On a whim, I rewatched The Andromeda Strain last night—the old, 1970s version rather than the 2008 remake from Ridley Scott, both based on the 1969 novel by Michael Crichton.

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Was there ever a popular writer more in love with the gadgets of science—and more suspicious of science itself, or, at least, of scientists? Plenty of science fiction and fantasy has been mistrustful of science. Just among the classics, there’s Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein , and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World , and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau .

For that matter, plenty of regular pop fiction feels the same mistrust: If you ever can’t figure out who did it in an Agatha Christie murder mystery , guess that it was the most prominent doctor or scientist in the story, and you’ll probably be right.

But in novel after novel, Michael Crichton somehow managed to combine the cheering on science and the ginning up of terror at that same science. Notice, for example, in The Andromeda Strain , how the scientists and technicians are always wrong. The worst effects of their arrogance are avoided only by the intervention of accidents too mundane for them to notice. But, oh, they have such cool toys.

An odd combination, isn’t it? And it took a kind of literary genius, in a minor vein, to pull it off so consistently.

Articles by Joseph Bottum

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