Saturday, 14 April 2012



I recently read a science fiction novel titled ‘Sphere’ by Michael Crichton. I have seen parts of the film adaptation staring Dustin Hoffman, but hadn’t quiet seen enough to spoil the book. I had the general idea that the story was set deep under the ocean, and regarded a research team studying some kind of spherical alien artefact. The book itself had several strong concepts and themes running throughout. One of the prominent themes was psych analogy, the protagonist being a psychologist. With this came the theme of fact versus imagination and the subconscious self, most of the other researches belonging to a scientific background. The final concept that stood out for me was the whole idea of extra-terrestrial life, and whether we can even begin to comprehend other evolutionary developments beyond that found which is found on earth.


Regarding the plot, the protagonist Norman Johnson is introduced in a helicopter, flying over the Pacific Ocean to what sounds to be the sight of a commercial airline crash located in the middle of the sea. This crash site, it turns out, is believed to be the site of an alien spacecraft which has been (Judging by the coral growth on the ship) sitting on the seabed for somewhere between three hundred to a thousand years. Norman is reminded that he was once asked to write an official government report to prepare a response team in the event of alien confrontation. He saw the report as a joke and simply did it for the money, but in the story learns that the special team he even went as far to interview have been gathered and assembled for the operation at hand. This team consists of a mathematician and logician named Harry, a zoologist named Beth and a astrophysicist and planetary geologist named Todd, with the addition of a marine biologist named Arthur Levine who panics during the submarine decent and never makes it to crash site. Near the crash site, the Navy have assembled a large artificial habitat for the research team to live in while studying the strange craft.

At this point, theories on extra-terrestrial life are shared. As the team begin to prepare themselves for the possibility of communicating for the first time in human history with alien life, some very compelling argument are raised by members of the team. There is the knowledge that our species and life on our planet exists in three-dimensional space. Some believe there to be as much as eleven dimensions in existence. Perhaps an extra terrestrial life form could exist in some of these other dimensions we cannot perceive. This would mean that we would only see the creature in parts. Also, we communicate with visuals and sound. What if, originating from an entirely different evolutionary path, an alien creature communicated through scent, and there was no possible bridge for communication? This all fits with the idea that perhaps we lack imagination when it comes to envisioning alien life, as all we see when we consider intelligent life is the human species. Could we even begin to comprehend the physical appearance of a creature coming from a planet with an entirely different atmosphere? There was also the theory raised that our existence is very unlikely to occur more than once. The fact that we have evolved so far from small primitive organisms is miraculous in itself. Even with the vastness of the universe, the odds that life has grown so versatile on our planet are extremely low. Even our existence was likely determined by the death of the dinosaurs, and perhaps if they had not been wiped out, mammals would never have been given the chance to evolve in to such a dominant species. There is a final important factor, and that is: what if an alien life form was invincible therefore had no concept of death? Similarly, what if the creature shared none of our moral values, making it hostile?

On top of the gripping concepts involving evolution, there is also the theme of time travel. When exploring the ship, the crew learn quickly that the vessel was actually of human origin, but from the future. Human symbols around the ship give this away, as well as the metal compounds used for the ship which contained familiar elements, yet are technologically out of our reach in terms of how to bond the particular elements. The final giveaway is the flight log, which strongly suggested the ship has been sent through a black hole, justifying the strong structural reinforcement of the ship and the heavy use of led to prevent radiation penetrating the spacecraft’s interior. The theory is explained that some physicists believe that a black hole can be used in space travel, to skip to different parts of the universe, or even to different times. Again more interesting concepts being raised by the book, which could be applied in other medias such as film and game.

Within the time travelling vessel, the researches uncover a large metallic sphere. This is immediately believed to be of alien origin. After setting up surveillance cameras around the sphere, the team begin to ponder how to get it open. Eventually Harry is seen entering the sphere, and he re-emerges unaware of his own name. This side effect soon wears off, yet something about Harry seems strange, as if the interaction with the sphere has in some way affected him. Soon, plans to re-surface are terminated when a storm hits their location and surface conditions cause the support vessels up top to pull out. This means the team are stranded for a predicted seven days much to the delight of also mean the crew has to cut off communication with the surface. Despite this disconnection, a computer monitor within the habitat begins to flash up sequences of numbers. Harry being a mathematician eventually cracks the code. The message sent turns out to be from the sphere, and is translated as a very childlike sentence. The sphere introduces itself as simply ‘Jerry.’ At this time, the research crew begin to notice strange species of squid and shrimp emerging on what at first a lifeless seabed. Fascinated by a cloud of exotic white jellyfish, one of the naval crew members heads out in a dive suit and is killed by the swarm as they eat through her suit. Things turn even worse, as a giant squid begins to attack the station and threaten the lives of those inside. The team gather that these sea monsters are creations of Jerry’s. Gradually, all of the other crewmembers are killed, Leaving only Norman, Harry and Beth. Norman and Harry continue to try and reason with Jerry, but in very adolescent manner continues to send in what he calls a ‘manifestation.’ This is where the strong physiological theme really kicks in. After re-translating the orginal codes sent by the sphere, Norman realizes a mistake, the original message now reading ‘my name is Harry.’ Norman works out that the manifestations are from Harry’s nightmares. He is reminded of a previous conversation where Harry admitted to being frightened by the film ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,’ in particularly the giant squid confrontation. When ‘Jerry’ addresses the team, it is not in fact the sphere speaking, but a dark area of Harry’s mind which manifests thoughts of terror, and creates them in physical form.

After Beth and Norman put Harry to sleep, the threatening manifestations continue, causing Beth to accuse Norman of having entered the cube with no recollection, and try to put him to sleep with the same anaesthetics used on Harry. After reviewing a surveillance tape however, Norman learns Beth in fact entered the sphere as well as Harry. This causes Beth to enter a mode of manic impulsive behaviour, locking Norman in room and depriving him of oxygen. Norman escapes however and he himself enters the sphere. When he speaks to the voice inside the sphere, the voice explains how Bears are intelligent creatures with a brain that equals that of a human’s in size. The sphere explains that what sets a human apart from a bear is the ability to imagine, and mentally recreate the past and the future. Norman eventually realizes he is speaking to his own subconscious mind in the sphere, and leaves with the ability to manifest his thoughts. Because Norman is a psychologist who has explored his own subconscious, he is not overpowered by his negative thoughts meaning he does not produce threatening manifestations. He considers the fact that because Harry is a man of logic, his manifestations where created to make his fears plausible. Beth’s manifestation was of an underwater cyclone. Because she is a zoologist who is not frightened by physical creatures, her manifestation was of an unrelenting force. Norman considers that each person has a shadow self, which produces negative and frightening thoughts, and those who dismiss it, are often consumed by it. Again, this psychological theme offered more interesting concepts. Because of our subconscious mind and a common inability to control frightening and negative thoughts, the sphere was a very threatening entity to our race.

In conclusion, I thought Crichton’s novel was well crafted and there were some very clear and interesting themes which he put across. These themes have helped inform me of new and exciting concepts which could be used when creating narrative and channelling inspiration for projects within my course.

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