Sunday, March 27, 2016
A large object has been discovered on the ocean floor. Based on the build up of corals, it has been there for at least three hundred years. Yet it has the appearance of an airplane fuselage or of a spacecraft.
An expedition to examine the object is hastily put together, consisting of Navy personnel and four civilian scientists: a biologist, a psychologist, a mathematician, and an astrophysicist. The main character is Norman Johnson, the psychologist.
Some time ago, Johnson was hired by the government to put together an advisory study detailing the proper steps to take if humans should come into contact with extraterrestrials. So, even though Norman Johnson is a bit past it for underwater adventures, he was included in the team as the best expert to deal with possible alien contact.
The team heads down to the underwater base, about 1000 feet underwater, to study the "spacecraft." Once the overlay of coral and debris is removed, it is apparent that the craft couldn't have crashed as it is completely undamaged. Even closer examination reveals markings in English.
They get the entryway opened and get inside the craft. It is obviously an American vehicle, designed for deep space, with heavy-duty radiation shielding. There is no one on board, not even any bodies. But there is the sphere.
What the sphere is, what it is designed to do, where it is from, these are the questions, questions with no easy answers. They can't even figure out how to open it.
But then Harry, the mathematician, opens the sphere and goes inside. He stays there for several hours. When he comes back out, he seems fine. But something is a bit off. And that's when the team gets its first contact from the dweller in the sphere, whom they decide must be an alien being. The being, who wants to be called Jerry, is a bonafide jerk. Selfish, uncaring and intransigent, he seems not to understand or care about human fragility. And he seems be responsible for all the bad stuff that starts to happen soon after Harry returns from the sphere.
Always, when starting a Michael Crichton novel, I wonder, as I encounter the various characters in the book, which is fated to die and which to survive until the end. Because lots of people will die, they always do in his stories. By the end, only three people out of the original team of ten are left alive. The other seven die in various imaginative ways.
But never mind that. As for the story itself, it was interesting and posed some very challenging questions about our ability to understand or appreciate the alien mind. I also enjoyed his descriptions of life in the underground base although I am in no position to judge the accuracy of what he says. The ending is quite exciting and even a bit open-ended. Perhaps Crichton was thinking of a sequel?
I think one of the marks of a good read is if it is memorable. Sphere is certainly memorable, one of the books I doubt I will ever forget.