Michael Crichton


Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (1999).

Michael Crichton is the author of "Jurassic Park", and "Sphere" is another of his science fiction stories. The US Navy has discovered a huge space craft on the floor of the Pacific Ocean; it is covered with coral and this implies that it has been there for at least 300 years. A group of four scientists is sent down to investigate. One is a psychologist and the events are all seen through his eyes; the others are an astrophysicist, a zoologist, and a mathematician. More or less inevitably, one of the team (the zoologist) is a woman and one (the mathematician) is black.

The team gets inside the spaceship, which turns out to be from the future and of American manufacture, which helps the author to avoid a lot of sticky linguistic problems. Inside they discover a mysterious sphere, which at first they are unable to enter; later, the mathematician does so and emerges after some hours apparently intact. Now messages from the sphere start to appear on the computer screen in the team's underwater habitat; at first friendly in tone although oddly childish, these communications become increasingly threatening and hostile and this trend culminates in an attack on the habitat by a giant squid, apparently guided or even generated by the sphere. There is a cyclone raging at the surface so no one can leave, and it seems inevitable that everyone will be killed. Most of the story is concerned with the characters' attempts to escape from their predicament.

The book makes a valiant attempt to combine adventure, science fiction, psychology, parapsychology and various other themes into a thrilling mixture, but it didn't work very well for me. The psychologist's theoretical stance seemed to me frankly incredible; it was a curious blend of modern academic psychology and Jungian ideas of the shadow. In fact, I found all the characters uninteresting and unconvincing; this is of course quite common in science fiction, but in this case the deficit wasn't compensated for by the science; there were too many loose ends. In particular, we never discover what the sphere really is or where it came from. Perhaps this is supposed to add to the mystery and magic of the situation, but I was left with the uncomfortable feeling that the reason this question was left unresolved was that the author didn't know the answer himself. Pseudo-profundity is the keynote of this book.

All in all, Sphere is adequate to while away a plane journey; it holds the attention, just, but as science fiction it barely rates C minus.

%T Sphere
%A Michael Crichton
%I Pan Books
%C London, Basingstoke and Oxford
%D 1987
%G ISBN 0 330 30127 6
%P 500 pp
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