Sunday, December 30, 2007

Book Review: "Survivor in Death" by J. D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts)

First and foremost in this review, I want to get across the fact that Robb/Roberts has gotten me addicted to the "...in Death" books. It was while reading this book that I realized fully why I got addicted; characters.


All the books in the "...in Death" series revolve around Lt. Eve Dallas and her team on the NYPSD, around the year 2050. This puts them in the near enough future to not lose the Nora Roberts audience and just enough to have some cool futuristic gadgets and lure in some sci-fi fans.


The characters are so well written and captivating I felt myself wanting to high five them all as they got closer to catching the murderers.


This book starts out with the systematic and precise murder of a very normal family as they slept. The family is the perfect family and peaceful, why would anyone want them dead. However the murderers missed one small detail, a survivor. She snuck down in the middle of the night to get a soda and that's when the killers struck. She witnesses the killers slashing the necks of the family's housekeeper and her parents. While this is happening she has enough wits about her to call the police.


Lt. Eve Dallas and her team are called on scene and the work begins. The investigation leads to military trained assassins that are seeking revenge. The assassins also have ties to a recently dispersed terrorist cell.


The thrill of the chase is one that keeps going and anxious through the book until the bad guys are finally caught. Sorry I let you know the bad guys get caught, but really its not the catch, it's the thrill of the chase, and J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts knows how to make a stay-up-all-night-reading-while-sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Book Review: "Holiday in Death" by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)

Since it is the holiday season, I thought one of the books I read and review should be a nice book about the holidays. Okay, it does take place during the holidays, but it's not so nice.


J.D. Robb's Future crime fighting New York police detective, Lt. Eve Dallas doesn't celebrate the holidays. This is all because of her lack of family life growing up, but her new husband/multi-millionaire Roarke is out to make sure she gets a little holiday cheer. The problem is a serial killer uses the holidays to do his best work, and that means no time off for Dallas.


A series of murders in which the victims are raped and murdered turns Lt. Dallas' holiday plans to work and no pleasure. The victims are all decorated like Christmas trees and tattooed with "True Love" somewhere on their body. And to throw some extra punch into his crime the killer adorns each victim depicting a line from the song "The 12 Days of Christmas." The first victim has a pin with a partridge in a pear tree and so on from there.


Dallas and her team soon discover that all the victims are linked by a dating service. This dating service is run by twins Piper and Rudy whose relationship goes farther than brother and sister should. Soon they are the key suspects.
The action never stops in this super creative futuristic crime thriller novel by J. D. Robb. The characters are multidimensional and very captivating. Robb has got a great recipe when it comes to these "...in Death" novels. This book is number 8 of 28 in the collection. The books are written so that you don't have to read the novels in order to enjoy them.


J.D. Robb is the pseudonym of Nora Roberts. She uses this pseudonym to write these sci-fi crime novels instead of her normal fare of romance novels.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Book Review: "Starship Titanic" by Douglas Adams and Terry Jones

As I was reading this book I was constantly saddened by the fact that we will never get to read any further stories of Dirk Gently, Zaphod Beeblebrox,Ford Prefect, Arthur Dent et. al. That's because Douglas Adams passed away back in 2001. He did leave us a legacy of a trilogy of 5 books in the Hitchhiker's Guide books, (Yes I know a trilogy is 3 but try and explain that to a dead man.) 2 Dirk Gently books (and a bonus book of leftover stuff that was never finished in the Dirk Gently Realm titled "The Salmon of Doubt"), "The Meaning of Liff," "The Deeper Meaning of Liff," "Last Chance to See" (a great non-fiction book in which Mr. Adams goes around the world to view and write about endangered species). These are the only books I read more than once. Usually I read a book and I'm done with it, but with Douglas Adams they are written with so much depth and humor that something new is discovered in each reading.

If you are not familiar with Douglas Adams, first of all...don't wait...rush out now and grab a copy of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and get hooked, otherwise I'll try to explain. Douglas Adams has a great comedic voice in all his books, most of the time pushing to the level of absurdity. For example, the most famous aspect of the Hitchhiker's books is this, 42. Let me explain, A great computer named "Deep Thought" was built to determine the answer to life, the universe and everything. This computer thought for millions of years and finally came to the answer. That answer is 42. Well the problem is that no one knows what the question is. To determine that another computer had to be built, it's an organic computer called Earth. (yes OUR Earth) But Earth was destroyed before it could come up with the question, in order to build a hyperspace bypass. So that is a very miniscule, minute look at the humor of the man that also wrote for, "Monty Python's Flying Circus," "Doctor Who," and numerous BBC Radio programmes. (I had to use the British spelling in his honor (-: )

Another thing he did was to write a couple of computer games. The first was based on the Hitchhiker's trilogy. The second was a game called "Starship Titanic." It takes place on a starship of the same name which has undergone "Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure" and crash landed on Earth on its maiden voyage (in an allusion to the 1912 disaster involving the real-world RMS Titanic). The player acts the part of a human (whose house the starship crashed into) who goes aboard to help fix the ship, and must solve puzzles to collect the parts of the sabotaged onboard computer, Titania. Once all the parts have been collected and inserted in the correct places, Titania comes alive and talks.

So that brings us to this book. Basically Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) has written this book and tried to copy Douglas Adams' style while adapting what was written into the game. While at times this does seem like another Douglas Adams book, there are times that it seems like a computer game and the main characters have to complete tasks before they can move up to the next level. An example of this would be when the Earthlings are "abducted" they are given commercial class status, in order to reach the captain of the ship (which we later learn there is none), they have to get upgraded to first class by finding vouchers and and then earning miles. This "puzzle-piece-plot-device" is actually very typical of many of Adam's writings and helps move many of his plots, but usually they aren't as blatent as they are when Terry Jones adapts them.

The story goes that the Blerontinians have bult the ultimate starship using the plans of one of the greatest minds in the Universe, Leovinicus. But the to build the ship corners had to be cut and the ship is only partially finished when it experiences a SMEF (Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure) and crash lands on earth. When the abducted Earthlings learn where they are they must get back to Earth, but they soon discover there is a bomb on board (this is to destroy the ship so the Blerontinians can collect the insurance money and make up for the building loss) and the romp through a universe only Douglas Adams could create begins.

This book is absurdly funny, sometimes bizarre, and a must read for any Douglas Adams fan. If you've never read anything by Douglas Adams, I recommend reading his other books first then come to this one because it's not PURE DOUGLAS ADAMS, it is pretty darn close, though

Monday, December 10, 2007

Movie Review: "The Mist"

If you are a Stephen King fan, you have probably been waiting a long time for his short story “The Mist,” which first appeared in the collection of short stories “Dark Forces,” first published in 1980.  I know when I read the story I was enthralled by the unnamable creatures in the mist.  Well now, you can see these creatures on the big screen.  I will warn you; this movie is not going to win a “feel-good” movie of the year award.  In fact, I will warn you and possibly spoil it for you by saying that, this movie has a very depressing end.


That being said, the movie does an excellent job of portraying the imagination and creepiness Stephen King created in the story.  The special effects are unique in that creatures had to be created that reflected various forms of life from insects, flying reptiles and extremely huge scorpions.  In addition, some creatures go beyond description.  It has been about 27 years since I read the story but I remember in the story that some of the creatures were left up to the imagination, and thankfully, the special effects on this do leave some to the imagination by hinting at a form in the mist.


The story goes that an artist, his wife and 8-year-old son go to the basement of their home when a severe electrical storm hits their area.  The next morning they wake up to damage from fallen trees and no electricity or phones.


As do most the locals, the artist and his son head to a supermarket to stock up on food and supplies to fix damages.  When they arrive at the store, the store has no electricity but generators are keeping the refrigerators cooling. 


The mist comes rolling into town and a local man comes screaming into the store saying something is in the mist.  He has a bloody nose and claims something knocked him down and took his friend.  The air raid sirens in the town go off and soon the mist envelopes the town and nothing can be seen through the windows.


The patrons then close all the doors and set to wait out the mist.  A generator’s exhaust becomes backed up and a kid volunteers to clear it.  Something with spiked tentacles grabs him and takes him from the hands of the artist.  The others who witness this say they must tell the others.  They decide to do so must have a respected person to side with them.  An attorney, who has a history with the artist, and not a good history, thinks they are joking with him and proceeds to ridicule them.
He then decides to take a few folks with him and walk out in the mist to find help.


This is where the action begins; a rope is tied to one man so he can find his way back.  The rope becomes taught and then takes off, as if attached to a kite, into the air.  Then goes slack and when pulled back has only half of the man that left.


Soon they begin blocking all windows and doors.  At this time, a local religious fanatic, Mrs. Carmody, begins street preaching, and the subject matter is that the mist is all a result of end of days, and God bringing down his wrath.


The movie then becomes creepy in how humanity begins to grasp at the unknown when faced with the unknown.  The religious fanatic begins talking of sacrifices to god to overcome the evil in the mist. 


Many creepy creatures and creepy looks at human behavior in this film, and once again an ending that is not, by any means, uplifting or hopeful.  However, a great Stephen King story turned to film is what you will get.  I was upset that Stephen King did not make his obligatory cameo as he has done with most of his films in the past. 


 Cast (in credits order)



  •     Thomas Jane    ...     David Drayton

  •     Marcia Gay Harden    ...     Mrs. Carmody

  •     Laurie Holden    ...     Amanda Dunfrey

  •     Andre Braugher    ...     Brent Norton

  •     Toby Jones    ...     Ollie Weeks

  •     William Sadler    ...     Jim Grondin

  •     Jeffrey DeMunn    ...     Dan Miller

  •     Frances Sternhagen    ...     Irene

  •     Alexa Davalos    ...     Sally

  •     Nathan Gamble    ...     Billy Drayton

  •     Chris Owen    ...     Norm

  •     Sam Witwer    ...     Wayne Jessup

  •     Robert C. Treveiler    ...     Bud Brown

  •     David Jensen    ...     Myron

  •     Jack Hurst    ...     Joe Eagleton (as Jackson Hurst)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Movie Review: "The Golden Compass"

I'm going to start this review out by asking, "What the heck is the big deal about this movie? and Why are churches so upset?"

The movie is based on the first book in a series by Phillip Pullman and this movie actually only covers part of the first book in a 3 book series. I have not yet read the books (notice i said YET), but understand there are some anti-religion statements, but they mainly deal with the power of organized religions in the political fields, not by saying religion is bad.

I guess when you start to warn people that when an organized religion becomes so powerful that it begins to invade every aspect of your personal life and you no longer have freewill or choice, then the said religions would say, "Oops they found out that we want total control." So at this point they organized religion would say, "Ve must put a stop to this movie."

But hey, I digress.

As a movie "The Golden Compass" is a very nice movie for the family.

Basically the story is about an alternate reality on an alternate Earth. The premise is that there are many universes and many Earths. One such parallel Earth a person's soul is not within the body but instead they soul lives in the form of an animal called a daemon, (for you religious zealots this is not demon, many people equate the word ``daemon'' with the word ``demon,'' implying some kind of Satanic connection. This is an egregious misunderstanding. ``Daemon'' is actually a much older form of ``demon''; daemons have no particular bias towards good or evil, but rather serve to help define a person's character or personality. The ancient Greeks' concept of a ``personal daemon'' was similar to the modern concept of a ``guardian angel'' --- ``eudaemonia'' is the state of being helped or protected by a kindly spirit.)

A child's daemon has the power to shapeshift until the child becomes of age the the daemon takes on a permanent shape. The daemon is linked to the person via "Dust." In my opinion and from others I have spoken with this "Dust" can be "Original Sin." But to draw the full conclusion on this I will be reading the book later on and checking out this theory.

Lord Asriel has brought back a photograph of a person and their daemon channeling dust from an alternate Earth, Lord Asriel wants to investigate this phenomenon further and gets funding from the university to seek out and explore the alternate Earths. A Young girl, Lyra, who we later learn is the daughter of Lord Asrial and Marisa Coulter, becomes the recipient of the golden compass to take to Asrial. The golden compass is a truthteller but only a select few can read the compass, Lyra is one of those few.

Marisa Coulter, working for the Magisterium, arranges for the kidnapping of orphan children in a government/religious experiment to seperate the children from their daemon/soul thus keeping them safe from dust. This is killing the children. Lyra's friend is kidnapped and she sets out to rescue him.

Alon the way she recruits the Gyptians (similar to Gypsies), A western type gunslinger, Lee Scoresby and an armored Polar bear, Iorek Blyrnison. They must find the children and rescue them.

As a side here, Sam Elliott plays Lee Scoresby and, in my opinion, is the most intriguing and fun character in the film. But I should warn you I'm a huge Sam Elliott fan.

The movie is full of action and adventure with beautiful cinematography as well as great special effects. Take the kids out to a great movie.



Cast
Nicole Kidman ... Marisa Coulter
Daniel Craig ... Lord Asriel
Dakota Blue Richards ... Lyra Belacqua
Ben Walker ... Roger
Freddie Highmore ... Pantalaimon (voice)
Ian McKellen ... Iorek Byrnison (voice)
Eva Green ... Serafina Pekkala
Jim Carter ... John Faa
Tom Courtenay ... Farder Coram
Ian McShane ... Ragnar Sturlusson (voice)
Sam Elliott ... Lee Scoresby
Christopher Lee ... First High Councilor
Kristin Scott Thomas ... Stelmaria (voice)
Edward de Souza ... Second High Councilor
Kathy Bates ... Hester (voice)
Simon McBurney ... Fra Pavel

Book Review: "The Man In The High Castle” by Philip K. Dick

It's America in 1962. Slavery is legal once again. The few Jews who still survive hide under assumed names. In San Francisco, the I Ching is as common as the Yellow Pages. All because some 20 years earlier the United States lost a war--and is now occupied jointly by Nazi Germany and Japan.

In this psychological and societal study, PKD helped to define the alternative history fiction type of story as a serious literary genre. It won the prestigious Hugo Award and helped make Dick well-known in science fiction circles.

The Man in the High Castle's point of divergence from our own world occurred when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933. Unable to recover from economic hardship of the ‘30s the U.S. lost World War II. The Eastern Seaboard was placed under German control while California and other western states ceded to Japanese rule. The Southern United States was revived as a quasi-independent state (as a Nazi puppet state like Vichy France). The Rocky Mountain States and much of the Midwest remained autonomous with Nevada becoming the US capital, being considered unimportant by either of the victors, as well as a useful buffer. At the end of the war, the Allied leaders and generals were tried for war crimes (e.g. the carpet bombing of German cities) in a parallel of the Nuremberg Trials.

After Adolf Hitler was incapacitated by syphilis, the head of the Nazi Party Chancellery, Martin Bormann, assumed the leadership of Germany. The Nazis created a colonial empire and continued their mass murder of races they considered inferior, murdering Jews in the puppet United States and other areas they controlled and mounting massive genocide in Africa. However, unlike the Nazis, the Japanese had no policy of cleansing the occupied areas of "unwanted" races. Various factions of the Nazi party are described as either seeking war with Japan or being more interested in colonizing the solar system.

So there lies the basic of what the book consists of, story wise. But deep underneath there is a story of hope. The title of the book comes from a reference to an author in the book, Hawthorne Abendsen who has written a book called “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.” In this book within a book, Abendsen writes a novel based on the premise that the U.S. won the war and the world is a free place. The Book is banned by the Nazi party and tolerated by the Japanese. In fact many of the Japanese characters in this book have read or have in their possession the book.

The author, Abendsen, lives in a High Castle to prevent attack from the Germans. The book has provided hope for the Americans and Jews to possibly overrun the Nazi rule.

At the same time a couple of machinists working in a factory branch out and start creating jewelry. This causes them to start their own business but when the jewelry some Asian buyers find that the jewelry represents the deep feeling of WU, the Taoist state of emptiness, the creator of the universe.

Therefore one of the many sub-ideas of this is that America is defined by its art and literature and cannot be defeated, as long as there is hope, art and literature.

Once again a classic PKD novel.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Book Review: "Ice Bound" by Dean Koontz

This book is a thrill a second. I think Dean Koontz may have written the perfect thriller here with "Ice Bound." First you have scientists adrift on an iceberg during a harsh storm with no rescue. Next he throws in that at midnight the iceberg will blow up due to explosives planted deep within the ice. And then as if that weren't enough there is someone among the scientific team that is out to kill another member, and no one knows who. To paraphrase Chandler from TV's "Friends," "Could you put any more suspense in this story?"

Scientists have figured a possible way to bring water to parts of the world that are prone to droughts, Bring them an Ice Berg. Sure, when it melts there's some pure water, but how do you get the berg to the people? A team of scientists are trying to develop that answer by tracking an ice berg's natural path and how much work the berg will do on it's own. The problem is you need an ice berg.

A team of scientists decide to plant a radio tracking device on the ice shelf and then explode a chunk of the shelf making their own iceberg. The problems start when earthquakes in the area create a tsunami and cause a chunk of the ice shelf to break off, while the scientists are putting on the finishing touches of the explosives. Yes, it is the same chunk the scientists have set camp on and this chunk includes their explosives. So now they have to get off the berg before midnight. But wait, there's a huge storm that prevents any form of rescue from arriving for about 3 days. Also this is a temporary camp so they were not prepared to spend more than a day on the ice in sub-zero temperatures.

So the alternative is to try to get rid of the bombs...they are buried under 60 feet of ice and the equipment breaks after the 3rd (of 10) bomb. While this creates a "safer" zone, the iceberg will still blow and could topple so no safe zone really exists. At this time one of the members of the team is attacked and left to freeze to death, thus it is discovered that a murderer is now amongst them. But only 3 team members know about the attempt and all others are under suspicion.

Dean Koontz actually wrote this book back in 1976 under his then pseudonym of David Axton and it was originally titled "Prison of Ice." In 1995, he massively rewrote and revised this book to create this masterpiece thriller, "Ice Bound."

Book Review: “Creation In Death” by Nora Roberts writing as J.D. Robb

This is the first Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb book I have ever read, and let me tell you, it’s a really good read. I never would have read a Nora Roberts book (probably still won’t) because I’m not fond of the romance genre, but with her pseudonym of J.D. Robb, I think I can read these futuristic-detective books. As J.D. Robb, Nora writes the “In Death” books. They are all sci-fi based detective stories featuring Lt. Eve Dallas; at least in this one she is, she may have just started out as a detective in the series, I’ll have to read some of the earlier works to find out. The first book in the series was titled “Naked in Death” and this book is her most recent (number 26), published in November 2007. According to her website she’s not done either.


Now keep in mind that Nora Roberts is the actual writer, so yes there is a bit of romance mixed in, but it’s a good break from the thrill a second story that is this book, “Creation in Death.” It gives the reader the chance to take a breath and maybe brew up that much needed java to keep going. Trust me; you won’t want to put this book down.


When thinking of Sci-fi detective novels I often think of Isaac Asimov’s robot detective R. Daneel Olivaw. And while Asimov may have set the foundation for sci-fi detective stories, J.D. Robb (okay we all know it’s Nora Roberts, but these are so different from her other works I will refer to Robb as the author) writes a detective series set a couple of decades into the future that is easily compared to those Asimov detective stories. This is just far enough to create some cool gadgetry but it is also recent enough to still be limited. And the crime and finding a killer process in this book is done the old fashioned way, hittin’ the streets. So in reality this is a great detective story that just lingers enough into the sci-fi realm to keep it fun.


A body is found carefully covered and carefully laid out. The body is a young brunette woman with obvious wounds from various forms of torture. On her body is carved the time it took for her to die. The worst part is that for Lt. Eve Dallas, this is not a new scene. 9 years earlier, still young in the detective field Dallas and her then partner worked the same killer. They didn’t catch him then but he has resurfaced now, and Dallas vows, this time he will be caught.


From page one the reader is sucked into the story and never released. As a reader I was constantly helping to find clues and root for the good guys to hurry. This book provided some good adrenaline rushes and never stopped. While I won’t give away too much, I will say I really appreciated the story because it was not one of those tricky whodunits in which the culprit was someone within the inner circle of the story. It was actually a person that was not related to the main characters in any way. You know what I mean, one of those that the guy standing next to the lead detective is the killer all along. This one seemed like a real police force hunting down a real killer. Even the end of the case they have to go back to work the next day. Knowing the case is “solved” does not giveaway anything to keep this book from being exciting.