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Saturn -- Ben Bova
Written by Mike Noel   
Sunday, 27 September 2009
Saturn is an interesting novel about mankind's first exploration of Saturn. It is more focused on the trip to Saturn than any actual exploration of the planet (or it's moons or rings). The leaders on Earth put 10,000 people from various philosophical, vocational, and geographical regions on a large habitat and launched it towards Saturn. Most of the story takes place during the journey (25 months) while the different groups vie for dominance on the habitat. The interesting part of the story is the social experiment as we see how the different groups, with a fresh start, end up creating many of the same problems on the habitat that they were avoiding on Earth.
There is a bit of a surprise ending to the story. Not so much a surprise as a different twist on the entire story. It is subtle though. The reader has to be paying attention to the last page or two or they may miss out on the main point of the whole story.
Interesting characters and an interesting setting make the book a fun read but the more philosophical side of the book is a little weak. As is typical for science fiction, the handling of religion is a caricature. For those with a predilection to demonize religion this probably works just fine but for those who take a more reasoned approach to religion, it undermines the rest of the book.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
The Black Rood -- Stephen Lawhead
Written by Mike Noel   
Sunday, 02 August 2009
The Black Rood is the second book in Lawhead's Celtic Crusades trilogy. The first book, The Iron Lance followed the story of a Celtic boy named Murdo as he traveled to the Holy Land and brought back the sacred lance. In The Black Rood Murdo's son Duncan follows in his father's footsteps, in rebellion, and returns to the Holy Land. Duncan's quest is to obtain the Black Rood.
The word "rood" derives from old English and means, roughly, a rod or a pole. In the context of this book the Black Rood is a portion of the cross that Jesus was crucified on. Duncan, being a devote Christian, accepts it as his mission to go to the Holy Land and rescue the holy relic from unworthy hands.
Lawhead's story takes on the flavor of an adventure story punctuated by strange visions and tantalizingly supernatural events. They are tantalizing because it's not quite clear if what the reader just witnessed was a supernatural intervention or if it was just a figment of the character's mind. And all along the object of the quest is a curious, mysterious, and sacred relic.
It seems to be Lawhead's trademark to end each book with a dramatic bit of tension, sometimes even shocking. This book is no different. After months of travel and captivity Duncan finds himself almost at the end of his journey when everything threatens to fall apart. And in the end Duncan learns that those things he thought were the most important were not.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
The Eagle's Brood -- Jack Whyte
Written by Mike Noel   
Friday, 13 March 2009
The Eagle's Brood is the third book in The Calumod Chronicles series by Jack Whyte. This series is one of the best Arthurian legend series, intended for adult audiences, I have read. This book focuses mostly on Merlyn and secondarily on Uther, his cousin from their shared grandfather Picus Britannicus. The story is complete in itself but you can see the slowly moving events that have been progressing since the beginning of the series. The slow transformation of Britain from landscape dotted with Roman outposts to a barbaric land overrun with Celts, Saxons, Picts, Scots, and anyone else who thinks to come along. But there is a subtle order growing in the midst of the chaos. Some foreshadowing of what is to come.
There are two main conflicts that Merlyn deals with in this story. One is an internal conflict. An atrocity occurs and Merlyn believes that Uther committed the crime. He fights with his self because he believes that Uther is capable of committing the crime but he doesn't want to believe it. Throughout the story circumstantial evidence continues to build up and point at Uther's guilt.
The second conflict is between Camulod and Lot of Cornwall. Lot continuously wars against Camulod as he attempts to grow is power in the southwest corner of england. Harboring a personal grudge, Lot is especially vicious towards Merlyn and Uther.
The book is good, and like the others in the series, it is definitely intended for adult audiences.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
Written by Mike Noel   
Friday, 30 January 2009
We saw this movie a couple of months ago but it has taken a while for me to get my thoughts together enough to write something on it. It's not that the movie was all that deep as much as I've just been really really busy with life. I admit that I had some reluctance to go see this movie. The scenes in the previews focused on the two main characters spending a lot of time yelling at each other and generally being unhappy. The last thing I wanted to watch was two hours of an unhappy married couple fighting. Eventually we saw it. I was happily surprised by the quality of the movie and the story. Very touching and encouraging.
In broad strokes the plot is predictable -- a married couple has trouble with threatens to dissolve the marriage but through a bunch of emotional turmoil they manage to keep it together. I say that this is predictable because we've seen this kind of movie many times. What makes Fireproof better than average is the way that it connects in a very real way with real people. The situations and circumstances that the husband and wife deal with are likely quite familiar to the average American married person. Further, the responses by each of the movie's characters are realistic.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
The Black Tower -- P. D. James
Written by Mike Noel   
Monday, 26 January 2009
The Black Tower is P. D. James mystery novel. This is the fourth of her mysteries that I've read and to be honest, this one left me fairly cold. If this had been the first James novel I read I probably wouldn't be all that interested in her. The story was hard to follow and the characters were all too similar. So much so that they all kind of melded together so it was hard to keep track of who was doing what and why.
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
Red Mars -- Kim Stanely Robinson
Written by Mike Noel   
Monday, 26 January 2009
Red Mars is a semi-realistic story about colonization of Mars. It is classified as "hard sci-fi" since it is based on plausible science and technology. The story spends most of its time looking at the various characters and their interaction while the exploration and colonization of Mars is carried on as a backdrop to the drama. The plausibility of the endeavor is tantalizing in that it almost makes you believe that this sort of thing could happen in our lifetime or our children's lifetime.
This book has been considered one of the sci-fi top books since it was first written and so I have seen it prominently displayed on the shelves at most bookstores I visit. It has been at the top of my interest list for some time. A couple of months ago I saw the book at a used book sale and decided it was time to read it. Overall it was a good book. Parts of it were a bit hard to swallow and parts of it, particularly the strong secular humanism preaching, were just irritating. (Why is it that most science fiction authors feel that they need to promulgate that philosophy on the poor reader?)
Last Updated ( Wednesday, 04 November 2009 )
The Mentalist Betting Game
Written by Mike Noel   
Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Mentalist is CBS's new spin on the detective/crime scene genre of TV shows.  It is like a modern day Sherlock Holmes and it is amazingly popular.  The characters are fun, quirky, and interesting.  The "mystery" part of the plot captures the ellusive aspect of making sense while not being obvious. Watching the "mentalist" do his stuff is intriguing as well.  This is definitely one of the better shows on TV right now. One of our favorite things to do during the show is to try and figure out who the guilty party is.  In most cases it is a surprise but after the fact you can see how all of the pieces fit together.  It is tantalizing to think that there is enough information to figure it out during the show but it is still not obvious.  This is a part of the fun of the show.

While watching the show recently, and trying to figure it out, I realized that we could make a fun game out of it.  And so the "Mentalist Betting Game" was born.  Here is how it works.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 18 December 2008 )
A Mind To Murder -- P. D. James
Written by Mike Noel   
Wednesday, 19 November 2008

A Mind To Murder

A Mind To Murder is a great P. D. James mystery (of course all P. D. James mysteries are great) with the inspector Adam Dalgliesh called upon to solve a murder case at the Steen psychiatric hospital.  An eclectic array of doctors and staff members at the clinic are all suspects with their own motives and weak alibis.  Despite the reticence of his witnesses and the seemingly impossible circumstances, Dalgliesh is able to dig to the bottom of the quagmire and ferret out the killer.  

Last Updated ( Monday, 09 February 2009 )
A Wizard of Earthsea -- Ursula K. Le Guin
Written by Mike Noel   
Friday, 14 November 2008

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series written by Ursula K. Le Guin.  The central character is Ged, a young man who has the potential to be one of the most powerful wizards in all of Earthsea.  Ged starts as a boy who slowly discovers that he has vast talent to become a wizard.  He is soon adopted by a regional mage who promises to train him.  The boy's excitement is too much and he can't bear to follow the slow and subtle training that the mage offers.  In a foolish and impatient move Ged leaves and head to wizard school.  


Last Updated ( Monday, 17 November 2008 )
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