Cannonball Read IV: Sphere by Michael Crichton
Initially, I picked this book up on an infrequent trip to a used bookstore downtown. I had just finished reading the posthumous Pirate Latitudes and was looking for more books with movie-like visual flair. Sphere struck me as a typical alien story, but I was anxious to read Crichton's take on it.
As far as his reputation for the scientific goes, it's more or less on the back burner to the heavy psychological analysis. It does play major points in the narrative. Norman Johnson, the novel's protagonist, is an aging psychology professor called to the open Pacific Ocean to study possible alien contact. He and a team of scientists are in an underground bunker for days to research a spacecraft a thousand feet down, in pristine condition, that's possibly 300 years or older.
It's fast-paced, well-written, and includes enough heart to make a movie out of. As for the plot, I wasn't entirely impressed with the direction, but I didn't see any reason to nitpick over any possible plotholes (the science seemed solid, but I'm trusting him on this.) In any case, it's easy enough to read, but contains enough references to famous persons and theories to keep the easily-bored on the right track.
When it comes to alien contact, it started out wonderfully. What little I knew the better, for a while. When it came down to it, it was less an alien story than it was a human being story. Fear and anger are exploited, manipulation is served up plenty, and some absolutely astonishing and vast ideas were executed very well.
All in all, Sphere is creative enough to keep me reading it, and while it may disappoint someone expecting a little more aliens in my alien thriller, I certainly recommend it to the Crichton fan (as if they haven't already read it five times.)