Michael Crichton has always been hit-or-miss with me, though I think overall he’s been predominantly miss. While Jurassic Park was as pleasant to read as it was to watch, for example, Timeline annoyed me so much that I think I couldn’t even get past Chapter Six. Sphere was actually the first Crichton novel I ever attempted, and although it entails a very interesting concept, the book itself fell completely flat for me. Granted, this might only be because I expect plausibility in a good novel, and Crichton might simply have been banking on his sci-fi bent to get his story through, regardless of plausibility. But still, science-fiction or otherwise, if I can’t believe the story as I read it, then why in the world am I reading the book? Surprisingly, the younger version of myself finished the book, so here are two major deficiencies I found with this novel.
First, although Sphere was at times fascinating and intense, the whole thing overall felt generally formulaic. In parts, it seemed to me that Crichton had written entire sections a long time ago (whenever he first got the idea), and then he just plugged them into the storyline later without much change. That’s a clear sign of an amateur writer too confident in “inspiration” (or whatever he might call it) to use common sense and proper editing as he approaches his final product.
Second, I must admit that his research into the aspects of chemistry, physics, and psychology that a psychologist living under the sea might encounter were spot on (or at least appeared to be). In fact, they were so pin-pointedly accurate that his flippancy in other areas became strikingly apparent. For example, when the main character Norman swam out of the top of D cylinder and then swam another 40 feet down that cylinder, finding the underside unlocked, he then tried the undersides of 3 other cylinders—all without breathing gear of any kind. Any child could imagine how long such a swim would take and that no human lungs could hold out the duration, not to mention the fact that the water’s pressure at a depth of 1000 feet would have some less-than-optimal effects on the human body. Later, when Norman finally did climb out of the sea following his super-human swim in water that was apparently just a few degrees above freezing, he managed to put on his suit, start the heater, and was “feeling normal” again within just a few minutes. I cringe at the thought that an author would try to pull such an implausible scene over on his readers, but even more so, I cringe at the thought that his publishers let it slide! Had Crichton put Norman into any other conundrum, or figured out another plan of escape, he could have avoided all of these impossible issues. Again, I think that this failure can be blamed on his unwillingness to scrap any idea that he considers too powerful to let go. That’s the sign of an amateur writer: granted, an amateur writer whose sold millions and has probably made many millions more, and perhaps an amateur who has matured over the years and wouldn’t make the same mistakes today, but an amateur nonetheless. This book ranks low on my thriller scale. Don’t bother.