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KEY LITERARY ELEMENTS
The action starts out in the small town of Piedmont Arizona, which has been decimated by an unknown bacterium. Afterwards, the scene shifts to an underground government laboratory in Flat rock Nevada.
The rest of the story takes place here as scientists try to unlock the mystery of the Andromeda strain. Because the story takes place in the late sixties, it is influenced by several aspects from the Cold War, including the ramifications of using nuclear weapons and the anti-military attitudes that were coming during the American involvement in Vietnam.
LIST OF CHARACTERS
Dr. Jeremy Stone
Dr. Stone is a Nobel prize-winning scientist and the acknowledged leader of the Project Wildfire team. In 1963, Stone wrote a letter to the President concerning the possibility of alien bacteria infecting earth aboard returning American satellites. Based on his ideas, the government organized a protocol for disinfecting all men and equipment returning from space. Stone also formed a committee that submitted a Life Analysis Protocol, which detailed the way any living thing could be studied. This protocol resulted in the construction of the Project Wildfire facility in Flatrock, Nevada. When the lab was completed and a group of five scientists needed to be selected to study new organisms, Stone was an obvious choice. Although he is pleased to see the government adopt his ideas, he does not realize that he is being used in the hopes that he can help the military advance its development of biological weapons.
Dr. Mark Hall
Of all the Wildfire scientists, Dr. Hall pays it the least amount of attention. He agreed to join the team in 1966 when approached by Leavitt, but did not follow the updates he was given and doubted anything would ever come of the project. His inattention to the details annoyed Leavitt, and Stone felt that Hallís surgical abilities would be of little if any help at the facility. In actuality, Hall had not been Stoneís first choice, but was brought on in a compromise with army officials. He was the last person notified of the incident at Piedmont and the least well informed about the Flatrock installation. Much of what the reader learns about Project Wildfire comes from explanations designed to get Dr. Hall up to speed.
Dr. Charles Burton
A fifty-four year old pathologist and professor at Baylor medical school. He made his reputation working on various strains of the staphylococcus virus before eventually being brought on to the project. Burton has a brilliant mind, but is rather lackluster as a physical specimen. Stone is constantly annoyed with his sloppy and unkempt appearance. While working in the pathology lab he makes a series of critical mistakes, which delay the discovery of Andromedaís nature.
Dr. Peter Leavitt
A clinical microbiologist trained to treat infectious disease. He has seen enough plagues and epidemics to know the importance of quick action. Leavitt recruited Hall to the project in 1966, while they were working at the same hospital - Leavitt was the Chief of Bacteriology. Although Stone has the most confidence in him, Leavitt ultimately proves the most unreliable of the team members. He fails to disclose his history of epileptic seizures brought on by flashing lights. During the climax of the novel, when the bacterium is spreading throughout the Wildfire facility, Leavitt is incapacitated by seizures and spends the remainder of the novel in the infirmary.
Major Mancek is the army officer in charge of recovering the "Scoop" satellite. He makes the decision to call in the wildfire team to the Flat Rock facility in Nevada. Mancek has the ability to think clearly in a crisis, which is why heís in charge of this operation. He also gets called to investigate the crash of a Phantom jet that goes off course and flies through Piedmont airspace. Even though he oversees the Wildfire project he has no direct contact with the four scientists in Nevada.
The old man from Piedmont, that seems so mysterious at first, turns out to be the key to unlocking the Andromeda mystery. Stone and Burton transport Jackson as only one of two survivors to the Wildfire facility where Hall studies him overall the next few days. Jackson has a chronic bleeding ulcer, which he treats by downing a bottle of aspirin a day and following it up with Sterno. This makes his blood extremely acidic and helps him survive through the Andromeda Strain contamination. Jackson helps identify the baby survivor and recounts what happened in Piedmont on the night the satellite landed.
The Head of the Presidentís Science Advisory committee in Houston. Robertson serves as a liaison between the White House and the scientists working on Project Wildfire. Stone blames the Presidentís initial refusal to drop a bomb on Piedmont on Robertson, saying that heís not doing his job. When the telex printer malfunctions, Robertson is their only link to the outside world. He informs the Wildfire team about the Phantom crash in Utah.
An Arizona highway patrolman who happens to drive through Piedmont as the bacteria is spreading. Because of his diabetes, his blood was too acidic to coagulate completely, and so Andromeda started to eat away at his brain tissue. Willis went insane and shot several customers at a highway diner before turning the gun on himself.
The medical officer for the Arizona highway patrol west of Flagstaff. Dr. Hall calls him to get Officer Willisí medical history and whereabouts on the night the satellite landed in Piedmont. After their conversation, Hall has him arrested by military authorities on order to prevent the spread of rumors concerning Piedmont.