Book Review: "2061: Odyssey Three" ~ Arthur C. Clarke (1987)

Posted by prla1983 on April 20, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

If there are authors for whom I have the utmost respect, Sir Arthur C. Clarke is surely one of them. Every book of his I read in the past never disappointed me and most are among my very favorite fiction works. "2001: A Space Odyssey" was particularly fascinating and "2010: Odyssey Two" is a very worthy sequel which successfully extends the mythology of its predecessor.

"2061: Odyssey Three", however, leaves something to be desired and definitely cannot be regarded in the same light as the previous two books. Clarke's undeniable wit and especially his gift for writing prose are still very much present, but I find "2061" to be lacking a bit too much in the plot department. Forget the drama, tension and mysticism of the "2001" and "2010", because unfortunately you won't find that here. More importantly, we are not let in on much more regarding the Dave Bowman mysterious existence - or lack thereof - and the few we get about that and Europa's secret is scarce at best and confusing at worst. And it's frustrating that every situation that could possibly lend itself to something interesting and dramatic ends up resolving itself in a banal fashion.

Even the under-achievements of Clarke are not bad books. And it's certainly hard for me to classify "2061" as a bad work. The problem is, the standard had been set so high that "2061" just doesn't live up to it. Perhaps the final odyssey, "3001", sets the record straight? No matter. "2010" and especially "2001" more than make up for everything else, even if they leave a lot of questions hanging in the air - or should I say, in the void of deep space?

Book Review: "Deception Point" ~ Dan Brown (2001)

Posted by prla1983 on April 16, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

"Deception Point" is the third Dan Brown book I've read and I'm starting to wonder if this author makes a point of always having some character killed in the first couple of pages of his books. More interestingly, he also seems to make a point of writing damn good thrillers. In my opinion, "Da Vinci Code" was alright, "Angels & Demons" was rather good and now I find "Deception Point" hanging somewhere in between.

The action unfolds for the most part between the Arctic and Washington DC. Long story short, NASA claims to have found a meteorite, packed with fossils of what appears to be an extraterrestrial being, which fell on the earth and got buried in the Milne Ice Shelf. The truth however is usually stranger than fiction and so we follow three civilians, two of them reputed scientists, trying to put the seemingly disjointed pieces of this puzzle together while doing their best to avoid getting wacked by ruthless (but in all honesty not very smart) killers. But you can learn all this from reading the book synopsis, right?

I found this to be a satisfying book, an undeniable page turner and exceptionally well written featuring a couple of rather intelligent plot twists. As I said before, the action unravels between the Arctic (and later on the Atlantic shore) and Washington DC. Whereas at the former reside the thrills and crazy Hollywood type fireworks, it's in the latter that the really interesting stuff, at least for me, is happening.

Brown swaps back and forth between the two intertwined plot lines but I found myself constantly eager for the political games going on in DC and involving top ranking US government agencies all the way up to the White House. Unfortunately, the final showdown aboard a ship is described at such exhaustive length that I couldn't help but feeling bummed every time a new chapter on it presented itself. Also, some more character development, at least for the main parts, wouldn't hurt. I personally would've liked to know more about them, as they seemed interesting but not dense enough. Nevertheless, this should not taint some great classic moments this story contains.

Finally, after reading three books by Dan Brown, he reminds me a bit of the TV show "24". Both found a great formula that thrills the viewer/reader but whereas "24" keeps successfully reinventing itself every season, Brown's way is becoming a bit tiresome for me. Like, I'll read "Digital Fortress", sure. Just not now.

Book Review: "The Broker" ~ John Grisham (2004)

Posted by prla1983 on April 03, 2006 • 0 commentsEmail This Post

I've read some of the Grisham classics back in the day - namely "The Client" and "The Pelican Brief" - plus thoroughly enjoyed the screen adaptations of "A Time to Kill" and "The Firm". Lately however, I've fallen out of touch with his work, and it's been a good while since I picked up a novel penned by Mr. Grisham. I'm given to understand that his standard dropped a bit in recent novels, but as I say, I can only take others' word for it.

In fact, after finishing "The Broker", I have a hard time believing it, unless this is his return to form. Some writers, not unlike Dan Brown, have this talent that makes most of their work instantly seem perfect for the big screen. "The Broker" is no exception and while reading it I was constantly viewing the inexistent (as of yet, I hope) movie in my head.

Most of the story happens in different locations inside Italian borders, particularly in Bologna. This is a welcome change and it reminded me a lot of the Sicily section in "The Godfather", when Al Pacino is exhiled following the murder of a couple of important people. Bologna has a certain charm to it, like most of Italy, that definitely comes across here.

I've seen others commenting on this book downplaying it as simply a byproduct of Grisham's Italian learning. As with so many other things in life, there's more than one way to look at it. I prefer to think of it as a great excuse to write an engrossing story like this one, an intelligent plot with some smart and well drawn characters. Grisham's fluent and undemanding writing binds it all together and the story flows naturally and excitingly from one page to the next.

For me, this was interesting from the get-go, rarely lost its momentum and the ending does pay off. Sure the technicalities involved aren't rigorously depicted, but that's alright as it's not really the point. So I highly recommend "The Broker" and cross fingers for it, with the right director, to get adapted to the big screen. And if you've been averse to Grisham for the past few years, perhaps now is the time to give him another chance. You'll even pick up some Italian along the way.

Book Review: "Forty Signs of Rain" ~ Kim Stanley Robinson (2004)

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As someone else already put it, Kim Stanley Robinson's "Forty Signs of Rain" is like the real world version of "The Day After Tomorrow" and I wholeheartedly agree with that point of view. The difference however is probably more subtle than it meets the eye. In the film, everything gets graphically exaggerated whereas here, and thus in the real world, things are much more likely to be less spectacular but its implications far more complex, tragic, difficult to assimilate, to accept and to live (or not) with. It's not a matter of avoiding a catastrophe that didn't happen yet. It already begun and, should we accept the challenge, we're already poised for damage control.

"Forty Signs of Rain" tells many tales at once, with a common ground: the destiny of the biosphere and how the world we live in is quickly becoming quite uninhabitable. It also tells a story of how science gets done and how the scientific process truly unfolds, how scientists are not as cold hearted as many people suspect they are, how buddhism can shed new light on science, how capital makes it all the more difficult and even how a "Mr. Momhood" type of father deals with his baby son on a daily basis while trying to help a senator do the right thing.

This is a book which most of all tries to propagate important ideas. Never boring, but rarely amusing, it gets its message across loud and clear, even if it objectively lacks in the plot and story department. If, like me, this is the first Kim Stanley Robinson book you're planning to read, this nevertheless felt like a pretty good introduction to the author.