June 29, 1987 12:00 PM

by Michael Crichton

The plot of this sci-fi thriller echoes Agatha Christie’s foolproof And Then There Were None (a/k/a Ten Little Indians), though it is hardly executed with Christie’s efficiency. A small group of civilians and Navy personnel are a thousand feet down in the Pacific investigating a sunken spacecraft that’s half a mile long and made of materials unknown on earth. The leader, a 53-year-old psychologist, is too old for this sort of expedition. There is also a black mathematician, a sexy zoologist and the usual assortment of experts and military types. The wreck has been on the ocean floor at least 300 years—could it be a spaceship from the future that got sucked into a black hole and became lost in time? First the adventurers find the big silver sphere alluded to in the book’s title, then figure out how to open it. Crichton’s characters are so thinly drawn that it’s okay when they get killed off in horrible fashion; we scarcely miss them. The heavily contrived suspense is what keeps the book going. Crichton is the author of The Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man and The Great Train Robbery, all made into movies. He is also a film director (Coma, Westworld) and in this case seems to have eliminated the middlemen altogether: Sphere reads like background notes for the film version of a novel. (Knopf, $17.95)

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