Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass" Written by Philip Pullman

"His Dark Materials, Book I: The Golden Compass"
Written by Philip Pullman
Read by Philip Pullman and Full Cast
Produced by Listening Library 2004

Back in 2007 I was intrigued by the Movie based on this book "The Golden Compass," and had to go see it. What intrigued me most was that churches were protesting this fantasy story. Anytime organized religion says a movie is dangerous or in any way harmful, I have to go see it. I'm one of those folks that cannot fathom that arts and entertainment can warp a mind so badly that it will cause one to harm oneself or others. Art may reflect life but I don't think that art can bend life to its will. So began my journey into the worlds created by Philip Pullman.

After watching this wonderfully imaginative movie I couldn't figure why all the fuss. After discussing it with some folks I heard that the producers of the movie cut out much of the obvious anti-religion material discussed in the book. Well....that meant I now had to read the books. I got the books and was prepared to read them, I'm talking about the actual physical books here, with pages and all, but I ran across these audio books being narrated by the author and a full cast of performers and had to give that a listen. After all who better to read a book than the author. His voice could add emphasis to areas he wrote where he felt it was more important. Thus giving his intentions rather than something that could be misunderstood. I'm glad I did. The production was very well done with a cast of voices that fit into the characters voices perfectly. There are no sound effects or incidental music like some full cast production audio books, but that's what made this a better experience.

To answer the question about what has this book got to do with religion, well the book does not say at any point that religion is bad, merely that organized religion is power hungry and that could be a bad thing. Two simple examples as to how religion could be too powerful are "The Inquisition" and Reverend Jim Jones. Without getting into a debate about religion let's just say that religion CAN be used for bad as well as good.

In this book the religious negativity comes in the form of the church wanting to reclaim original sin and harnessing the potential power held within. After all without original sin we could all live in the Garden. However the evil way the church tries to harness that power is to create zombies out of children so they may never be touched by original sin. In this book original sin is represented by Dust. The Dust seems to settle on adults but not children, at least not until the child reaches puberty and their daemon settles on a permanent form.

In the world created by Pullman all humans have a daemon. The daemon is best described as the human soul taking and animal companion form. For children the daemon can shift it's shape into any animal form but once the child has hit puberty the daemon settles on one shape for the rest of the human and daemon's life. The daemon's form seems to reflect somewhat the soul of the person but that would require more research on my part to fully explain, in fact any aspiring students looking to write a thesis on these books could look into that aspect. For right now just understand the daemon's are best explained as being an outward expression of the soul. They can comfort the person during times of stress and can help with many tasks. The daemons also have the ability of speech.

"The Golden Compass" (originally titled "The Northern Lights") introduces us to the main character of Lyra Belacqua, supposedly orphaned and left in the care of the academic staff of Jordan College, Oxford. Lyra's "uncle" Lord Asriel is researching Dust in the north and finding the link between Dust, the soul, multiple universes, particle physics and the Northern Lights. The church does not want Asriel to continue his experiments and investigations. When Lyra discovers a plot to kill her uncle she warns him and saves his life. She then finds out, by hiding in a wardrobe, about Dust through a lecture given to the academ by Lord Asriel.

Lyra's journey begins when children start to go missing. These children vanish without a trace and when one of Lyra's good friends, Roger, disappears she feels the need to find him. The children all tell stories of the disappearances but most stories circle around the "Gobblers" who take the children and do all manner of unspeakable things to the children including eat them. The truth is actually more sinister.

Before Lyra can begin her search she is taken in by Mrs. Coulter. But before she leaves Jordan College the headmaster gives Lyra an alethiometer. Resembling a golden, many-handed pocket-watch, it can answer any question asked by the user. Although initially unable to read or understand its complex symbols, Lyra takes it with her to Mrs. Coulter's. Lyra learns that Mrs. Coulter is the head of the General Oblation Board, a.k.a. the Gobblers, and that she is the one abducting the children. Lyra is to be used to abduct more children. Upon finding this information Lyra runs away. She is then rescued by a group of Gyptians, a nomadic folk who live on boats. The Gyptians take Lyra to meed the King of the Gyptians and discover that Lyra has more to her life's mission, but cannot be told of her mission. Leaving the outcome to freewill.

In an adventure that leads Lyra to meet with Witches, Armored (intelligent) Bears, and seeking to rescue her uncle, Lord Asriel, from his imprisonment by the church, Phillip Pullman creates a novel of epic proportion that in this audio book form is an exhilarating listen.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:59 PM Comments: 0

Monday, May 18, 2009

"How to Mind Map" by Tony Buzan

"How to Mind Map"
by Tony Buzan
Published 2002 by Thorsons
103 pages

Before I get into the review for this book, need to explain how I found out about the concept in the first place. I'm a frequent visitor to the website giveawayoftheday.com, on this site each day they offer different software downloads free. These are full versions of the software and you get to keep forever. The makers of the software get reviews of the software and word of mouth advertising. One of the downloads offered was a program by the company Concept Draw. The program was Concept Draw Mind Map. At first glance it looked like a flow chart layout program, like (I thought) Microsoft's Visio. But the layout and tools were more "organic" in nature and the software was intended to be used as a computer assistant for Mind Mapping.

The software sat on my computer for a while and finally I decided to see what this Mind Mapping was all about. Tony Buzan has created or rather put to use the system that allows you to make the most of your brain and mind and to oranize, create and plan how the brain wants to do these things. Basically with pictures and colors and flow chart type of layouts that evolve from a central Idea or spoke. The sub-points then branch off in curvy colorful lines with pictures drawn to assist memory and learning. The first mind map you creat in the book is based on fruit. This is used to prove a point that the brain doesn't think in words or in straight lines but rather in abstracts and colors. In other words, in the book you are told to think of the word fruit and then close your eyes. What your mind's eye then sees is not the letters F-R-U-I-T, but maybe a basket of fruit, bananas, apples, oranges, you know actual pictures. From there you draw a mind map that branches out into several ideas for fruit in a way that your brain can read and interpret.

Below is a sample from the book of a mind map on fruit. This is from the Japanese printing of the book, and for those that speak english may not know what words written are, but the images allow your brain to translate and maybe get a good idea of what is written. If you were to draw this yourself using your own symbols it would then make even more sense

Now, take this concept further and with mind mapping you are able to make notes and lists and keep them in a way that your brain can interpret. Imagine, and yes it is possible, to have a lecture or presentation drawn out on one sheet of paper rather than on a stack of 3x5 cards. That is just one of the many uses of mind mapping. Maybe you are a student and with your notes you have to sift through pages of lined out notes. With Mind Mapping you can find your central concepts easy enough and make studying easier.

If you are interested in making your life easier and learn how to better create, organize and plan check out this cool book...I'm still learning how to do this right, but it is a fun process.

As for the computer software, I like using the software because my writing is atrocious and I've never been much of an artist. So I let the software do the pictures for me on some occasions. As an example, below is an incomplete Mind Map on the review of this book from that software. (I had to limit to just a little info so i can include it all in a small graphic)

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posted by Gil T. @ 1:44 AM Comments: 0

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tertiary Phase By Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tertiary Phase
By Douglas Adams
Published by BBC Audio books
Multicast performance
Produced by BBC Radio
Approx. 3 hours

I'm really not sure what it is but there is something about the British and their creativity and humor. Seriously, think about it all the best stuff entertainment related comes from the UK; The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Monty Python's Flying Circus, Dr. Who, The Office, Life on Mars, Ashes to Ashes and even American Idol was a British idea first. Continuing with that tradition the Britons birthed Douglas Adams.
The "trilogy in five parts" that makes up the books of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series has to be one of the funniest if not most creative science fiction works in existence. The series has seen many manifestations of itself in media, a BBC Television series, Computer games, movie, stage plays, games, comic books and the BBC Radio Productions.

The first two books in the series were produced for BBC Radio 4 in 1978. The latter books in the series, the Tertiary, Quandary and Quintessential Phases were broadcast on Radio 4 from September 2004 to June 2005. The only members of the original cast not on the new versions were absent due to death. However as tribute in episode one of the Tertiary Phase, Simon Jones, the voice of the book, is heard for a bit as the book is updating itself. A real treat is that Douglas Adams makes a posthumous appearance playing the part of Agrajag.

BBC Audio books has taken these "phases" and released them as audio books. The Tertiary phase basically, is the book "Life, The Universe, and Everything." This book tells of the evil xenophobic race of Krikkiteers who thought themselves alone in the Universe because their solar system was surrounded by a black dust cloud. After a ship crash lands on their planet they set out to kill anything that is not a Krikketeer. The game of cricket is based on these battles, okay so sayeth Douglas Adams, anyway.

At the beginning of the audio book we find Arthur Dent stranded on pre-historic Earth with only trees to talk with. A spaceship lands and Arthur thinks he may be saved. But the ship is manned only by a man that has set out to insult everyone in the universe. After he insults Arthur he leaves, and Arthur is stranded once again. But the story picks up when Ford Prefect appears and they go jaunting across the universe with Slartibartfast to keep the Krikkiteer robots from reassembling a key that will release the Krikkit solar system from its time lock and then destroy everyone.

With the greatest absurdism and dry wit that only Douglas Adams ever pulled off these audio book / radio release of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Tertiary Phase is a welcome presence to any Douglas Adams fan. If you are not yet a fan of Douglas Adams or the Hitchhiker’s series, you can easily give this a listen and jump right in to a hilarious romp without missing a beat with this production.

One other note, why can't the U.S. bring back radio theater?

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posted by Gil T. @ 3:01 AM Comments: 1

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Flash: Stop Motion (Justice League of America) by Mark Schultz

The Flash: Stop Motion (Justice League of America)
by Mark Schultz
Multicast performance
Produced by Graphic Audio
Approx 6 hours.

I have become hooked, if not addicted, to the audio books by Graphic Audio. Their production is full of mind-ripping sound effects, mood driving background music and a cast that captures the voices of the super heroes perfectly.

In this edition DC comics hero The Flash (the Wally West version) gets his solo appearance. While this is a Justice League of America comic, and appearances are made from Batman, Plasticman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter and Green Lantern, this story revolves around The Flash and his home turf of Keystone City. In fact in the final outcome it is only The Flash that can bag the bad guy.

Strange anomolies appear in different locations on Earth and within the Solar System that occur at the same times that some mysterious murders are occurring in Keystone City. These murders all occur at the exact same times as each other and the victims end up with a hollowed out skull and a brain that seems to have been burned out from the inside. With the time factor it seems that only a speedster type meta-human is capable of such horror. While The Flash is not really a suspect he is looked at as to having a connection somehow.

Investigation shows that a doctor has created a being from a speedster type meta-human gene and has unleashed something that will destroy the Earth and possibly the universe, as well as all quantum versions of Earth and the Universe in the space time continuum. Wally West, a.k.a. the Flash uses every sort of trick his accelerated state of being can come up with but not until he meets with a quantum being does he learn he is more than just fast.

For those Flash comic fans out there Wally is the nephew of Barry Allen the previous incarnation of the Flash and that family tie creates more than just an inherited speed skill.

With some great writing teamed up with great production this is one audio book that will keep you on the edge of your seat while listening. Like the old monster trucks commercials say, "We'll sell you the whole seat but you'll only need the edge."

One thing that stands out in this production is the sound affects used when The Flash enters his high speed state. You will just have to listen to get the full gist of the sound but it's as though all sounds are frozen but still happening. Great touch to the production.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:01 PM Comments: 0

Monday, May 11, 2009

"One Second After" by William R. Forstchen

One Second After
by William R. Forstchen
Read by Joe Barrett
Produced by Blackstone Audio
Approx 13.5 hours

Are you prepared for a natural disaster? What about a natural disaster that wipes out the entire United States of America's fundamental way of life? We all like to say that we have learned something from the disaster of hurricane Katrina or even the attacks of 9/11, but those disasters had something in common, we could turn on the television or radio and find out information and we knew help was eventually on the way.

"One Second After" by William R. Forstchen explores another aspect of an attack on the U.S, one that hits us in our soft underbelly, our lives in the modern age of electronics. Most of the world, especially the U.S, have come to rely on our electronic creature comforts, computers, television, diabetic monitors, pacemakers. In "On Second After" those are completely wiped out. There is a weapon in existence that can take this out, an EMP weapon. EMP stands for Electro-magnetic pulse, It was actually a side affect of a nuclear blast and the pulse created from early tests of nuclear weapons found that electronics were severely affected by these pulses rendering them useless. Today the electronic circuitry in every day devices have become more complex and more susceptible to this type of attack.

In this cautionary tale 3 nuclear missiles are detonated in the atmosphere above the United States and the U.S. is rendered useless. Every electronic device ceases to work, computers, phones, radios, cars and medical equipment. Basically anything with a chip in it ceases to function.

This story follows the citizens of Black Mountain, North Carolina as they fight for survival in what has turned the clocks back to medieval times. The town of Black Mountain is home to a small college which has a former Army colonel, who retired to be with his wife in her final days as she died from cancer. He is now teaching and raising his two young daughters in small town, U.S.A.

Once the power is out the community must reform its thinking to a survival mode, no supplies will ever come in, no one knows what is going on outside of city limits and only a small handful of cars will run. The town takes to rationing food and medical supplies as the population dies off from disease and starvation. They then begin to rebuild and try to survive with makeshift soup lines from the area's cattle farms and what little food can be hunted in the mountains.

Just when the town starts to level out from the deaths of those that would normally be treated at modern facilities, a horde of what used to be "gang-bangers" threaten the town. This threat is some of the more violent dregs of society getting by with what they know and are cutting a swath of death and destruction to loot the towns to survive. The most vicious of crimes this "gang" perpetrates is that of cannibalism.

Most of the issues explored in this story are told through the impacts of one family surviving. This creates a personal feel to the story and I was completely swallowed up by their exploits. The story even had me wondering, "What would I do?" and "How can I prepare myself?"

Joe Barrett delivers this audiobook with a great voice that easily gives you that hometown storyteller comfort and yet delivers the entire gamut of emotions in this story.

With the forward written by Newt Gingrich and the afterword written by Capt. Bill Sanders, USN. The reality of this situation is really hit home. Not a matter of If but When. While this may be what seems a sci-fi tale of a post apocalypse world, it does have its basis in reality. Be careful listening to this audiobook, you'll find yourself fully absorbed by the story and planning your survival at the same time.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:24 PM Comments: 0

Monday, May 04, 2009

"Portrait in Death" by J.D. Robb

"Portrait in Death"
by J.D. Robb
read by Susan Ericksen
produced by Brilliance Audio

I don't know what it is but I can't help but keep coming back to the "...in Death" series of books by J.D. Robb (aka Nora Roberts.) Okay, I confess, i do know what it is, it's the little twist of science fiction that make these books something more than just a good detective novel. The series takes place in the near future, this book in particular in the year 2059. Just enough sci-fi gadgets to make it seem fun. But the real draw to these books is the no-holds-barred main character Lt. Eve Dallas. Lt. Dallas takes nothing from noone. And she can brawl with the best of them.

Another aspect of this series is the colorful, unique and richly written characters. Not only do they all have depth but it is easy to imagine what they are doing in their "off" time. While Lt. Dallas could take on the world by herself she doesn't need to and she's finding this out as each book pushes the series. Her husband the extremely rich Roarke who worked his way from being a street thug to a man who thrives on "making the deal" in the business world and has made his life extremely comfortable through the riches.

In this book however Roarke, usually the crutch holding Eve up in her tough times, is out of sorts. He finds that the woman who walked out of his life at the age of 5, whom he thought was his mother was not his mother, and that his real mother was murdered by his father. This could be disturbing enough but he now finds out he has family, his mother's twin sister is still alive as well as many cousins, uncles, aunts and even grandparents. This throws Roarke into an emotional roller-coaster ride that Eve takes time away from her murder case to help him cope with these emotions.

That side story or Roarke dwells on the side of the murder mystery in which Eve has to solve before a serial killer kills again. Someone is killing young college students and posing them for death portraits and claiming to take their "light" within himself so he may live forever. Each student is young, innocent and "full of light." The case builds to where Lt. Dallas and her aid Officer Peabody are tracking down photographers and kids in the techno-clubs.

Once again J.D. Robb writes a book that keeps you guess as to "whodunit" and at the same time takes you on a great story focusing on friends and family and support groups within. Also Susan Ericksen provides the voice for the audiobook and putting as much depth in the character's voices as J.D. Robb puts into the book.

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posted by Gil T. @ 10:08 PM Comments: 0

Friday, May 01, 2009

"The Dead Man" By Joel Goldman Published 2009 by Pinnacle Books

"The Dead Man"
By Joel Goldman
Published 2009 by Pinnacle Books

So do you love a good thriller/whodunit? Here's the book for you, "The Dead Man" By Joel Goldman. Jack Davis is a former FBI agent who was forced to early retirement due to his condition. As Jack says, "I shake, that's what I do." Jack's last case in the FBI was investigating the death of his daughter, a drug addict that stole a few million dollars in a drug sting. After her death the FBI is convinced that Jack now has that money. Now Jack has a mysterious ailment that causes his body to shake, or experience tics, not unlike Tourette's Syndrome, however after all the tests no one can explain the cause of these tics.

This book grabbed me from the beginning with it's reference to the story of the Clutter family murder in Kansas, as told in the great book by Truman Capote, "In Cold Blood." The prologue tells of a young girl who is found by a family member whose parents have just been murdered in rural Kansas in 1959. The murderer is never found and the case is never solved.

Jump to today in Kansas City where Milo Harper is the millionaire funding a company researching dreams, to be more exact nightmares. The idea behind the research is to teach Lucid Dreaming to the people experiencing nightmares so they may rid themselves of these nightmares. When two of the test subjects are found dead, having died exactly like their nightmares, Harper is sued by one of the families and he hires Jack Davis to find out how and why these people died.

In a case that not only brings back Jack's nightmares, but also stirs up some ghosts from Jack's past, the reader is thrust into a thriller that cannot be put down. Not only is Jack Davis up against trying to find a killer before they kill again, but the FBI wants Jack for the missing money and one of the bodies that turns up is a mailman that has been stealing mail. The man is found with an open envelope to Jack from his dead daughter.

Aside from being a great thriller and a whirlwind crime-solving adventure this book takes place in one of my favorite cities, Kansas City (Missouri and Kansas). As a former native of KC, I still have a fondness for the town and when the author, Joel Goldman, writes about moving around the city to solve the crimes I could follow perfectly what area he was in. In fact it was fun to even break out a map and map the adventures. Goldman is an attorney in KC and writes a great thriller that puts Kansas City on the literary map.

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posted by Gil T. @ 9:01 PM Comments: 0