by Michael Crichton
Reviewed by JMD Reid
Norman Johnson is a psychologist specialized in how stress affects group dynamics. He is often called out by the FAA to help survivors of plane crashes and their families deal with the aftermath. So when he’s escorted by the US Navy out to the South Pacific he assumes a plane has crashed into the ocean.
It turns out to be something far stranger.
Once upon a time, a younger Norman, desperate for grant money, wrote a report for the government about how to handle first contact with alien intelligence. He said abject terror would be the result when humans were confronted with the unknown. Now, he is about to put his hypothesis to the test. A thousand feet beneath the ocean, something has been found. A craft that has been down there for at least 300 years.
A team of scientists, recommended by Norman, and a group of navy personal are tasked with uncovering what is and, if anything is alive, how to communicate with it. Staying in cramped quarters, surrounded by the crushing depths of the sea where a small mistake could get them all killed, the pressures are incredible. Can Norman keep the group functional when the discover the Sphere lurking in the heart of the craft?
Crichton’s Sphere is an interesting take on the first contact with aliens story. It’s told from the psychologist point of view and it delves into many aspects of emotional reactions and Jungian’s theory of the shadow self. Personalities conflict and clash. The unknown lurks around them, affecting them all as they struggle to understand just what they have discovered.
And that’s before things start going weird. Cricton goes a great job setting up the mystery and how it affects the characters. The answers for the story are found if you read carefully. But that’s not what the story is truly about. It’s about how people handle stress and how they can rise to the occasion, or break beneath the strain. It’s about what people can do when they’re taken to their limits. The Sphere, the mystery of it, is merely the catalyst around which Crichton has penned this excellent character study.
One of my favorite Crichton novels, blending suspense, emotion, and wonder with a pervading miasma of dread hanging over everything.
On a side note, this is one of the worst book covers I have ever seen.
You can purchase Sphere from Amazon!