SPHERE

A cotton-candy science thriller, Crichton's first novel in seven years matches neither the hardcore suspense nor the wit of his The Andromeda Strain, The Great Train Robbery, or Congo. But this spirited tale of a science team sent to explore a spaceship found on the Pacific floor does engross via its rich seeding of techno/oceanic lore and a happy plot that bounces merrily along from one surprise to the next. Reflecting his own march into middle-age, Crichton here offers his oldest hero yet, 53-year-old psychologist Norman Johnson, expert in the embryonic field of alien contact. Johnson is whisked off by the Navy to the South Seas along with five other scientists, most notably young black math-whiz Harold Adams and pretty zoologist Beth Halpern. After a shocking debriefing—they're told about the alien ship lying 1000 feet below the waves—the five descend by minisub to a deep-sea habitat. From there, the band explores the spaceship—which they deduce is an earth ship that traveled here from the future via a black hole—and find the sphere: a 30-foot wide hollow silver ball, clearly an alien artifact. All this is intriguing stuff, but without much tension; so Crichton dusts off an old ploy; he isolates his characters by whipping up a typhoon that cuts off surface aid, and then transforms the sphere into a Pandora's box of horrors. Adams finds his way into the sphere; after he emerges, it starts communicating via the habitat's computer, claiming to be hosted by an alien named "Jerry." Cute? Not when "Jerry" takes credit for the deadly jellyfish and giant squid that attack the habitat, killing all but Adams, Beth, and Norman. Norman and Beth soon figure out that "Jerry" is really Adams, who's been empowered by the sphere to make nightmares come true; but when they knock him out, the attacks continue, setting up Crichton's final conjuror's cache of tricks and twists, and a pleasingly upbeat ending. This sphere's as lightweight as a balloon floating up and away; but the ascent is swift, smooth, and loads of fun.

Pub Date: June 8, 1987

ISBN: 0062044915

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1987

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more