself kind of attracted to the female voice of the alarm clock.