Oh yes, the Michael Crichton lovefest continues.
There truly is a formula to Crichton's works:
- Protagonist is brought to help with some problem
- They take a helicopter to the place, which is always in an exotic location
- Things go wrong, shit hits the fan
- Protagonist escapes
But you know what? I don't even care.
Crichton's writing is crisp and simple from the beginning. Within the first page you find out everything you need to know: they're in the Pacific, visiting a plane crash. Normal Johnson is a psychologist flown-in to help with the survivors, or so he expects. He hopes he'll be home in time for his wedding anniversary.
He soon learns there are no survivors, because it's not a plane crash. A UFO has been found on the floor of the Pacific, which crashed 300 years prior (they're able to deduce that based on the amount of coral that has grown). Norman, who wrote a half-joke report on alien encounters for the Carter Administration, is there to help the team. There's a mathematician, marine biologist, and astrophysicist. And Normal's job is to supervise them as they visit the spacecraft, 1,000 feet underwater.
Most of the book takes place in DH-8, the Diving Habitat erected for the scientists. The team arrives, meets a few of the Navy employees already there, and then visit the alien ship.
The ship, however, has words printed on the outside. In English. After some investigating they realize the ship isn't alien, but American. How did an American craft crash in the Pacific 300 years ago? Why, it traveled through time, of course!
It was at this point the book's age began to show. The ship passed through a black hole, and Crichton spent several pages explaining to the reader what a black hole was. "Who doesn't know that?" I thought, annoyed with the over-explanation. But black holes weren't generally understood until the 1960s, and Sphere came out in 1987. Their existence was something I've taken for granted.
Anyway, on the ship they find an alien artifact: the sphere. One of the scientists eventually finds a way inside the sphere, and that's when things get weird.
The sphere begins communicating with them via messages on their computer. It's child-like in its innocence, but quickly grows bored and angry. Manifestations appear outside the diving habitat: one Navy crewmember is killed by thousands of jellyfish. The sea floor becomes infested with shrimp. And then the giant squid appears, shortly after they discuss Jules Verne. The habitat is attacked, and more people are killed.
The rest of the book is a fantastic thrill-ride, gripping on every page. A few twists round everything out, leaving the reader excited and satisfied.
I'd seen the movie years ago, but had never read the book. It didn't disappoint. Sphere is one of those novels that gets your imagination churning and makes you want to read more. It gave me plenty of ideas as a writer, and made me want to jump in front of a keyboard.
I'm still not sick of Crichton. Up next on my reading list is Timeline, one of his later works.