The Sphere: A Journey In Time is the first book of The Sphere Saga by Michelle McBeth.
First, a little background on why this whole review is even a thing. You can skip to  if you want to go right to the review.
As you know, I was chosen to be a judge in the new Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, #SPSFC. 300 science fiction books enter, 1 science fiction book leaves. And I’m part of the Space Lasagna judging panel.
See? I have a badge.
My deep, dark agenda in this contest was pure and simple: take the sting off rejection for the 299 of the 300 authors who put themselves out there only to not win this cruel, cruel competition. In this literary Battle Royale, I’m here to make sandwiches and hot chocolate for the, uh, the dead kids I guess?
The metaphor is a work in progress, and so is the #SPSFC. That’s my point. It’s hard work for the judges and rejection and disappointment comes with the territory. I am determined to soothe this as much as possible, by providing what I hoped the #SPFBO would provide, and which sets these contests aside from viral-popularity bullshit like the Hugos: actual attention and feedback, and concrete reviews on book sites, for the entrants. And that means actually reading the gorram books.
Disappointment starts earlier for some authors, and lingers all the way to the finals for others. But we have already had to make some cuts and the result has been unhappy and angry authors. Basically, if the book doesn’t meet the criteria, we’ve tried to just not include it in the starting 300, but there’s always going to be some hurt feelings over the process, after the anxiety-load of even entering such a contest.
One such disappointed contender (although a good-humoured one, I think, compared to some others [*self-deprecating cough*] I could mention) was Michelle McBeth, whose book just scraped in under the required word-count. I decided, since we’re still waiting to kick off and because blind luck is an important part of the writing game, that I would drop her a review as a consolation prize. The e-book was cheap, I already knew it was nice and short, and so what the Hell.
I can’t do it with every entrant who missed out, but I can do it this time. Just a final quick note about what I’m doing in this review.
Basically, I read a book and make notes about it as I go. What’s good, what’s bad, what takes me out of the story, what I think might happen or think should be focussed on, and whether my guesses panned out. Then I wang all that together into a rambling stream of consciousness about the book. I top it off with four Very Professional Metrics (VPMs): the Sex-o-meter, the Gore-o-meter, the WTF-o-meter and the Final Verdict.
Now, the three meter-scores don’t add up to anything and have no bearing on the Final Verdict. They’re just handy indications of what sort of story we’re talking about. Also, there is no consistency in the scores (or even the points systems) I use – the meters give the results they give.
Are sex, gore and utter existential bafflement the three most important things in my life? I don’t know, I’m a quasi-sentient primate writing about the recorded fantasies of other quasi-sentient primates on an electronic miracle box. You tell me what’s fucking important.
So, now that explanation is out of the way, on with the good stuff.
 Edpool here. As I was saying, today let’s take a look at The Sphere: A Journey In Time.
I was very pleasantly surprised by this story, which I was interested to see was a result of the NaNoWriMo movement. The tale of a time-travelling researcher, known as a librarian, and her adventures in and around a secret laboratory facility is intriguing right from the start. The start also includes a solid bit of Shakespearean in-jokery and nods from the author that gave me a chuckle. It’s always a good idea to make the reader feel clever.
The trips back through history are interesting, and done in a sufficiently broad-strokes way as to allow the reader to fill in what might otherwise become a boring showcase of How Much The Author Researched This Stuff. I don’t know about you, but I like my time travel kept as simple as possible – because eventually, it’s never simple. It’s time travel.
Even more interesting, to me, were the glimpses of the future. The post-travel decontamination scene drew me in, the librarians and planters and scouts were all fascinating, the secrecy and the dome and the strangeness of the world was fun to explore – and when I saw the word ‘floogberry’ I knew there was some great creating going on under the hood. And no, I’m not being sarcastic. I want to know what the Hell a floogberry is, damn it.
There were a couple of parts that pulled me out of the story. At one point the story refers to the past fifty years of development which makes it unnecessarily clear that the book was written in the 2020s, and there’s no real reason for that. There’s a Sean Connery reference, which just to be clear, is comparing a computer voice to an actor who died long before the main character was born, so sure – maybe he’s been immortalised because Zardoz turned out to be true, we don’t know based on this book (although the in-story philosophy of a population “deprived” of the struggle for survival and resources becoming stagnant and idle is very reminiscent of the statements from that classic movie). But in the meantime it did distract me. As you can see.
At first I was hoping the story would tackle the very strange lifestyle of the librarians, who would clearly age dramatically faster in their native time as they spent so long elsewhen, but McBeth went a different way with it. This was ultimately satisfying. Adelaide’s journey was very fun to read. I’m a bit dubious that she’d never thought about what was inside a sphere before, but okay. I don’t wonder about what’s inside my computer until it starts making weird noises, so fair play.
All in all this story was super cool, right up my literary alley and really just needed a once-over from an editor. Little things like was loathe at the idea and effecting my ability to cope, and some attention to the pacing of the ending of the book and some of the exposition, a couple too many scenes of characters skipping past each other in time and giving each other notes to explain what to do … the usual stuff independent authors miss out on because the traditional publishers keep the editors out of our price range. It didn’t by any means spoil the story for me.
There’s no sex in this story, which frankly is fine. Not every book needs it. What little flirting and exploration of physicality there is, seems like an obligation being met. I was far more fascinated by the relationship between Adelaide and Noah, and between Noah and Noah. The vehemence of his reactions to various revelations about his life, that was all really interesting. I give The Sphere half a firm-yet-flexible wossname out of a possible five upright throbbing ones.
No real gore, which again is fine. Most violence happens off-page but you still get a nice sense of stakes and peril. I actually liked that the past was impressed upon us as dangerous, but not the absolute fucking bloodbath some storytellers make it out to be, leaving us to wonder how the Hell we even managed to survive as a species (don’t get me wrong, this is still a very valid thing to wonder). Half a quivering flesh-gobbet out of five.
Here’s where The Sphere really shone. Of course, time travel is going to be a mind-fuck every time, and while nobody familiar with Crichton’s Timeline, the MCU’s multiverse and the academic works of Brown and McFly, et al, is going to have much of a problem recognising what’s happening here … it’s still done in a fun new way. There were maybe too many moving parts and switches in how the “technology” really functioned, but it all worked and those were good, chilling twists. I’d be curious to see how the rules of the Sphere Sagaverse change or remain consistent in the following two books. I’ll award this book four floogberries out of a possible five.
My Final Verdict
This was a lot of fun to read and I’m heartily glad Michelle McBeth picked up a pen for NaNoWriMo. I gave this book four stars on Amazon and Goodreads, although I suppose I’d call it three-and-a-half I rounded up, it was a well-deserved rounding. Needing a good professional editor is the eternal curse of the independent author, but a good story and grand imagination shines through.