Sometimes it pays off when you keep on truckin'. When I first read Michael Crichton's Andromeda Strain a couple of summers ago, I thought it was interesting but sadly disappointing. Then I read his Rising Sun, and found it much more enjoyable, but nothing special. Later, I read his The Terminal Man, which I found interesting and somewhat innovative, but generally just OK. For some reason, despite all this mediocrity, I kept reading. I read A Case of Need, one of his first (and pseudonymous) novels, and found it quite enjoyable if a little hard to follow. I also read Jurassic Park back in junior high, before I knew what reading was about. Now my reading has finally paid off. Let me tell you about Sphere.
The book opens with Norman Johnson, a psychologist, traveling to the South Pacific for what he thinks is a plane crash. (He's a contract psychologist for the FAA helping plane crash survivors cope with their survival.) Soon, we discover that the U.S. Navy thinks they've found an alien spaceship from the 1700s crashed onto the bottom of the ocean floor. Following a paper Dr. Johnson had written a few years earlier about how humans could cope (psychologically) with an alien encounter, the Navy has put together Dr. Johnson's recommended team: Ted, the astrophysicist; Beth, the biologist; and Harry, the mathematician. Now, in my opinion, the possibility for interesting conversation exponentiates when you put together a biologist, an astrophysicist, a mathematician, and a psychologist. Oh and throw in your stereotypically cynical Navy captain and his slightly unflat (character-wise) crew, and you get some highly interesting conversations and scenes. Let me put it this way: you can't imagine it; if you could, you wouldn't have to read the book. (OoOoOo--that's so sneaky . . .)
Finally, reading Crichton has paid off with something highly clever. I would liken this to the level of enjoyment of finishing Tim O'Brien's July, July or Tomcat in Love: nothing life-altering, but highly, highly enjoyable. Enough so to talk about it. (Ed. note--I do not mean to suggest that Dr. Crichton and Mr. O'Brien are anywhere in the same league; I just wanted to give my favorite author some props. If you haven't read any O'Brien, you probably don't know how to read.)
Literary recommendation: three books that will change your life:
John Steinbeck's East of Eden
Stephen King's It
Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes