Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book Review: Fantastic Voyage

Title: Fantastic Voyage: An amazing journey through the human blood stream
Author: Isaac Asimov
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure, Biology
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: Fiction
Age Group: 16+

Summary: Having finally rescued Benes from Them, We have run into a bit of trouble, mainly the problem that he may die before he's able to reveal very important information. Information so important that if We don't have it, They might start a war and We might lose.
This requires a last minute and utterly fantastic voyage into Benes' blood stream in order to clear a blood clot in his brain which cannot be reached from the outside. A grumpy old surgeon and his beautiful assistant, a pilot for the submarine, a doctor who knows the map of Benes' circulatory system, and the secret agent who saved Benes and seems to be along for security are miniaturized and injected into the blood stream.
A lot of things can go wrong in a blood stream, especially when there may be a traitor along. With only and exactly sixty minutes to complete the mission, things could go very wrong.
Of course, they do.

Word of Warning
  • Agent Grant makes numerous suggestive remarks to Cora (the surgeon's assistant). Since this book was written in 1966, these remarks really are only suggestive and leave much to the imagination. Still, these remarks contributed to the book's age suggestion.
  • Cora, for the most part, completely ignores Grant. When she starts to pay attention to him, he slows down on the comments.
  • The whole thing is full of drama involving the blood stream, which might be considered gross by some readers.
  • People almost die, are tossed around and injured, and one man is hit over the head. Another man is killed by bacteria (though we don't see this happen).
  • Grant hints that he planned to spend a few days (or nights) with a woman (who, we're unaware) before he's selected for this mission, and he's a bit annoyed by his change in plans.
  • A car crash ends in one man being killed, a shootout (another death), and a man who is injured and has a blood clot in his brain. None of this is graphic.
My Thoughts
I rarely enjoy science fiction, and when I do, that's usually on the screen in a well-done movie. Clearly I've been reading the wrong science fiction. Though this book is anything but recently written, it's recent enough that as I read I recognized things I am studying in science classes right now, and explained how they worked as well. The characters were interesting, even Grant. At first I found him annoying, but his persistence on the mission (refusing to give up and making due with whatever he's got) and his bravery (sacrificing himself for other members of the crew often) grew on me and eventually I looked forward to his lines.
The pace was nicely done. Just fast enough to feel as frantic as the story line suggests, but slow enough that sixty minutes really does fit into about 150 pages without feeling overdone.
The adventure itself was incredibly interesting. It was fun to travel through a human blood stream in a submarine, even if it only happened in the pages of a novel.
Simply put, a great adventure that will continue to be so for a long long time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Book Review: Goddess Tithe

Title: Goddess Tithe (novella)
Series: Tales of the Goldstone Wood
Author: Anne Elisabeth Stengl
Genre: Fantasy, Christian, Teen
My Rating: *****
Age Group: 13+

Note - I received and am reviewing a preview copy of this book. Goddess Tithe is available for purchase from major book vendors beginning November 12, 2013.

Summary -
Sailing is dangerous, for the goddess demands a sacrifice from every ship that dares sail her sea. Munny, a young boy and a runaway, fears the vengeance of the goddess, and his fears are only strengthened when a foreign stowaway is discovered on board. The Captain demands that the stowaway, Leonard, be kept safe, but all of the other sailors wish to sacrifice him to the goddess.
And Munny is caught in between, wanting to both protect the young man and to return safe to his mother.
The goddess demands a sacrifice, and who will pay?

The Bad -
- Leonard is known to the sailors as "the Foreign Devil", and he retains that name throughout the book. The sailors mistreat him and Munny because they are both seen as bad luck
- Munny, the underdog on board, is bullied by the other sailors, particularly Chuo-tuk. They often force him to eavesdrop for them, and also press him into doing their work.
- The sailors insult each other with various phrases that aren't insulting to a reader, but are obviously negative.
- The fey (fairy) Risafeth is referred to and considered a goddess by the sailors. This is never clarified in this particular book, but in the rest of the Goldstone Wood series, fairies are not gods/goddesses.
- Munny is considered an illegitimate child by his uncle because his mother's marriage was not approved by her father. However, Munny's mother makes it very clear that she was honorably married to a very good man.
- Munny is almost forced into killing Leonard by the other sailors.

The Good -
- Leonard displays great courage by protecting Munny and standing up to the bullies. He also risks his own life by diving overboard to rescue him from drowning.
- Munny refuses to kill Leonard, and proceeds, against his better judgment, to protect him from being sacrificed to the goddess.
- Munny's motivation for surviving the sea voyage is to return to his sick mother. This motivation strengthens him through many dangers that would otherwise be overwhelming.
- The Captain not only refuses to sacrifice Leonard, but he also vows to protect every man on the ship from the wrath of Risafeth.
- Tu-Pich, Munny's mentor, sacrifices his own life willingly in order to protect the boy. By doing so, he drives away Risafeth, who cannot stand true self-giving, but only hate and fear.

Conclusion -
Anne Elisabeth Stengl is somehow able to write a story that, while not necessarily compelling, is utterly transcendent. I honestly loved this book, despite the fact that the plot did not interest me at all, nor the setting, nor the characters. I would be completely willing to reread this book - it's hauntingly lovely, and there's a hidden beauty that I'm not quite able to understand, but I know that it is there to be found.
At the center of all her stories (which are at least implicitly Christian, and often explicitly so) is one main thought - Goddess Tithe is driven by the truth that hate and destruction can only be stopped with self-sacrifice. As the Captain states, "Vengeance cannot abide the agony of grace." It's something that is so very forgettable in everyday life, but also so incredibly essential.

Note: Goddess Tithe is a companion novella to the Goldstone Wood series, but while someone who has read the other books in the series would definitely understand many of the hidden references and themes in the book better than a new reader, this shouldn't prevent anyone from picking up this book without having read the others. It's a standalone story, and it does quite a remarkable job at it.

Author's Blog
Goddess Tithe Website

Monday, November 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven

Title: The Magnificent Seven
Author: N/A
Genre: Western, Adventure
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: None (made in 1960), probably PG
Age Group: 14+ (due to the mention of rape)
Summary: A little village south of the boarder is under attack and the farmers are helpless. They hire seven gunmen to save them from the enemy, who is thirty strong. How will these seven manage to protect the town, especially when they have their own personal struggles?

Word of Warning:
  • D*** and h*** are used a few times.
  • The village farmers suspect the seven will rape their women and so hide the women. The seven obviously don't do that, though the youngest does agree with one girl's father, saying that he's right about the seven being dangerous.
  • Characters are shot and die. A few die of knife wounds. Horses fall, people fall, fight scenes, etc. It's a western, after all.
  • Two passionate kisses.
  • A man is drunk.
  • Drinking (most people don't get drunk doing this).
  • A boy is spanked.

My Thoughts
It's the western of westerns. The characters develop, all gaining traits of manhood or perfecting the ones they had which were slightly twisted. It's filled with self-sacrifice, excitement, heroism, and fatherly figures. And when they ride off into the sunset, it's clear they're only leaving because they're not developed enough to settle down.
There really isn't much to say beyond that, because it doesn't really need anything beyond that. It's just good.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Movie Review: Fantastic 4

Title: Fantastic 4
Genre: Action, adventure
Author: Marvel
My Rating: **
Official Rating: PG-13
Age Group: 16+

Summary -
Reed is a brilliant scientist with awesome ideas and no money. Which basically means that unless he can obtain funding from someone rich, he won't be able to do anything with his ideas.
He's able to get Dr. Victor Von Doom to agree to fund an expedition into space to analyze a cloud of cosmic energy that may be able to trigger evolution, and so with his trusty friend Ben, the overconfident Jonny, his ex-girlfriend Sue, and Victor, Reed heads out to space to do brilliant science-y stuff.
But something goes terribly wrong: the cosmic energy is stronger than Reed calculated, and the expedition is caught in a solar storm that morphs their DNA into something... inhuman.
They all develop super-powers and are able to do amazing things, but the effects aren't all good. And Victor, whose carrier is ruined by the accident, decides to take revenge.

The Bad -
- Victor cheats Reed out of a fair share of the profits for his "cosmic cloud" idea.
- There is obvious bad blood between Reed and Sue, and we get the impression early on that their romance ended sourly.
- Jonny (who is incredibly reckless throughout the whole movie) kisses a woman (an underwear model) in a sports-car while driving down a highway on a motorcycle.
- Sue shows cleavage in her space outfit, and obviously tries to gain Reed's attention with it. We see him staring, but it turns out he's interested in something else.
- Jonny plays a very mean trick on Ben by making him think he's deformed after an accident.
- Jonny flirts shamelessly and inappropriately with his nurse.
- Jonny's clothes burn up and he accidently creates a "hot tub" in the snow with his body heat. He then proceeds to invite his date to join him, and she does very willingly. We see Jonny later with only a coat around his waist.
- After the space accident, Ben turns into a "rock monster", and his wife (whom he loves very much) rejects him.
- Sue can turn invisible, but has to strip her clothes off in order to be effective. The first time she does this, she accidently reappears wearing only underclothes.
- Sue mentions wanting to share an apartment with Reed.
- Victor kills a doctor and many others in cold blood.
- Reed walks in on Sue while she's in the shower. He's obviously embarrassed.
- Jonny cheats during a drag-race by burning his opponent's wheels off.
- Jonny takes advantage of the popularity he and the other heroes have gained to cruelly tease the other team members. His worst joke is blatant innuendo about Reed (who has the ability to stretch) expanding any part of himself.
- A character comments about Reed playing "Twister" with Sue.

The Good -
- While the Fantastic 4 are really dysfunctional in the beginning of their relationship, they eventually learn to work together and actually begin to care for each other.

My Thoughts -
Honestly, there's not much to say about this movie. It's so cheesy that it's comparable to filling the space between your ears with CheezWhiz. The only intelligent thoughts that crossed my mind while watching it were:
1. I like Jonny.
2. There's no plot.
3. There's no good dialogue.
Adding all the inappropriate (but slightly funny) innuendo to the cheese just makes the movie all the more painful.
The weird thing is, while I honestly didn't enjoy Fantastic 4, I didn't hate it either. In fact, I'd be willing to watch it again. I don't know if that's a commentary on the movie, or a commentary on my taste in movies - either way, it's probably not good.
My verdict? Only watch this movie if you honestly have no brain left to care about.