“You will go mad,” he cackled.

Descent into Madness

An Introduction by Michael Crichton

Since I like quotes almost as much as I like sex (and, with both, qualified upon the people involved), let me open this with the introduction from Michael Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, which is eerie in its appropriateness:

These documents recount the five-day history of a major American crisis.

As in most crises, the surrounding events were a compound of foresight and foolishness, innocence and ignorance. Nearly everyone involved had moments of great brilliance, and moments of unaccountable stupidity. It is therefore impossible to write about the events without offending some of the participants.

However, I think it is important that the story be told…

An Offer He Couldn’t Refuse…

In December 1995, I accepted a position with a relatively-unknown consulting firm in New Jersey. But I had reservations about this job.

For one, it was in New Jersey. Don’t get me wrong: I used to live in New Jersey, and I liked it. I still like New Jersey, but I can’t live there. In fact, I often defend New Jersey, telling people that only a third of the state is a SuperFund site, and having pincers instead of hands is often an advantage for children in school. Oh, and just in case you haven’t noticed, I have more to say about New Jersey.

The other reservation was that it was a consulting company. I have great distrust for consultants, having (a) known many, and (b) been one. If you have had any contacts with consultants before, you know that they don’t know as much as they pretend (because nobody hires an unexperienced consultant) and they care less about the success of your project than your company’s competitors (because they won’t be around when it hits the fan; also, they can be called back to “fix” things).

The Horror is Revealed

If you haven’t guessed by now, I am an Optimist. And because I am an Optimist, I ignored the above warning signs and went to New Jersey. (If you wanted to read more about New Jersey, you missed your chance.) Within a day, I realized my mistake. I began to send out letters to my friends. The first two were rather dull:

Day 1:
This is boring.
Day 2:
This sucks more than a chest wound. I need to rewrite my résumé. Which is the better adjective: “rabidly anti-Microsoft” or “violently anti-Microsoft”?

On Day 3, I became a little more animated, and began writing a series of short tales aptly titled, “Descent into Madness.” Day 3 covered the boredom one experiences while waiting for an assignment. Day 4 covered the fury one feels while waiting for news about an assignment in San Jose, and a short side trip into the mysterious world of I Ching showed why one should not take side trips into the mysterious world of I Ching. On Day 5, I was reeling from the horror of being assigned to Jacksonville, Florida, and made the mistake of discussing it over the phone. And that’s the end of the story.


Or was it? What about the mysterious package I found in the Jacksonville Airport, leading to a terrifying bare-handed climb up a glass-fronted skyscraper to rescue thirteen crippled children before they were consumed by a raging inferno? And what about the beautiful secretary with whom I made passionate (albeit hurried) love under the red-hot streaks of the tracer bullets the night they strafed Florida? Is there not more…?

The Andromeda Strain is a very good book.*

*Since saying “a very good book” constitues a review, I can use the extended passage above, as copyright law allows the use of passages in reviews and critical articles. So there.