on August 11, 2006
Intriguing as always, exciting from the first page, strong for the first 2/3rds and less "editorializing" than usual, but it's just not as good as his higher concept novels. But it's still very enjoyable all the way through, and as always makes you think. It feels a little dated now, but I re-read it last week and enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Sphere should definitely be a part of any Crichton fan's library. Skip the movie, though. Here, the science is less "convincing" than in Jurrassic Park (which is mostly convincing, but stretched) and Prey (which is better writing and fun, but not convincing). But that doesn't matter, because Crichton can write an adventure like few others (as long as character isn't important--character's here take backseat to concept and science). Pace, as always is good. More a rollicking adventure than "something to think about" (typical of later novels) and quite enjoyable on that level. It's the kind of novel you'll tear through in a weekend at most. And that's a good thing.
I was recently surprised to find this novel on one of my shelves; I saw the movie adaptation of the novel recently but did not remember owning the actual book. The movie was full of promise but ultimately disappointing, so I was pretty curious to see how good a read the actual novel was. Sphere is my first Michael Crichton novel, and I have to say I was quite impressed with Crichton's prowess. There are some logical flaws and inconsistencies in the plot, but Crichton is an incredibly gifted storyteller; I eagerly breezed through this novel in short order. While it is heavy on dialogue, the story touches on a number of aspects of the human personality while mixing in some profound if problematic science fiction in the process. This is a fast-paced thriller that definitely registers impressively on the suspense meter, particularly during the climactic late chapters. While the ending is something of a letdown, the story leading up to it is gripping and fascinating, and important clues and plot points are presented with much more subtlety and effectiveness than what you will find in the movie adaptation.
The novel is built around an incredible discovery; in the middle of the South Pacific, lying all but buried on the bottom of the ocean, rests a spacecraft of unknown origin. Psychologist Norman Johnson, the author of a secret government paper on Recommendations for the Human Contact Team to Interact with Unknown Life Forms (a less than serious paper he wrote primarily for the money) is called to the site, where he is informed that he will be part of a team of scientists sent to study the mysterious craft. Alongside him are an irascible Navy project commander, a brilliant, young astrophysicist/planetary geologist, a complicated female zoologist/biochemist, and a noted mathematician/logician. This unlikely team of deep ocean explorers soon find themselves in an artificial habitat resting alongside the location of the mysterious ship. Their exploration of the site yields more questions than answers, as the ship turns out to be an American spaceship from the future. The truly enigmatic discovery onboard, though, is a giant sphere of unknown composition. As the story unfolds, the team of explorers finds themselves effectively stranded on the ocean floor for a period of some days, and strange and frightening things begin to happen after one scientist somehow enters the sphere. The scientists find themselves in communication with a supposedly alien entity who calls himself Jerry; whoever and whatever Jerry is, he seems to have the power to manifest remarkable physical creations and changes in reality. The habitat and the team inside it soon comes under attack by such dangerous creatures as giant squid and killer jellyfish, but the problems eventually internalize themselves inside the group dynamic, a group that is shrinking in size as time goes by. The mysterious Sphere imparts an amazing power to those who enter it, a power that such individuals may not even be consciously aware of wielding. Ultimately, the last remnants of the research team begin pointing fingers at one another and take steps to insure their own individual survival in the face of an unquantifiable threat, making this novel a gripping psychological thriller based in a fascinating science fiction environment.
Once the team arrives in the underwater habitat, nonstop action ensues. One emergency after another challenges the crew, and the group dynamic of the team ebbs and flows along with each jarring crisis. Along the way, we see ever more clearly into the minds and ways of thinking of our main characters, and a significant amount of ideas are expressed concerning the human condition. Crichton provides for no obligatory rest areas along the way, as he takes the reader for an incredible ride that had me turning pages hand over fist in anticipation of what was to come. Some of the science is questionable, but Crichton surely makes it all sound more than plausible. The only real problem with the novel is a logical breakdown of sorts in the concluding chapters. Still, the desperate attempts of the remaining explorers to survive, when they cannot even trust one another, make for a riveting reading experience. Sphere is by no means a perfect novel, but I found it captivating and basically addictive up until the somewhat disappointing ending. The movie adaptation takes significant liberties with the original story, so I would urge you not to let the movie's failings prevent you from immersing yourself in this eminently readable novel.
You've got to give it to Michael Crichton: he writes one heck of a page-turner. Open one of his books with the idea that you'll just read a chapter or two before bedtime and you'll suddenly be bleary-eyed at three in the morning. And although this particular title, which is somewhat less well known than such Crichton novels as THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN and JURASSIC PARK, it still packs a bestseller wallop.
The premise is classic Crichton. In his younger days, psychologist Norman Johnson was approached by the United States government to write a report on the psychological impact of an encounter with extra-terrestrials--and now, on the basis of his rather flippant recommendations, he finds himself en route to a possible UFO crash sight on the floor of the Pacific ocean. Once established with his colleges in an underwater habitat, the government team encounters a mysterious space craft that contains a still-more mysterious sphere, and those who come into contact with it undergo an unexpected change.
The writing is crisp and clean, the hard science is handled quite skillfully, and Crichton plays out his story at a breathless pace: yes, a page-turner if ever there was one. Still, it is worth noting that SPHERE displays Crichton's weaknesses as clearly as it does his strengths. Strictly speaking, Crichton hasn't had an original concept in some thirty years, and just as he rehashed his screenplay for WESTWORLD into the novel JURASSIC PARK, so does he rehash THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN into SPHERE. The novel also contains both the foundational sexism and ambiguous conclusion so typical of Crichton's work.
Ultimately, SPHERE is popcorn: we've all had it before and you can't make a truly satisfying meal of it. But it is tremendously enjoyable all the same, and where is SPHERE is concerned... well, you'll eat every kernel in the bowl.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on January 4, 2001
I read this book this summer and I think it is his best to this day. A team of scientists set out to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean to examine a spaceship that crashed to the bottom three hundred years ago. There is the calm and wise Norman Johnson, the attractive and determined Beth Halperin, the brilliant and befuddling Harry Adams, and the smart yet annoying Ted Fielding, all under the command of Harold Barnes, a Captain in the U.S. Navy. They quickly gain access and discover the ship operational, and they discover a metallic sphere. But when they are cut off in a storm, they must discover the power of the sphere and confront its great powers. lest everyone get killed. I was genuinely sad when it ended. This book is Crichton's best and it is the best I have ever read, and I have read a lot of books. If you are looking for a white-knuckle ride to terror on the bottom of the ocean, this book is your ticket, and this review is your boarding call. Buy it today, because I guarantee you, you will want to re-read this one. Even if you aren't a fan of Crichton, pick this book up today and start reading. You won't be sorry.
on October 30, 2000
If you are a sci-fi fan this is a must read book. Sphere starts out with a so called alien "crash" in the Pacific Ocean. The most odd scientists are called in and are told to keep quiet about what they are about to see. They are astonished at what they find, because nobody can figure out what this huge sphere is. None of the scientists know how to explain it until one scientist goes inside. Unexplainable phenomena start happening to all of them. All of their lives are in danger but will they come out alive? This is the only sci-fi book that I have ever enjoyed maybe that is because of crichton's phenominal writing stlye. This qoute helps the reader get involved into the book and make them want to keep reading. "A thousand feet beneathe the ocean surface in the middle of the pacific, something has been discovered. Its origin, its structure, its malevolent energy are baffling. But whatever it is, it can each your mind. It knows your worst fears. And now it's starting to make those fears come true." I thought that the begining was very slow and boaring, but after they got off the helicopter the story took off and I never put it down after that. The characters were well developed, and you knew what kind of scientist they were and how they would contribute to the discovery to the sphere. Thoughtout the story I could tell what was going on. Crichton used great imagery, especially when discribing what it was like inside the sphere. It felt like you were there with the scientists. The symbolism in this story was great, the sphere symbolized technology. It shows that technology if not known how to use can be very dangerous. This is represented by what happens to them. The stories theme is very similar, saying that not all technology is good. The drawbacks of this book would have to be the lack of development of technical terms used thoughout the story. Most people know what a black whole is but for those who don't Crichton needs to tell us what it is. There are many other scientific and math terms that I didn't understand.
on September 14, 2009
"Sphere" has to be Michael Crichton's best book, and that speaks volumes when you think about the many things he accomplished throughout his storied career. It's filled with mystery and suspense from beginning to end as it follows a group of people who are sent to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and have to live in these specially designed compartments as they research a spacecraft that has been sitting on the ocean floor for many centuries. In it is a black sphere, which puzzles everyone as they spend the rest of the story trying to understand its purpose while also trying to survive these strange but dangerous events that occur more and more frequently as the plot progresses.
Crichton does a great job structuring an entirely unpredictable novel, filling it with so many surprises, twists and turns, and some interesting characters as well. You never really have a clue what's going to happen next, and the story keeps you guessing until the very last sentence. All the questions and mysterious elements in the plot are answered and gradually woven together by the end, and it leaves the reader with a feeling that the story might not be "entirely" finished (you can tell Crichton did that intentionally to keep the readers wondering what, if anything, might happen next). "Sphere" is a flawless and perfectly executed novel. It's a great page-turner, and is possibly the best book I've ever read.
on August 23, 1998
Being a Crichton fan, I was very disappointed by this book. Crichton usually writes in a combination of theory and fact, which is what makes his books so interesting. However, this book is just way-out "weird dream" fiction. If you are a Stephen King fanatic, you may like this...it's just like Tommyknockers, only add an ocean. It was too unbeleivable to be enjoyable. It could have been made interesting if the alien object (the sphere) was the focus of the book, rather than the exploration team. Where did that thing come from then? What was it designed for? And, why? Who knows...in this book all that matters is the 3 member team left at the end of all the weird stuff!
on September 5, 2001
I was enthralled by this book from the very beginning. Imagine, scientists discover an ancient spaceship at the bottom of the ocean only to discover it's true origin is a little closer to home.
I have loved every Chrichton novel and this one was no different, at first. The story was tense, thrilling and the very last chapter killed the entire book for me. I won't give it away but the conclusion felt like a huge rip-off. I know I wasn't the only one who felt this way.
on June 8, 1999
Too long. Childish ending. The characters, all experts in their field, behaved like amateurs making the story unbelievably frustrating and boringly silly. What a disappointment Try The Andromeda Strain & The Terminal Man instead.
on October 9, 2005
While on the surface this book offers suspense, underneath its skin it is a carefully-constructed Jungian analysis of the idealistic philosophies common to highly intelligent people. Crichton both criticizes our emotional nature and our attempts to hold it in check. While there are some parts of this book that seemed to make no sense, such as how people many feet below the ocean's surface survive the pressure of the water above without special gear, there are many delightful scientific explanations and natural laws carefully used as metaphor here. It's as if Thomas Pynchon decided to write a thriller with his knowledge of physics, and although the text is somewhat pulpy, it is rich and descriptive enough to both tantalize the senses and provoke the mind.