“Sphere” (1987) is a novel by Michael Crichton, later made into a Hollywood film of the same name in 1998. It tells of a spaceship found at the bottom of the ocean in the 1980s that is far beyond anything the Russians or Americans could build.
Although I liked Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” (1993), both the book and the film, I thought “Sphere”, as a book, was terrible. I have not seen the film, but it did badly despite the acting talents of Dustin Hoffman, Samuel L. Jackson and Sharon Stone.
SPOILER ALERT: After this point, I start to give away the plot.
The book takes place in the present day – meaning the 1980s. Americans are laying telephone lines across a little known part of the Pacific Ocean. Something at the bottom cuts their lines. The Navy goes down to see what it is. It is a huge spaceship. It is not something the US could build or even the Russians: coral growth shows that the spaceship has been lying there for 300 years!
The US government, as it turns out, already had a hand-picked team of experts ready to go should beings from another world ever arrive: a psychologist (Dustin Hoffman in the film), a mathematician (Samuel L. Jackson), a zoologist (Sharon Stone) and some others.
The Navy sends them on a secret mission to the bottom to go inside the spaceship. When they get to the door they see the words “Emergency Open” – in English!
Inside everything seems like it is from the future. The materials are different for one thing. But not way into the future, maybe like 50 to 100 years: there are chairs and keyboards and so on. Someone thinks to look on the bottom of a keyboard for a date:
“Intel Inc. Made in U.S.A. Serial No. 98004077 8/5/43”
They later find the ship’s log: the 43 means 2043.
The log shows that the ship went through a wormhole to another time and place in the galaxy and then came back to Earth, but 400 years into the past. In the ship they find a large sphere, not of human design.
They go inside the sphere.
After that wonderful build-up, Crichton wastes it on giant squid attacks, alien mind control, a time bomb whose countdown he shamelessly milks, and a last-minute getaway as the spaceship blows up. Just like in a Hollywood summer film. And then comes the worst part of all: they agree to not tell anyone about the spaceship or the sphere.
Unlike most science fiction, one of the main characters is Black. Samuel L. Jackson’s character was Black in the book too. He is a mathematician, one of the best in the world, which is why they sent him (mathematics is a universal language). But because he is Black, he always has a chip on his shoulder, though Crichton makes that seem “reasonable”. Sadly, Crichton gets points for even having a Black main character, but he still sees him through a White liberal gaze (meritocratic myth, rationalized stereotypes, etc).
– Abagond, 2015.
- White liberal gaze
- other science fiction with Black main characters:
- first contact:
- Samuel L. Jackson