Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lost in Space - Redux.

Howdy howdy.

Just over two years ago I posted something along these same lines - adventures in real-life supplant adventures in armchairs.  The past few years have been no exception - 2 major moves (across nearly half of our small marble) as well as some roaming have left my library secured in boxes.

A few books have been read, including Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, but the vast majority of my time has been spend with travel books, maps, and government paperwork. (Yuck to the later!) In a bid to tie up loose ends, mini-reviews will appear shortly.

As a promise to a friend, I'm reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo for her book-club. Review appearing in a few weeks. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

The Science of Heroes: The Real-Life Possibilities Behind the Hit TV Show.

by Yvonne Carts-Powell.

“Where does it come from—this quest, this need to solve life's mysteries when the simplest of questions can never be answered?”

With Mohinder Suresh’s probing question, the hit science-fiction show Heroes was launched in 2006. At times offbeat and dark, we were rapidly hooked into the story of normal people discovering they possess extraordinary talents and how they would change the world. Yvonne Carts-Powell’s first book explores the science and plausibility behind these superpowers.

Ms. Carts-Powell utilizes Heroes to present accessible and easy to read morsels of the complex research at the cutting-edge of diverse subjects ranging from physics to neurobiology to stem cell research. Introducing the mechanics of science (for non-practitioners) she then explains the genetic probability of evolving a superpower before diving into our favorite characters. Subsequent chapters are centered around a pivotal character in order to explore the field or key concepts underlying the plausibility of their ability – Hiro’s space and time travel introduces the physics of time; Claire’s cellular regeneration showed us just how much we know about immunology and stem cells; while Claude’s invisibility might be more plausible than most of us realize. There are also creative explanations for improbable abilities such as Nathan’s ability to fly. More than a simple summary of science, historical anecdotes and wacky analogies from cuttlefish to ‘assume an orbital Wyle E. Coyote’ abound. Ms. Carts-Powell ultimately challenges us to consider the nature of a hero and how we use the abilities each of us possess.

Aimed squarely at the non-scientist, this concise text provides the kind of background one might wish more of the general public possessed. Surprisingly, it also challenged me, a biomedical researcher, to think about some of the wider implications of my own research. You don’t have to be a fan of the series to enjoy this book. However, by explaining the underlying reality to one of the most culturally relevant science fiction series in decades, Ms. Carts-Powell is introducing a new generation to the power of science and how quickly we are catching-up with the avant-garde ideas of Victorian writers and Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek.

Next up: I've opted to start a trilogy and unwind in the evenings from some rather daunting challenges (its easier to sleep if you are dreaming of stories rather than reliving your day me thinks). As such, I offer Philip Pullman's Northern Lights for your consideration.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Codex

by Douglas Preston.

A quest for inheritance meets Indiana Jones…

Douglas Preston’s adventure-thriller arrived as a bit of a punt; while browsing through used books at my local Cancer Research UK, I found two novels high on my ‘must buy’ list but needed a third for the £1 offer. Intrigued by the name and ready for a treasure hunt, I added The Codex to my basket.

Ideal for a holiday read, I tossed this paperback in my backpack for a month’s excursion in Crete last year only to read 50 pages. Sadly, this became a common theme, re-reading the same 50 pages only to stall due to work or other commitments. Determined to finish, I took this novel home in June with one goal – Leave it completed or not!

The Codex is the story of Maxwell Broadbent’s, tomb-raider and billionaire, game to make his seemingly ungrateful sons earn their inheritance. Dying of cancer, Maxwell carts off his collection including a Mayan Codex, supposedly a medicinal cookbook of the Amazon, to be buried like an ancient pharaoh and challenges his sons to find him. Of course there is competition, in the form of ex-partner Marcus Hauser and down-on-its-luck Lampe-Denison Pharmaceuticals.

Sadly, this book can only be classified as a holiday read, at best. The main characters were less-than-developed stock caricatures that seemed to tromp through the Honduran jungle for entirely to long, often running into predictable debacles. Coupled with a sugary-sweet ending, Preston left me happy to pass this book along and pleased it only consumed a few hours of my life.

Given its baseness and pedestrian tempo, it is hard to recommend The Codex unless you are looking for something straightforward and unchallenging. Then again, the newspaper might be slightly more interesting?

Next up: As part of my new ‘hobby,’ EuSci, I have agreed to review a popular science book. I offer The Science of Heroes: The Real-Life Possibilities Behind the Hit TV Show by Yvonne Carts-Powell for your consideration.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Reviews in a Minute

Howdy howdy.

I'm starting to think that if you are a real-life adventurer, you don't have time for armchair voyages... It is hard to believe that my last post was over 18 months ago. Boy, have I seen some geography in that time! In the few fleeting hours I've spent at home not recovering from jet lag, I have managed a few titles. In the interests of brevity (and sanity) here are my quick reviews:

1) Keeping Faith by Jody Picoult.
Touching, women's read (but not traditional chick-lit) about a little girl named Faith. Caught in the midst of a messy divorce, Faith discovers an 'imaginary' friend to help her through the toughest times. Exploring issues of personal beliefs, mental illness, exploitation, and love Mrs. Picoult challenges even the most stalwart and pragmatic readers to questions their beliefs. For the first time in a long time, I spent a weekend reading just to see how the story would end. 5*

2) The Sunday Morning Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith.
I picked up this slim jacket for two reasons: 1) To see what everyone was raving about with regards to Mr. McCall Smith; and 2) It is set in the New Town of Edinburgh. A traditional detective story with a less then obvious sleuth this book was a quick read. If you like nosey neighbors, you'll love Isabel Dalhousie. Although not to my taste, Mr. McCall Smith did present a plausible mystery which could be solved by even your most average bear. 2.5*

3) The Alchemist by Paul Coelho.
Mr. Coelho's iconic novel needs little reviewing as there are tomes published on it already. It is the story of a boy's quest to find the Alchemist during which he learns about life and himself. Although greatly applauded as 'a fable for our time,' I was actually less than impressed. But, new age philosophy does little to impress this pragmatist. 3*

4) PS, I Love You by Cecelia Ahern.
Tear-jerking, classic, chick-lit. Although not an avid reader of chick-lit, Ms. Ahern's novel of loss and moving on caught my eye because I was working through similar issues myself. At times hysterically funny, others immensely sad, this was a wonderful holiday read. (Yes, it went in my backpack to Crete for a month!) Do yourself a favor though - read the book and skip the movie! It was horrid. 4*

Rightey oh! Four books in four minutes. Cool! I've just come back from a week in the US during which I read The Codex by Douglas Preston. If you're looking for a beach read of the adventure variety you'll enjoy this book. My review will be coming in early July!

Until then, enjoy the words!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Be Dragons…

After less than 1 hour and 45 minutes, the University of Edinburgh as decided to award this Roaming Gnome a Doctorate of Philosophy.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to all those adventurers who’ve supported this fanciful pursuit over the years.

Dr. M-

Saturday, January 19, 2008


Greetings fellow Armchair Adventurers!

Sincerest apologies for the delayed news and views. As most will know I’ve been engaged in a spot of non-fiction writing. Although… at times a certain amount of creativity was required to prevent the tome from turning into fiction.

For those interested in stats and averages: My thesis was submitted on 2 November 2007 at about 13:15 GMT. It contained 221 pages, 29848 words, and 22 images. After near death, I am please to say I have survived and am almost thriving again.

The viva examination has been set for 23 January at 11:00 GMT. So, watch out world, Dr. M is on her way.

Tragically, for those paperback ‘readers’ the reviews have ground to a halt, but not for a lack of reading. After 12 to 18 hours in front of a computer screen drafting and editing, all this little ‘gnome’ wanted to do in the evenings was NOT see pixels. So, we are behind a few books. Reviews for the following shall be appearing in the not so distant future:

- Jodi Picoult’s Keeping Faith
- Alexander McCall Smith’s The Sunday Philosophy Club
- Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

And finally, I present for your consideration this month Celia Ahern’s PS, I Love You.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The Historian

By Elizabeth Kostova.

For my brother, P...

I tend to be intimidated by mammoth tomes. Be it my slow reading or the devotion required to see such a volume to the finish, I generally prefer novels of 200-500 pages. That said, I might have independently chosen this 704-page opus due to the controversy surrounding its quality – reviews either rave or rant, but certainly none sit on the fence. Had it not been for a promise to my brother over the holidays, (“You pick a book, and we’ll read it together!”) this queue-jumper would have been relegated back to the bookshelf within 100 pages.

Ms. Kostova’s epic Dracula-cum-Da Vinci Code novel is an update to the Bram Stoker original. Over 10 years in the making, Ms. Kostova received a sizable advance ($2 million from Time Warner), sold the rights to Hollywood, won the Hopwood Award for Novel-in-Progress, and became a New York Times No 1 bestseller during her first week in print. Surely this must be decent popular fiction?

Despite being well research, I found the novel overly detailed and more of a meandering travelogue than a vampire-hunting ghost story. Similarly, the plotline is highly predictable (owning to its faithfulness to numerous genres – adventure, historical, mystery, science fiction, thriller; oh and did I mention romance?) and filled with uncanny coincidences involving the introduction of new characters just in time to provide the principles with new information to further their quest. It is over 500-pages before Dracula shows his undead head and then as a maniacal egomaniac. Given popular culture’s present love of celebrity, again such a baddie is not completely unexpected.

In spite of these shortcomings, I was intrigued by the structure of the novel. Ms. Kostova weaves together three Dracula quests, roughly thirty years apart, through a series of letters and flashbacks within the most contemporary quest. Cunning, and undoubtedly requiring a white-board on the author’s part, this device was almost enough to keep me plowing through the pages. Almost.

Given these plot failings; it is hard to recommend this tome. After three months plodding through this novel, I strong endorse waiting for the movie! (And as everyone knows, I prefer to read the book.)

Next Up:
While on the road in Amsterdam, I recently found myself fiction-less. Generally, I don’t travel with novels in tow; I’m out experiencing the world, not reading about it. But, after galavanting all day, the tootsies, and camera, needed a brake. I was given Jodi Picoult’s Keeping Faith by the hotel proprietor and offer it for your consideration.