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Posts Tagged ‘Sphere’

I first looked up Michael Crichton after discovering the time travel adventure, Timeline. Starring all sorts of wonderful people with wonderful accents and wonderful hair (including the now-famous Gerard Butler), Timeline placed a team of archaeologists in the hands of an innovative company that had developed the technology to fax 3-dimensional objects – except they accidentally faxed them to the past. The movie addresses questions of fate, of the impact of tampering with the knowledge in the past, and of whether modern enlightenment is really superior to the technology and wisdom of the past. Given the choice, where would you spend out your life?

Fascinated by the story, I saw that the book had originally been written by Michael Crichton. The list of other movies based on his books was incredible. I’d seen several, all thrilling adventure movies with real intriguing plots at the same time. His imagination lived on the edge of reality, whether it was science fiction or fantasy or the cutting edge of technology. Included in his list are: Jurassic Park, Timeline, Congo, and Twister. He also writes for the TV show ER, though I never watched that.

Then I began to notice that his older books are frequently found on used bookstore shelves for very good prices. I bought a few. The first one I began had a horrible opening scene, quite inappropriate in content and language. Maybe I shouldn’t have spent money on them. I put that one well away.

A few months later I read that Frank Peretti’s favorite contemporary author is Michael Crichton. If Frank Peretti likes him, all his books can’t be like that. And who ever heard of movies cutting the content or language? Rather the contrary. But I’d seen several movies that were mostly just intense. One of the books I own is Timeline itself, a beat up mass paperback edition. I’ve read the first few pages.

Generally speaking, I’m having a hard time justifying novels since graduating high school. In high school there was all this mandatory non-fiction reading and literature (sometimes really boring literature), so I occasionally needed an easy-read novel to lighten things up. Now I read entirely what I want. So usually I might as well read something new, edifying, and educational. In fact I am a much bigger fan of history now that I’m reading books focused on a few years, decades, or centuries rather than the history of the whole world.

But I was cleaning my room a couple days ago, reorganizing some of my books again (I’d used their container as decoration for a Pigfest), when I came across one of Michael Crichton’s books, Sphere. The front cover featured divers swimming around several underwater spheres, and boasted an upcoming motion picture (which is decades old now, and I’ll guarantee you without even checking that it was rated R). The scene on the cover never happens, and totally misconstrues the title. The back was more accurate, indicating some sort of alien novel. I opened to the first page.

Not bad. I set it aside. Now last week I finished the book about Iceland. I had a million things to do, and no free time. So the beginning of this week was spent in rebellion against responsibility and hard work. I’m getting over it. During the hours in which I finally had nothing scheduled, I curled up with Sphere.

To my delight, part of the plot actually does deal with time travel (and I’m such a fan of time travel!). Basically a half-mile long spacecraft is found at the bottom of a shallower part of the Pacific Ocean. Based on the coral growth, scientists estimate that the ship has been submerged for three hundred years. But it isn’t rusted, or even damaged as if from a crash. The conclusion is that it must have materialized there after voyaging through time. A team of US Navy and US scientists is assembled to investigate the Anomaly.

Throughout the book Michael Crichton deals with the question of intelligence, especially contrasted with soul and emotion. The end of the book reveals the paradoxical union of these, and the consequences of neglecting one over the other. Even the individuals on the team represent different aspects of humanity, with our desires and interests, strengths and weaknesses. As sort of a subconscious defense against being too involved in the story, I enjoyed observing what the author was getting at. I observed his craft and motivation as though he was one of the characters. That is the best way to solve mysteries before the author tells you, to collect the clues and notice the connections. Except I lost. I didn’t realize. Oh well.

The book spends a fair amount of time talking about evolution, both biological and intellectual. When discussing the possibility of alien life and the probabilities of its attributes, this is bound to come up. Whence comes life? Why is life the way it is? Can something be alive and not have a body, or not have DNA, or not have emotion? Might there be life that is indestructible? What if it’s thought and communication systems are completely foreign? What if the alien life is intelligent, but evolved mental science rather than physical? They could be blobs that don’t have to sculpt a sculpture; it just is how they think it to be.

Several difficulties with evolution are also mentioned, but skimmed over. I thought it was interesting that the biologists were attributed with the theory that alien life is unlikely, while physicists and cosmologists believe it is likely. The answer Michael Crichton gives is that the physicists and cosmologists imagine a bigger world than what they see. They imagine other dimensions, possibly even other universes. In the twenty years since Sphere was written, a shift has taken place. The sciences heavily dependent on math and probability boast fewer believers in alien life. Biologists are almost desperate to find alien life for two reasons: it would indicate an as yet undiscovered law by which life is more likely to evolve (something to add to chance and natural selection) or it would grant more validity to the increasingly popular theory that since we don’t have any evidence (or enough time) for life evolving here on planet earth, perhaps life was planted here by aliens who evolved a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away where they keep all the evidence.

As to whether I can recommend this book, I’d have to say no. There are some strong content issues in just a few places, some crass language and a lot of mild profanity and a profusion of using God’s name as a curse word. Additionally there is a lot of violence and “disturbing images” – more disturbing when I read because generally I don’t close my eyes for parts that get too scary while I’m reading. At one point I remember thinking, “Wow. I get to see a giant squid. Jules Verne only wrote about one, and the movie versions, they’re all fake… Wait a second!”

Ok, so if you are going to take my recommendation and not read the book, but you’re interested in the conclusions of the ideas presented, highlight the invisible text below:

The main character of the story is a psychologist who specializes in anxiety. He is the one who compiled the team of geniuses to hypothetically meet with alien objects or life (never expecting them to actually be needed). He typically voices the need to heed and control emotions, both in themselves and in each other.
Most of the story takes place in a touchy artificial environment 1,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, in which they are trapped by reason of a hurricane. So everyone is a little anxious, living in tight quarters and needing to make sure everything is done properly.

In the spaceship, by one member’s impulsiveness, they discover some pretty advanced technology, crafted by Americans fifty years in the future. A lot is made of the fact that even our technology today would seem like magic if we brought it back a hundred years or more to brilliant scientists on whose work our technology was built. They’d have to be caught up on our advances in physics and such to even begin to comprehend.

The team learns from the cooperative computers on the ship that the voyage was made to enter a black hole just beyond Pluto, which induced time travel. Black hole theory is explained in layman’s terms using a bowl, and apple, and a ball bearing.

Along the way the spacecraft seems to have picked up an intelligently-designed object, a 30-ft. sphere with “cabular grooves,” which end up concealing a door they can’t open.

Eventually the door is opened without any apparent reason. The smartest man on the team, and youngest scientist, a mathematician, figures out how to get into the sphere, and spends three hours inside, after which he will explain nothing of his knowledge or experience. He is simply exhausted.

Soon after they start experiencing strange phenomenon, like the discovery of three unidentified species of sea life in an area that had been barren of life on the sea floor. They lose a member of their team to jelly fish. And things get worse from there. A giant squid comes around, claiming the lives of most of the team. Those who are left are a mathematician, a biologist, and the psychologist. (mind, body, soul)

In the meantime, the sphere has made contact, projecting first number codes, then letters and words and sentences onto their computer screen. He says his name is Jerry. He can hear them, enjoys talking to them, and doesn’t understand questions about where he came from. They gather as events pass that he is the cause of the “manifestations,” including the giant squid. He wants to talk, and when they wish to talk privately, he gets angry. He turns hostile through the giant squid, which attacks the habitat and individuals, even luring one person with a sign of attention and intelligent playfulness. His hostility grows to the point where he says “I will kill you all.” Not a comforting thought when dealing with an all powerful unknown being. But are they?

What eventually works for the team is the instructions of one of the psychologist’s professors. Don’t try to understand everything. Do something. If that doesn’t work, do something else, no matter how crazy. It’s a pretty good way to quickly tackle the unknown. Especially when this line of reasoning reveals that rather than dealing with an alien entity that doesn’t understand what he’s doing, they’re really suffering the effects of the sphere, which enables those who enter it to manifest whatever they imagine, to manipulate reality. This was the union of thought and emotion: imagination.

The first to discover this was the underappreciated super-genius, who felt lonely his whole life, and restrained from demonstrating his full genius. But he was a man despairingly afraid, and his fears came to life. (In fact his logical brain reasoned that since there was no reference on the spacecraft to the discoverers of the technology in the past – the team discovering it now – that the team must all die in the ordeal, before ever revealing anything about the spacecraft to the world.) The second person to (secretly) enter the sphere was the concrete biologist, who required constant reassurance, connection, and control. She imagined offenses and constantly considered herself the victim. She turns out to be semi-suicidal and bent on self-torture. Finally the psychologist himself enters the sphere and has a mental conversation with his dark side. His weakness is to discredit the importance of logic, to rely on feelings. His survival means more to him than almost anything. Ultimately, though, it is his beliefs that save them all. He believes humans are worth helping. Emotions can be controlled and are worth controlling. He had been the one saying “Stick together,” and so he could not desert.

Was the sphere some cosmic test? Was the sphere itself a form of life? Did an alien (or future human) intelligence want to know how a human would react to getting whatever he wanted? Is that what imagination is for? How powerful is the imagination? Maybe the sphere accidentally had that effect. Maybe its intentions had nothing to do with humanity.

In the end the three survivors (mortal enemies mere hours before) cooperatively and unanimously decide to imagine the sphere and their past week’s experience out of existence. They come up with a new story to imagine in its place, and so it is done. The world ends up having no knowledge of time travel until they boldly voyage for the black hole fifty years in the future.

PS: I looked up Sphere on the internet. Lo and behold it did cut content from the book, and ended up with a PG-13 rating.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

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Books Read in 2008
Persuasion by Jane Austen (ok, so I re-read it, but loved it more the third time. The tale of a good, intelligent woman on the verge of being forever an “old maid,” whose family ignores her but whom she helps all the same. There is a handsome man she loved before he was rich, and so turned down at the influence of her family and friends, and very much regrets. He comes back into her life and suddenly everyone realizes Anne Elliot is the girl they want to marry. I underlined every word that illustrated persuasion, steadfastness, or persuad-ability. There are a lot.)
The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (a modern history book looking at leadership, politics, and big decisions as associated with Billy Graham.)
A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith (Single Christian girl in early thirties goes to England to trace Jane Austen’s life. She dreams of love, finds something special, and goes on to share her very human, very female thoughts about life, love, and God – often borrowing words from Jane Austen herself.)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I’d say the book is about making choices, and the freedom that comes from doing the right thing even when you don’t understand what’s going on. And it has to do with contentment and waiting and hard work. I see my friend, who recommended the book, in the pages. It’s the kind of thing she would like and live – and the kind of thing I would like and try to live.  Kit grew up in the free, warm Atlantic equatorial islands.  When her grandfather, who raised her, died, she decided to move in with her penpal aunt in New England.  The Puritan atmosphere doesn’t quite suit Kit, who looks for friends who share her sense of freedom.  Life doesn’t turn out quite how she imagines (through failure of imagination of consequences), but she means well.  Her influence gently softens the community, but eventually she is still tried as a witch.
I recently read GK Chesterton’s first novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was a quick read, interesting and fast-paced. It follows the life and career of the most unique humorist of England, one Auberon Quin, who was elected by lottery the king of England according to the consummate democracy of his fictional future government. Auberon enjoys making people confounded and annoyed, by being himself completely ridiculous. I have a feeling that this would be an even less popular course in England than in America.
 Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’ He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty. Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West. Why is God doing this? We wait to see.
Brave New Family by GK Chesterton is a compilation of many essays written about the Home and Family, about relationships between men and women and children.  It is excellent, but I read it so long ago that I can’t remember all that much about it.

The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton is a sort of allegorical tale about sovereignty and the war of the anarchists.  It is filled with character sketches.  The full impact of this book did not hit me until after I had read it and proceeded with life, when I began to encounter ideas and people frighteningly similar to those in this book.  I think Chesterton based some of them off real people whom he had met as well.  Hang in there for the end of the book.  It will blow your mind.

Ekklesia, edited and compiled by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, is an exposition of the New Testament’s descriptions of and instructions for the Church.  Apart from the business model, consumer structure of traditional church meetings, the authors argue from the Bible for a more personal and interactive gathering in homes.  There was very little in this book with which I could disagree.  Not only was it informational, reading Ekklesia was also challenging and encouraging.  The theology and exposition is spot on, well supported with biblical references.  In an age when God is working in many hearts to produce a desire to engage in community and God-powered ministry, this is a good book for direction.  An added bonus is that NTRF has not copyrighted Ekklesia, encouraging you to distribute portions to your friends or quote it in publications.

The Shack, by William Young, is a novel of a man dealing with the tragic death of his daughter and his feelings about God.  He ends up spending a weekend with God, dealing with classic issues of the problem of pain and our acceptance of God’s goodness despite what we feel.  God is incarnate in three persons, with whom he has many vivid interactions and conversations.  At the end of the story, he is left with more peace about God and the life he has experienced, but still does not have answers about what God expects of him.  The story is written in a way that tempts you to believe it is based on a true history.  At the end when I read the “making of” that told me it was only fiction, I was much relieved.  There is enough truth in the philosophy and theology that I could not believe the book represented demonic activity (producing the supernatural things described).  But there were also enough problematic elements (God as a girl wearing blue jeans) that I could not believe the events were truly from God.  Realizing that the author used fiction to introduce his own thoughts on theology must allow for him to be mistaken yet in some areas.  Most concerning are the indications that God would not send any of His creations to hell, because He loves ‘all His children’ – with an unbiblical definition of God’s children.  The semi-gnostic tendencies and references, including a conference with Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, provide insight into the background of Mr. Young.  The book is not keen on the Bible or church, either.  For a best seller, this book is a quick read and an interesting visit to theology.  But God gave us the Bible as His personal revelation; don’t substitute anything for it.

The Midnight Dancers is Regina Doman’s fourth fairy tale novel.  I don’t know whether she was a rebel herself or consulted heavily with people who had been there, but all of her observations on motive and inner conflict resonated well with my observations, and actually explained things.  Her main character is very human, torn between desires to be responsible and to be appreciated as an adult, between her love of freedom and her love of people.  Midnight Dancers also shows the slippery slope of sacrificing even a little bit of discernment while justifying your freedom and pleasure.  Like all of Mrs. Doman’s books, I was entranced.  However this edition, similar to Waking Rose, got pretty graphic and even too intense for my spirit to remain healthy.  I skipped a few pages near the end.  Fairy tales are fairly predictable in their endings, and this is no surprise.  They all lived happily ever after.

Mark is a book that transports me immediately back in history.  Full of action with little explanation, it is a biography of acts more than teachings, of impact rather than influences.  Beginning with a scene straight from a screenplay, of a voice crying in the wilderness, climaxing with the compassionate passion of a good Man suffering in the place of others, and closing with a simple instruction to pass the story on, Mark is a book for the ages.  Even though Jesus is the main character, the other characters are just as active and many are vivid personalities.  Mark himself may even make a cameo in a humble role at Gethsemane.  First to last this gospel is glorious.

It never ceases to amaze me how many facts are tucked into Genesis.  Details of the lives and failings of men who lived so long ago surprise me with their human reality.  Places and people, kings and battles, ancestries and inventions cover the pages.  Of course Genesis begins with creation, establishing the understanding of matter, time, energy, life, marriage, science, music, farming, boats, rain, rainbows, government, justice, worship, sacrifice, truth, possession, family, and judgment.  The generations are also sprinkled with hints of redemption and unwarranted preservation and forgiveness, of the second man supplanting the first.  Read in light of the New Testament’s references to this first book, Genesis is remarkably alive with parables and theology.  My favorite part in this reading was the theme of changed lives.

Treason by Ann Coulter is a history book with a strong political bent.  She documents how the Democratic Party is always cheering for and or supporting America’s enemies.  In the very least they have a record of opposing any efforts Americans make to defend themselves against enemies.  She describes the myth of McCarthyism, pointing out that all those people whose lives McCarthy’s trials (and just his influence) supposedly ruined were either open Communists or eventually found out to be Communists.  And most of them enjoyed long, pleasant lives (not getting everything their way, but who does?).  McCarthy, on the other hand, died young, at age 48.  But Ann Coulter doesn’t stop with the post World War II McCarthy.  She goes on to discuss Vietnam, the Cold War, North Korea, and the War on Terrorism.  History is dirty, and she both addresses some mature issues and references them to make jibes.  But I appreciate the excessive documentation of the habit of Democrats to stand up on the side most opposed to America’s interests.  They used to call such blatant and effective acts “treason.”

Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power by Jesse L. Byock (see full review)
Sphere by Michael Crichton (see full review)
Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates (see full review)
Godcast: Transforming Encounters with God; Bylines by Media Journalist and Pastor Dan Betzer (see full review) 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen (To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read.  Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters).  For my part I wish that the story had been developed more.  I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy.  Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid.  One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to.  The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.”  She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter.  Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished.  They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death.  The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought.  We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed.  Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed.  Read Lady Susan.  It’s a light, funny story with a background romance.  Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them.  And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.) 

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg (see full review)

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver (There wasn’t a lot of new Christian stuff in this book, but it was a good read and some challenging reminders.  This book covers topics ranging from worry to service to worship to personal devotions.  I love how the book draws everything together into the One Thing conclusion.  Joanna invites you to join her journey of seeking a Mary Heart in a Martha World.)

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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