A group of American scientists are rushed to a huge vessel that has been discovered resting on the ocean floor in the middle of the South Pacific. What they find defines their imaginations and mocks their attempts at logical explanation. It is a spaceship of phenomenal dimensions, apparently, undamaged by its fall from the sky. And, most startling, it appears to be at least three hundred years old….
I started the story in 1967 as a companion piece to The Andromeda Strain. But then, I didn’t know where to go with it.
The idea of doing a story about contact with superior intelligence, a time-honored theme, is that it’s very hard, if you stop and think about it. Most writers evade the issue by making the alien recognizably human. It’s 9 feet tall, with spiky teeth, and it wants to eat you. Or it’s 3 feet tall and wants to hug you. In either case, it’s human-like.
What’s more likely about first contact with an extraterrestrial is that the alien wouldn’t look human-like at all. You might not even be able to see it or detect it. And its behavior would be absolutely inexplicable.
Trouble is, it gets hard to dream up a story where at the center there is something that’s inexplicable.
From the Official Archives
Early Designs for Paperback Releases
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In His Own Words
What interested me in this was to take a book in which a very extreme situation was presented to a group of people and then to see how this group of people responded to the extreme situation. I didn’t really want to spend too much time challenging the extreme situation itself—to say, “How realistic is this?” What I was trying to do the book about was just to say, “What would happen to people if they were confronted by—as a premise—the possibility of time travel, the possibility of contact with an extraterrestrial artifact, something that comes from another civilization that’s very much more advanced than ours?” All I would say in defense of the extreme premise is: Take anyone from a hundred years ago—take Charles Darwin, a pretty knowledgeable guy from that time—and plunk him in front of a Macintosh. The chances are he would run screaming from the room: “It cannot be anything but witchcraft.” If you decide to sit down and say “Okay, Chuck. Let me explain to you how this works”—it involves whole fields of highly developed knowledge he doesn’t know anything about. The electron hasn’t been discovered yet—he doesn’t know what an electron is. He certainly doesn’t know anything about electronics; doesn’t know anything about solid-state electronics; doesn’t know anything about cathode-ray tubes. This is one giant piece of magic to him, and all he can really do is sit on the outside and look at it as some very strange rectangular object that that has funny black and white shifting images on it. It that’s true in a hundred years, then there must be something very much like it fifty or a hundred years in the future if we could see ahead—see what kinds of things we would be doing. This is a book about people who find something from, as it turns out, our own future. It’s pretty mysterious.
From the very first “Official Website”, Michael Crichton hand-picked these passages from Sphere:
From Sphere: Barnes was staring at him. He seemed uncomfortable. He shuffled the files around on his desk.
“Actually, this isn’t an airplane crash site, Dr. Johnson.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a spacecraft crash site.”
There was a short pause. Norman nodded. “I see.”
“That doesn’t surprise you?” Barnes said.
“No,” Norman said. “As a matter of fact, it explains a lot. If a military spacecraft crashed in the ocean, that explains why I haven’t heard anything about it on the radio, why it was kept a secret, why I was brought here the way I was … When did it crash?”
Barnes hesitated just a fraction before answering. “As best we can estimate,” he said, “this spacecraft crashed three hundred years ago.”
From Sphere: Barnes said, “Norman?”
“Let’s admit the truth,” Norman said. “We’re not really trained for a saturated environment and we’re not really comfortable down here. At least I’m not. And we’re not the best people to evaluate this spacecraft. At this point, the Navy’d be much better off with a team of NASA engineers. I say, go.”
“Let’s get the hell out,” Harry said.
“Any particular reason?” Barnes said.
“Call it intuition.”
Ted said, “I can’t believe you would say that, Harry, just when we have this fabulous new idea about the ship -”
“That’s beside the point now,” Barnes said crisply. “I’ll make the arrangements with the surface to pull us out in another twelve hours.”
From Sphere: “Don’t choose one,” Beth said. “Reading the details will only upset you. Just leave it at this – we’re in a very dangerous environment. Barnes didn’t bother to give us all the gory details. You know why the Navy has that rule about pulling people out within seventy-two hours? Because after seventy-two hours, you increase your risk of something called “aseptic bone necrosis.” Nobody knows why, but the pressurized environment causes bone destruction in the leg and hip. And you know why this habitat constantly adjusts as we walk through it? It’s not because that’s slick and high-tech. It’s because the helium atmosphere makes body-heat control very volatile. You can quickly become overheated, and just as quickly overchilled. Fatally so. It can happen so fast you don’t realize it until it’s too late and you drop dead. And “high pressure nervous syndrome” – that turns out to be sudden convulsions, paralysis, and death if the carbon-dioxide content of the atmosphere drops too low. That’s what the badges are for, to make sure we have enough CO2 in the air. That’s the only reason we have the badges. Nice, huh?”
Release Date: February 13, 1998 Running Time: 2 hrs. 14 min. MPAA Rating: PG 13 Director: Barry Levinson Screenwriter: Kurt Wimmer, Stephen Hauser, Paul Attanasio Based on the novel by: Michael Crichton Studio: Warner Bros. Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone, Samuel L. Jackson, Peter Coyote, Liev Shreiber, Queen Latifah,