The Andromeda Evolution – 2/5 Stars
I read the Andromeda Strain for the first time last year and it’s mostly a very good and scary book about the dangers of human technology, human arrogance, and weirdly manliness! For a slim book about a disease potentially wiping humanity, there’s a lot of talk about men being men and having sex with women.
Anyway, while this book is perfectly well-written and an almost hilarious parody of Michael Crichton’s stilted writing, this is a completely defanged thriller. It’s a weird combination of The Andromeda Strain, Annihilation, and Congo, but is less good than any of them, doesn’t ask or answer any new questions, and removes the stakes of the first book by turning something about the excesses of human greed into something entirely outside of humanity, therefore making it impossible, but without couching in the kinds of context needed to make it salient. If good sci-fi is often about exploring extreme versions of things we recognize in ourselves played out without those same limitations, I am not sure what this one is. It’s not wish fulfillment obviously, so maybe nightmare fulfillment? Regardless, it’s hard to be scared by something where all stakes are removed. I am trying to avoid spoilers, and the general appeal of the writing here does make me want to look into more of Daniel Wilson’s book.
I don’t know whose fault this book is. Michael Crichton’s books just kept getting worse over time, so he might have laid out the blueprints for disaster on this one, or Wilson, needing to up the ante, might have done it? I don’t know, but it’s not a successful book.
Eaters of the Dead – 4/5 Stars
I think this book, however, is great. I avoided this one as a kid, saw the dumb movie, didn’t know about Beowulf, and was mostly ok with the swordfighting, but did not understand what was going on. When I tried to read it, I didn’t know enough about the world to make sense of what Crichton was doing in the book.
So the book is written as an academic publication of a narrative by a Middle Eastern courtier on a trip abroad by his caliph. He goes to Turkey, he goes to mainland Europe, and he is supposedly travelling toward Russia, when he is waylaid by a group of Norseman on a trek. He joins there group, more or less learns their language, and joins their mission. The book is presented as a travel narrative, translated and with footnotes by a 20th century scholar. So we’re getting commentary, background, history etc, and we’re explain why the book is more or less without artfulness, but also without artifice (while also being obviously full of artifice).
The book is also Beowulf, told from an outsider and commenter (our narrator). So the plot is quite familiar once he joins with the band of Norseman, stripped bare of the singing and cultural values of the poem, and told in a more or less realistic fiction way (it’s similar, but obviously still quite different from the ways in which Mary Renault myth books work). Anyway, it’s inventive and interesting at the very least, and also quite clear why I couldn’t really understand it or read it as a kid.