Monday, June 18, 2007

Breaking the Code... O Draconian Devil. Oh Lame Saint. Scrawled across the floor of the Louvre in black light alcoholic marker pen, these were the words that made up the first puzzle in the book. O Draconian Devil. Oh Lame Saint. Interestingly enough, these words when decoded actually talk about something that most people know. The secret to this puzzle lies deep within the Da Vinci library.

The Da Vinci Code is the second book by Dan Brown that stars Robert Langdon on a crash course with the Catholic Church. Though this book is titled “The Da Vinci Code,” that isn’t an apt title for the events in the book. In fact, though Da Vinci is talked about frequently, the codes are not any of his own creation, but the creation of those who have succeeded him. As I read, I wondered when we would read Leonardo Da Vinci’s code, but found myself almost completely surrounded by Jacques Saunière’s codes.

So, The Da Vinci Code is basically a book that consists of four characters on a quest to find the Holy Grail, and in that quest several things occur. At first, only Bishop Manuel Aringarosa and the hulking albino Silas know that they are on a grail quest, but not long after, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu get caught up in the conspiracy as Jacques Saunière is murdered. Scrawling on the floor in his best watermark pen, Jacque leaves a message for Neveu, which leads her to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Mona Lisa. Scrawled on that painting is another message, and so the story goes.

The groups go from riddle to riddle, hoping to find themselves the lost burial place of the Holy Grail. Silas is fooled into a dead end left by the grandmaster of the Priory of Scion, and has to rely on information from a mysterious figure known as “The Teacher” in order to continue his quest. But he’s captured in the process and before long finds that his faith in God seems to be the only thing consistent about the convoluted path he’s found himself upon.

Bishop Aringarosa finds himself on a much nobler quest to save his precious “Opis Dei.” He quickly finds, however, that “The Teacher,” a man who was supposed to be on his side, actually used him and Silas as pawns in a much bigger game. Unfortunately, Aringarosa finds this out far too late, and his ending is the biggest surprised within the book.

And, as for Langdon and Neveu, they meet up with an old friend Sir Leigh Teabing and make giant leaps toward solving Saunière’s riddles and finding the long lost Holy Grail. They do meet opposition and surprise, and even come face to face with “The Teacher” himself. However, most of their story is tied up in family history and mythological symbolism. Not for the faint at heart, so be warned.

Now, as I read this book, I wondered to myself why it was called The Da Vinci Code. There is very little in the book related to Da Vinci’s artistic codes, which was a surprise, but a whole lot related to a secret society of which Da Vinci was supposedly a grandmaster. Saunière is not only a giant fan of Da Vinci, but also a grandmaster himself, which leads us down the path to understanding the inner workings of a secret organization known only as the “Priory of Scion.” This is wonderful, but there was no Da Vinci code within this novel.

There was a brief moment when Langdon and Teabing discuss the art of the Renaissance with Sophie, and its potential link to Mary Magdalene, in which we discover a secret that Da Vinci apparently hid for many years. However, that is the closest we get to understanding the title of the novel. Those who read expecting to find themselves delved into a world of misdirection and deceit, understand that this is not such a novel.

For starters, the Priory of Scion was not started until 1956, which negates the idea that Da Vinci could have been a grandmaster. Secondly, the Priory of Scion never participated in any goddess worship like Langdon and Teabing suggest. Thirdly, the whole premise on the book is based around the idea that a document found by Paris’s Bibliothèque Nationale is a true document, but Pierre Plantard, the author of “Les Dossiers Secrets”, later testified under oath that he had fabricated the entire hoax and that this romantic fabrication was concocted in order to make money and nothing else – no "hidden esoteric secrets" were involved. Make money he did, and so did Dan Brown and the authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail, the only other book to reference these documents. Apparently, Plantard hoped to gain popularity for the society that he had created, and with the help of some other men, managed to convince people until the late 1970s that his priory was as the oldest society in existence.

Now, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for the purposes of enjoying books; I do it all the time. But outside that principle, the ideas and discussions within the book didn’t take me off-guard, and maybe that’s because of my upbringing. I have never questioned in my life the idea that Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ were married, but that’s because I’ve heard such talk since the time I learned of the importance of Jesus Christ. This idea is not new, and those people who think that it is are sadly mistaken. And then there’s the discussion of the sacred feminine. Once again, I was not surprised to find that many religions, specifically of the Judeo-Christian variety, had different traditions to observe the idea that God would have a partner, and that too was because of my training. The universe, which includes whatever notion of God you believe, is always in balance, good and evil, light and dark, and yes, male and female. The “Sacred Feminine” ideas discussed within The Da Vinci Code were actually the worst organized points I’ve seen presented about the topic, and my sources date back before “Les Dossiers Secrets” and Dan Brown.

In fact, I must say that I wasn’t too impressed with story told within the pages. Cut out the long discussions of the acts of a secret society that never existed, strip down all the weakly expressed ideas of the “sacred feminine,” brake the story down to its barest bones, and you will find that you are looking at a plot of about 50 pages. Langdon is awaken in his Paris hotel, he gets framed for the murder of Jacques Saunière, Jacques Saunière’s granddaughter arrives to save him, they escape the louvre, the obtain a Cryptex, they meet up with Sir Leigh Teabing, get to London, get double crossed, discover the location of a knight interred by a pope, meet the teacher, get to the former burial place of the Grail, meet Sophie’s grandmother and brother, and Langdon kneels at the feet of the Holy Grail. That’s the whole story minus the dialogue, rising and falling actions, and puzzles.

In fact, all of Jacques Saunière’s riddles are based in history, not religion or secrecy, which I thought was well done at least. Brown kept all the puzzles along the same lines, something of which the characters never became aware. But, there were other things about the way the character’s behaved that caused me to shake my head. You see, there were a lot of moments when the answer was staring them right in the face, but they never noticed it. I think that I might be a terrible character to write a story about, because I would do the weirdest things in attempts to find answers. Langdon and Neveu enter that cliché that I like to call “Suspense-based Stupidity.” In order to create conflict, Brown tries to use things that would never have flown if I were in the story, building the actions between the characters. For example, Sophie and Langdon are stuck when they think that they will never figure out Jacques Saunière’s 10-digit code, but in their possession were 10 digits that Saunière wrote before dying. I would have examined those before I got stressed.

Another point of interest was “The Teacher.” I understand that Brown was trying to surprise us in the end, but it was such a surprise that the pieces just didn’t add up. Sure, once we had the bad guy explains it all, and the exposition by Brown, we can see that “The Teacher” was being secretive in his behavior, but it still didn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. If Remy knew that “The Teacher” would know immediately if he disobeyed his orders, why did he disobey them in the Teacher’s presence? And how would the Teacher been able to get any of his information without completely relying on Remy to begin with? And how would Remy not have seen it coming? It felt as though Brown had written himself into a corner and then used a cheap cop-out to fix the situation.

I must say that I did like the book better than the movie, mostly because the movie flew through the information far too fast to make any sense. To me, the movie seemed like a watered-down version of National Treasure, complete with Holy Grail treasures hidden beneath churches. At least the book managed to be original.

Over all, I assume that you’ve already made up your mind about reading the Da Vinci code before reading this, and now you will walk into the Da Vinci code with a realization that 105 chapters can actually be a fairly short read. If you didn’t know whether you were going to read it or not, I suggest reading for the sake of cultural aesthetics, but do so when it’s convenient for you. Never feel rushed to read this novel, unless you’ve just got the newest copy of the Dresden Files, then read this book quickly.

Good luck and happy readings.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Harry Dresden--Wizard

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

While sitting down to watch an episode of The Dresden Files on the Scifi channel, my girlfriend turned to me and said, “The novels were really great, so I’m sure this will be a good show.” At first I wasn’t sure I heard her right, but then I let the sentence sink in. After a pause, I turned to her and said, “You mean you knew that there was a series of book in which a wizard is running around in our time and you didn’t tell be about it.” But then I realized that she had told me about the book series she read in London and suddenly I felt like a jerk.

So, I fired up Barnes and, punched in my membership number and ordered the first 5 Dresden novels. Storm Front is the first in the series by Jim Butcher, and if this book is any indication as to the rest of them, then “WOW!” we are in for a treat. And if there are those of you out there who are like me and liked the first season of the show produced by Scifi, then to you I say “BEWARE!” The books are not quite like the show, but they are great in a different way.

For fans of the show, Bob does not come out of the skull unless otherwise released. Bob has no features to look up, so that’s why he doesn’t manifest, he just is. Murphy is a blonde cheerleader gone Rambo, not a brunette. Morgan is not black. And Morgan is old. Dresden didn’t kill his uncle by smashing his heart with a ring. Dresden’s mom left a Pentacle, not a shield bracelet. Dresden never had a love affair with Bianca. And finally, Harry Dresden’s office and home are two different places.

As for Storm Front, Dresden gets a call one morning after a long stretch of silence. It’s a lady named Monica Sells. She wants to consult with Harry about her missing husband. He schedules a meeting and then gets a second phone call from Karrin Murphy. There’s been a double homicide in the Madison Hotel. Little does Harry know that this killing and this lady are actually part of the same case; a case that will push him harder and plunge him deeper into the world of chaos, drugs, lust, and greed than he’s ever wanted to go.

Dresden starts both cases and starts to find some dead ends for both. He’s investigating them as two separate cases, completely unaware that the reason Victor Sells has gone missing is because he’s busy using a rich couple’s money and emotional energy to create a drug that is overthrowing the normal drug rings, and targeting those who stand in the way. One of the victims of the double homicide is Tommy Tomm, the oversized muscle of Mob leader Johnny Marcone…while the other victim is Monica Sells’ younger sister…

Enlisting the aid of Bob, the air spirit; Toot-toot and the faeries of the Nevernever; and Bianca, the vampire who isn’t what she seems, he manages to find Sells, stop him from killing again, and show him just why Harry Dresden is the meanest cat in the whole damned town. You never mess with a wizard who’s had the best formal training a wizard could ask for…even if you managed to figure out how to tap the power of storms to do your dirty work. And Harry shows that brains always prevail over brawn.

But that’s not all. Morgan, the lap dog and executioner for the White Council (a group of Wizards who have established laws and rules for the world of magic), has decided now is the time to end Dresden once and for all. Of course, Murphy begins to lose her trust in Harry when he starts hiding things from her; not to keep her from the truth, but from protecting her from the White Council, evil wizards, etc. And when she gets a warrant to search his office, it turns up detrimental…

Things don’t go well for Dresden as his investigation gets one girl killed and gets his hair taken for the next storm’s ritual. Police want him, White Council wants him, and Victor Sells wants him dead. But first, he’s got to deal with Johnny Marcone…

I loved this book. It was a great read from cover to cover. I would have finished it in a week if two papers didn’t come up due at the same time, so it took me 2 weeks instead. But, I read a little everyday, that’s how much I wanted to continue reading. Dresden’s way of dealing with things is a refreshing step away from the normal “magic” genre. As an example, here’s one of my favorite excerpts:

The air still thrummed with energy as the wash of flame passed. Victor snarled when he saw me rise, lifted a hand to one side, and snarled out words of summoning. A crooked stick that looked like it might be some kind of bone soared through the air toward him, and he caught it in one hand, turning to me with the attitude of a man holding a gun.

The problem with most wizards is that they get too used to thinking in terms of one venue: Magic. I don’t think Victor expected me to rise, lurch across the trembling floor toward him, and drive my shoulder into his chest, slamming him back into the wall with a satisfying thud. I leaned back a little and drove a knee into his gut, missed, and caught his square between the legs instead. The breath went out of him in a rush, and he doubled over to the ground. By this time, I was screaming at him, senseless and incoherent. I started kicking at his head.

I heard a metallic, ratcheting sound behind me and spun my head in time to see Beckitt, naked, point an automatic weapon at me. I threw myself to one side, and heard a brief explosion of gunfire. Something hot tore at my hip, spinning me into a roll, and I kept going, into the kitchen. I heard Beckitt snarl a curse. There were a number of sharp clicking sounds. The automatic had jammed. Hell, with this much magic flying around the room, we were all lucky the thing hadn’t just exploded

As I said before, this is a great book, and far better than the TV series, which was a 7 out of 10 for me—depending on the episode. The book was an easy read with a goofy feel to it, which is what makes if “fluffy,” as my friends like to call it. Lots of cool action, lots of cool ideas, lots of cool stuff. It’s only 7.99 a book, so I suggest you get at least this one and read…

Happy reading.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Let's get down to the EarthCore of it...

(WARNING: Spoilers are common amongst these pages, so you better beware)

3 miles beneath the surface of the earth lives a secret 10,000 years in the making. A civilization long since forgotten dwells in perfect functionality with only minimals losses in their history. Mankind is not ready for this secret, but the Earthcore Mining Corporation is about to take the lid off this pot and show the world something from it's worst nightmares. And no matter how fast they run, the creatures can fun faster...

Earthcore is the first of the four Scott Sigler novels that are currently downloadable at I first heard this story from the downloaded podcast novel before I ever knew that it had a print format, but once I bought Ancestor, the second to be published, from AMAZON.COM (those greedy evil bastards), I managed to get a hold of my own personal copy of the novel. I recommend any version of the novel, it's certainly well done.

In the past few weeks, I've been pegged by my friends as a Scott Sigler Fanboy. I'd like to set the record straight here and now by stating that I am most certainly not a Sigler Fanboy (do those even exist??), but I am what Sigler calls
"a damn dirty junkie."
I find that once I get involved in a Sigler novel, I can't put it down. And, interestingly enough, his Podiobooks are just as interesting, if not more interesting, than the novels. Am I a fanboy for enjoying an authors work? If so, then I guess all those guys who possess the Druid of Shinara stuff are nuts...

Anyway, Earthcore is a novel that takes place in our time, but in the far off land of Utah. Now, having lived in Utah, and soon to be returning there for college, I know how uninviting those mountains can be. So when I started off with this novel and found the plot to revolve around a specific mountain, I was happy. However, I was thrown off by certain aspects of the novel:

1) YA-YA mountains. In all the time I lived in Utah, I had never heard of a place, and by the description, I found it to be located in the spot of a current mountainous area. Couldn't you have just called it whatever the mountain was currently named? We can suspend our disbelief.

2) Brigham Young students. Sigler has obviously never lived in Utah or been there for any significant period of time, because noone there calls BYU students "Brigham Young students". To do so is what I call a rookie move.

3) King Crab. Seafood in Utah SUCKS. In fact, most people in Utah don't like seafood period. I blame this on the fact that they have to import their seafood if they want something other than Trout, which is a bland fish anyway. So, there's no way, especially if someone likes to visit islands, that anyone in Utah would say that the King Crab is the most delicious thing there.

Those are my three big arguments. These things were aspects that threw me off and kept me from getting into the novel at first, and no matter how hard I tried, I just wanted to find Scott Sigler and snap his neck. But, as with all Sigler novels, it gets to the point where those little things begin to matter less and less. But, it most be noted that those small things actually do create empathy between characters and readers.

So the story takes place in Utah, where a prospector has been told of a river of Silver that is coming out of the mountains, like a spring of metal. It turns out that this river of Silver is actually platinum, the purest collection of Platinum in existence, and thus very desirable by the Earthcore Mining Corporation. Kirkland, an executive there in Earthcore, ends up heading the project and finds himself thrown into a world of problems.

As they drill deep into the ground, Earthcore realizes that the caverns under their drill bit are not as empty as they once thought, but are in fact inhabited by a civilization of Octopus-like creatures from another planet. And these Rocktapi are lead by platinum robots, remnants of a civilization long since destroyed. But the Rocktapi don't want to go down that easily, so they come after the crew with their knives drawn.

After some serious conflict (something Sigler is great at creating) the party manages to destroy the alien ship and bring down the whole race with it. To destroy the ship, they must destroy the mountain, which kills everyone inside. But two of the members do make it out alive and plan a revenge by going to the site in Mexico that was found to be similar to the Utah caverns.

It was very much the Sci-fi horror movie feel to the story. It reads like watching a drive-in horror flick, with expectable ending and everything. But I did like the fact that everyone had to fight for what little they got. This was a good way to make us empathize.

All it all, a good read, and a good Podcast Novel. I do highly recommend this novel even though there are some problems and the beginning is a little slow going. Keep it up and you'll begin the adventure when everything opens a new crevace in the face of the earth.

Happy reading.