Friday, May 29, 2015

Sphere by Michael Crichton

Title: Sphere
Author: Michael Crichton
Publisher: Knopf  (1987)

In a few short hours I will be wending my way back to the US for the first time in over two years. I'll even be sharing the coast with Michael, albeit much farther north. To wax a little poetic, reading Sphere was a trip back, as well. I'm pretty sure I read this for the first time in high school and, though I read it more than once, it's still been quite some years since I perused the pages of this novel. I enjoyed the re-visit as I'm sure I'll enjoy re-visiting the other Crichton novel on our list this year.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 

Click here for Michael's film review of Sphere
at It Rains... You Get Wet

Norman, a psychologist, gets a call in the middle of the night to respond to what he assumes is a crash site. After being ferried to somewhere in the Pacific, he quickly realizes it's not a typical crash. At the site, he meets with the other members of the team to discover they have been called to join the investigation of an unidentified craft buried beneath several feet of coral.

Norman is the last to arrive but quickly surmises that the team assembled was one of his making. Years ago, he'd been asked by the US government to create a report regarding contact with alien life forms. It was an easy money job and he scouted a team that would be appropriate (according to his made up parameters, cuz you know, aliens!). It becomes apparent that he's now a part of that team and they are about to relocate to an underwater habitat to investigate the craft.

Naval Captain Hal Barnes heads the team of 4 and the habitat support crew. Not long after gaining the ocean floor, they are able to enter the spaceship. It's here that they encounter the sphere. The mathematician eventually works out how to enter the sphere and the team makes first contact. "Jerry" is not exactly what one might expect from an alien.

I must admit I'm a sucker for Crichton's formula. I'd say up through The Lost World I lapped up his work with avid, page-turning glee. His plots were fun, his science was always topical - the gadgets just pushing the edge of believability - and his characters were usually hard workers just trying to figure things out. What's not to love?

Sphere combines all these great elements with a heavy dose of psychology. (And giant squid, can't forget to mention those!) I did, at times, find Norman's assessments tedious (and, on the whole, the characters are all just a bit too typical, too on the nose as archetypes) but it was undeniably an essential part of the first contact theme of high stress and how that affects group dynamics.

"How much memory have you got?"
"Fair amount. Ten giga, something like that."

While the nature of Crichton's work necessarily dates it, his books do have a certain timelessness to them. I think it's that his plots can be inserted into any time, and hardworking folk trying to solve a problem almost never goes out of style. Also, they're easy to read page turners that make you feel smart while you're enjoying yourself.

I definitely recommend this one to anyone with an interest in scifi or techno-thrillers. And that little smile on the last page is just a killer way to end this one.  

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
The Shining by Stephen King


  1. Can't disagree with any of your assessment for this Crichton novel, Rachel. Didn't read it when it first came out, but did for this. Good stuff, what we read Crichton exactly for. I don't put it in his top-tier, but it was an easy, entertaining read. Glad you picked as it gave me a chance to catch up to it, finally. Oy, then there's that movie…

    Thanks, Rachel!

  2. I never put this one in the top tier either but definitely a satisfying plane or beach read. :) Glad you enjoyed giving it a read after all these years. Yeah, the movie... well. Not everything translates well to the screen, does it?