Sphere by Michael Crichton

Crichton, Michael. (2011, 1987). Sphere. Ballantine Books; New York.

My all-time favorite Michael Crichton novel is Timeline, a story about a group of history researchers who travel back in time. Sphere shares some of the same themes as Timeline – time travel is involved, along with a strong dash of psychological tension between team members. Combining technical details, psychological pressures, and intense bouts of action is what Michael excels at; his other novels are similarly action-packed (e.g. The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Congo, Airframe) (Wikipedia article; About Michael Crichton, 2014).

Sphere begins with a group of scientists being transported by U.S. Navy personnel into a mysterious deep sea habitat at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (Wikipedia article). The U.S. government believes that they have found an alien vessel, in the shape of a spherical object the size of a house, covered in coral at the bottom of the ocean. Norman Johnson is the novel’s protagonist. He is a psychologist and professor who had previously been pressured into a writing a report on alien contact for the U.S. government.  This experience and his security clearance means that he joins the team despite his advanced age and health concerns.

There is a lot of uncertainty, at first, about what the sphere does and how it is affecting the team’s experience at the bottom of the ocean. Bizarre sea creatures begin to appear out of nowhere, and a giant squid attacks the habitat. Most of the crew members are killed during these attacks. Norman slowly begins to unravel the mystery of the sphere as the tension mounts and the remaining team member’s unacknowledged ‘mental dark side’ comes to the fore.

I enjoyed the novel once the purpose of the sphere became obvious – until that mystery began to resolve itself, it all felt a little far-fetched (particularly the giant squid). Michael was deeply interested in the unexplained powers of the human mind, and these elements of the novel were also of great interest to me. Although now deceased, Michael had a long and diverse career in which he worked as a Medical Doctor (MD), researcher of public policy, computer modeller, writer, and filmmaker (About Michael Crichton, 2014). All of Michael’s books are engaging, easy to read, and hint at the broader theories embedded in his various occupations.

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