Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: Map of Bones by James Rollins

Map of Bones, is the second book to the Sigma Force series. I think the best description of this book is: Raiders of the Lost Ark + Da Vinci Code + Mission Impossible.

Author James Rollins, wrote Map of Bones as the second installment to his Sigma Force series. Sigma Force, is a fictional US government organisation, under DARAP. This organisation recruits operatives who are scientists with military training, to combat terrorists organisations who attempt to use technology to threat world peace.

If you like history, science, tomb raiding, action thriller, and conspiracy theories, then read on, because you will definitely enjoy this book. Let's take a closer look:


In Germany, a service in a cathedral is interrupted by armed intruders wearing monk's outfits. These intruders unleashed a mysterious, nightmarish destruction that killed almost all people in the cathedral. Only a few survived. Adding to the web of mystery is the unknown motive of these intruders, because they did not want the treasures in the cathedral. Instead, they came to steal the bones of magi, the same magi who, according to the Bible once paid homage to baby Jesus on the night he was born. It seems these intruders believe this relic holds a power that could reshape the world.

Meanwhile, in the Vatican city, the Catholic church asked for aid from Sigma Force to resolve this mystery. Commander Pierce Grayson, and his two companions Monk and Kathy, traveled to the Vatican, and teaming up with Lieutenant Rachel Verona and her uncle Vigor. Together, these five heroes embarked on a dangerous mission, a heart racing journey to thwart a horrific plan of an ancient order. Their journey will take them across the world, to revisit and discover the sites of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Where science and religion, will combine to unleash the blackest horror...

My thoughts on this book:

Map of Bones is a great book. It is truly awesome! I finished it in 2 days. This is a high octane, adrenaline driven adventure story. The pace of the story was fast as lightning and heart pounding. I couldn't put it down after I started reading it!

Being the 2nd book in the Sigma Force series, Map of Bones improved over its predecessor in story telling, characterization, and pace. Three new major characters are introduced in this book; Pierce Grayson, Monk, and Kathy. All three characters are Sigma Force operatives, where the protagonist from the previous book, Painter Crowe became the minor character in this book. While I really like Painter Crowe, but I also like the new characters. For example, Monk is my favorite Sigma Force operative. The characterization of the villain and supporting characters are equally as impressive. The storytelling is gripping, there are plenty of twists and turns in the story that will definitely surprise you. The action scenes are well written. The author used history, science, and supernatural elements, to orchestrate a plot full of mysterious and estoric elements that will definitely win nods of approval from fans of Indiana Jones movies or Dan Brown's books.

Although the book incorporated heavy use of religion at the core of its story, but the author treats religion with great respect. In this aspect, I speculate Christians may find this book more enjoyable than Dan Brown's books.

I enjoyed this book a lot, and after reading 2 books from this series, I will say I am now a fan of James Rollin's Sigma Force series. If you are a fan of this genre, or if you have read Sandstorm but haven't read this book yet, then make sure you don't miss out Map of Bones.

Happy reading!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie Review: Elysium

Why, do you think people watch science fiction movies and read science fiction books, even when we know it's not real? There might be many answers to this question. Perhaps, it is because the worlds we create in science fiction, represent our dreams, fears, and our deepest longings, made possible by mankind's creative imagination. Furthermore, I believe good science fiction explores the hard questions about our existence in this world, and reflecting the lessons we learn from our human conditions, allowing us a glimpse into the future.

Directed by Neil Blomkamp (director of District 9), and starring Matt Damon. Elysium is an ambitious science fiction movie attempting to be a social commentary, by combining with dazzling special effects and heart pumping actions. Sounds like a promising film, but is Elysium a good movie? Or is it an over hyped disappointment? Let's find out


In 2154, the earth is badly polluted and over populated. The disparity between the rich and the poor is great. The wealthy people left earth, and live on a giant space station called Elysium. Together with advanced technology, people living on Elysium experience no sickness, no war, breath clean air, and eat good food. Life is great on Elysium, but only accessible to the wealthy. The poor people remain on earth and are denied access and benefits on Elysium, such as medical treatments, while the governing body on Elysium employed strict rules against illegal immigrants from the earth.

Max (Matt Damon) is an ex-convict living in the ruined city of Los Angeles. He works for a factory which is owned by the corporattion that build Elysium, Armadyne Corporation. One day, Max had an accident at work, where he was exposed to lethal levels of radiation. After the accident, Max was told he will die from radiation poisoning in 5 days. Max's only hope of cure, is the medical equipment on Elysium. In order to go to Elysium, Max agreed to help a smuggler to infiltrate Elysium. However, a twist of fate will turn Max's mission into a series of events which will forever alter the course of human history..

What I think about this movie:

First of all, Elysium is a technical success. The dazzling special effects and breath stopping action sequences present this movie as a visual marvel on the silver screen. The visual style bears resemblance to District 9. My only minor dislike about the visuals, is the occasional shaky camera scenes. While some might appreciate this style of camera filming, but I found at times, the shaky camera sequences made my eyes uncomfortable.

Alongside the brilliant visuals, is a thought provoking story. Elysium, like District 9, can both be regarded as social commentaries set in the realm of science fiction. In Elysium, the story explores several growing problems in our world such as; asylum seekers, the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor, and the problem pollution and over population.

I found the story of Elysium to be thought provoking, this story implores the audience to think about real problems in the world. For example, the gap between the wealthy continues to increase year after year. Driven further by phenomenons such as rising house prices, high unemployment rate, globalization and the off-shoring of jobs to countries with cheap labor, the rising income gap, and a gradually slowing global economy. This movie also raises questions about issues such as asylum seekers and illegal immigrants, in Australia it is the issue with boat people, in the US is the illegal immigration from Mexico. Across the world, people from poor countries have been exploited as cheap labors by large, international corporations. These are real problems, and they are growing right now, impacting you and I as we speak.

I wonder if Elysium, is an attempt to extrapolate the current trend, and projecting into the future to build the worst case scenario, enacted in a science fiction movie? If so, then Hollywood's vision of our future looks pretty dim and depressing. I guess the question is, what can we do about these problems facing our world today?

If you don't mind a bit of spoiler, at the end of Elysium, the protagonist sacrificed himself to bring freedom and equality to both the rich and the poor, making everyone citizens of Elysium. The ending of this story reminds me of another man from 2000 years ago, a man named Jesus, whose self sacrifice ensured all of his followers will all be citizens in the kingdom of heaven, regardless of differences such as economic and social status, race, cultural background, and gender. Perhaps it is no mere coincidence that a popular sci-fi movie upholds values similar to the ones in Christianity. If science fiction is an imaginative expression of our dreams, human conditions, fears and deepest longings, then does this mean somehow, deep down inside, we all sensed that we are better off following Jesus and his teachings about life?

My personal reflection:

In today's church culture, where churches have developed unhealthy obsessions with homosexuality, sex and gender roles, I wonder if Christians have overlooked issues relating to social justice, freedom, human trafficking, growing gap between the rich and the poor, asylum seekers, unemployment and pollution?

I wonder, if people are less likely to find Jesus from Christian sermons on what you believe about homosexuality and gender roles. Instead, perhaps people are more likely find Jesus from witnessing the contributions to the society you made, the people whose life you touched, and the help you gave to the people who are in need?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: The Companions by R.A. Salvatore

“What good is your gold if your friends will not lift you when you have fallen?

How long lived our memory of you when you are gone?

Because in the end, that is the only measure. In the end, when life’s last flickers fade, all that remains is memory. Richness, in the final measure, is not weighed in gold coins, but in the number of people you have touched, the tears of those who mourn your passing, and the fond remembrances of those who continue
 to celebrate your life.” 

 - R.A. Salvatore, The Companions

How far will you go to help a friend in need? This is the premise in R.A. Salvatore's new book, The Companions. This book is both a reboot and a continuation, for the story of Salvatore's beloved fictional character, the Drow ranger Drizzt Do'Urden.

I am a fan of Drizzt, the first 6 Drizzt books are among my favorite fantasy novels. The story of Drizzt and his friends have a very special place in my heart. I love these stories because they remind me of the kind of things I used to believe, but gradually disbelieve, because of my ever growing attitude of cynicism towards life and people as time goes by. 

Although I am a fan of these Drizzt books, but I was not particularly impressed with some of the later books in this series. In fact, out of 21 Drizzt books, I stopped reading them at book 14. Because somehow, these Drizzt books lost their original meanings as Salvatore wrote more and more. 

Yet, when I heard, that Salvatore was going to write a new Drizzt book to reboot the Drizzt stories, I thought I would give it a try. So I purchased this book, The Companions. 

I read this book in 2 days. Is this a good book? Is this my new favorite Drizzt book? Let's find out


Drizzt Do'Urden, is a renegade Drow ranger who refused to live the evil ways of his people. After escaping from his ancestoral homeland in the underground, he was shunned and rejected by most people in the surface world. Eventually, he found true love, acceptance and friendship from four people: The dwarf Bruenor Battlehammer, Brueno's adopted human daughter Cattie Brie, his adopted son Wulgar, and a halfing called Regis. The 5 friends underwent many perlious adeventures, and won great reputations for themselves, they became widely known as "Companions of the Hall". However, as years pass by and after many adventures (from previous Drizzt books), most members of the companions have passed away, leaving Drizzt alone in the world. 

Goddess Melikki, reward Drizzt by taking his friends into a temporal realm. There, the goddess gave Drizzt's friends a choice, to be reborn into the world, so on the fateful day when Drizzt will suffer the greatest peril in his life, they can stand by his side once again to help him.

It is a hard choice, because Drizzt's friends realized, to be reborn into the world means to forsake whatever reward await them in the after live. Is the bond of love and friendship strong enough to make these friends abandon the gift of afterlife, to be reborn into the world to help Drizzt? The bond of the companions is about to be put to the test...

What I think about this book:

The Companions manages to capture the feel of old Drizzt novels. It seems Salvatore is once more, placing a lot of emphasis on character development, and this is a good thing. However, the ending of this book is somewhat anti climatic and feels rushed. Nonetheless, while this book is not the best Drizzt novel, but it is far better than most Drizzt novels in recent years. As a reader, I am reminded of the reason I became a fan of Drizzt all those years ago. The pace of the story is good, there were barely any moment in the book when I was bored. 

The book is divided into 4 parts. Yet, the most interesting aspect, is Drizzt's memoirs at the beginning of each part. Drizzt's memoirs is something that appears in every Drizzt novel. I remember Salvatore once said during an interview, these memoirs are meant to be Drizzt's reflections on events in the story, showing readers that Drizzt is trying to figure out and learn about life through his experiences. I deeply enjoy reading these memoirs, not only because they add depth to Drizzt's character  but they also bring out the theme of each book. In this book, the main theme is love and friendship.

I often ponder, if the reason why Drizzt story is warmly received by the general public, is because at the core, these books tell great stories about love, fidelity and friendship,  and this is something everyone longed for regardless of gender, ethnicity or age. The friendship between Drizzt and his companions is not a task based friendship often exist in our cultural norm where everything is institutionalized.  Neither is their friendship some mutual beneficiary relationship, built to satisfy some personal need. 

No, it seems to me, in these great stories, the friendship existing between Drizzt and his friends, is something very real, raw and honest. It is not born out of some sense of duty, nor some misplaced sense of self righteousness, but their friendship is based on love. In these great stories, time and again, Drizzt and his friends are put under tough trials, but they never give up on each other, because they love each other as they love their own (something Jesus taught 2000 years ago). 

I speculate, this is why stories of Drizzt and his friends are so beloved by readers, that Salvatore wrote 21 books (and almost all of them are New York Times bestsellers). I guess at this point, we can say, true love never goes out of fashion, because love endures everything. Just as love endures, so will stories about true love stand against the test of time.

The Companions is a good reboot to the story of Drizzt and the companions of the Hall. While the ending feels rushed, but it is still worthwhile reading, even if you are a new comer to Drizzt books.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Book Review: The Dark Tower Book 3: The Wastelands by Stephen King

Don't ask me silly questions

I won't play silly games

I'm just a simple choo choo train
And I'll always be the same.

I only want to race along
Beneath the bright blue sky
And be a happy choo choo train
Until the day I die. 

                                       - Stephen King, The Wastelands

The Wastelands, is the 3rd book to Stephen King's fantasy epic, The Dark Tower series. After finishing the first 2 books in the series, I was eager to find out the fate of Roland and his companions, so I ran straight into this book, and here is my review:


The Wastelands, continues the story of Roland Deschain, the last Gunslinger, and his companions' quest to reach the dark tower. Following the events from "The Drawing of the Three", Roland assembled his small group, resuming his quest to find the Dark Tower.

Being pursued by The Ageless Stranger on their journey, Roland and his allies had to traverse a dangerous road to the ruined city of Lud, to find transports that will take them across the nightmarish, haunted wastelands. On this perilous journey, Roland began to understand the reason why he is being driven towards the Dark Tower..

What I think about the book:

In this book, the secret of the Dark Tower is finally being slowly revealed to readers. But most importantly, this is the best book in the series yet, very imaginative. I mean, where else can you find a story having: a post-apocalyptic world set in a parallel universe, elements from spaghetti western, flavors from Arthurian legend, and inspirations from The Lord of the Rings? 

Stephen King is very well known for his works on horror fictions. In this book, King has introduced elements from horror fictions, creating some memorable, heart pumping sequences.

The story arc developed as the heroes journeyed into a creepy, decaying city full of mutants, only to board a self-aware, criminally insane high-speed train. What a crazy tale! But do not be mistaken! This book is terrific! With the way things are looking, I eagerly looking forward to reading the next book. 

In the meantime, The Dark Tower is getting closer!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Book Review: Sand Storm by James Rollins

 Imagine stories blending elements from Indiana Jones, National Treasure and Mission Impossible; combined with history, science and exhilirating actions, you get James Rollins' Sigma Force series.

I am a new comer to the Sigma Force series, created by author James Rollins. Each book in this series is a stand alone novel, telling stories about the adventures of a group called "Sigma Force".

Sigma Force, is a fictional, US counter-terrorism group, set up as a division of DARPA to protect and prevent advance technologies from falling into the wrong hands. This group is made up of talented individuals who have both brain and brawn, not only are these group members brilliant scientists, they also possess deadly combat skills. Sigma Force is usually assigned with missions involving the struggles against terrorist organisations, who seek to use powerful, ancient artifacts from archaeological findings to threaten the world peace.

I thought the premises are very interesting, so I got myself a copy of Sandstorm, the first book of Sigma Force. According to the author, Sandstorm is the prequel to Sigma Force series. Here is my review for this book.


On a stormy night, an explosion rocked a private section at the British museum, destroyed a collection of valuable artifacts. The cause could not be explained. Sigma Force was called to investigate the cause of the incident, because DARPA believes whatever caused the explosion, could be weaponized and become a global threat, should it fall into the hand of the terrorists.

Commander Painter Crowe, was given the instruction to lead a small squad of Sigma Force for this assignment. Their mission, is to find out what caused the explosion. By teaming up with archaeologist Safia Almazz, multi-billionaire Kara Kensington, tomb raider Omaha Dunn, and other allies, their quest will take Crowe's team to venture into the heart of the Arabian peninsula, to search for the fabled city of Ubar, lost and hidden in the desert waste. But Crowe's team is not alone, Cassandra Sanchez, a former Sigma Force op, works for a terrorist organisation called The Guild. Cassandra and the Guild are determined to steal the secret of Ubar, and use it to terrorize the world. It's a race against time, lost treasures will be found, ancient mysteries will be solved, can Crowe's team succeed?

What I think about the book:

Sandstorm is a good read. I like the story, because it is a good combination of a treasure hunt story and an action thriller. This book is quite easy to read, the pace of the story is very fast. It has some memorable moments, likable characters, and lots of thrills.

Some people compared Sigma Force series to Dan Brown's novels. I can understand why this comparison is made. But at the same time, I think Sigma Force novels are very different to Dan Brown's novels. For starters, Sigma Force novels are more akin to stories of Indiana Jones, packed with actions and adventures in the wastelands. And stories in Sigma Force novels often revolves around the discovery of some ancient, powerful artifacts. Unlike Dan Brown's Robert Langdon stories, which often revolved around conspiracies of ancient organisations. Overall, I find James Rollins' Sigma Force books slightly more enjoyable than Dan Brown's novels. But this is just my personal preference toward the genre.

The story in this book is also centred around science and history, lots of it. Most of historical facts and science in this book are real, but sometimes it crosses over into the realm of science-fiction. I actually like the elements of science fiction, because it lifts the story to a higher notch on the scale of imagination and sense of wonder.

The only area that needs improvement, is character development. This book has almost no character development. But since this is only the first book in the series, hopefully this is an area that has already been improved in the next book.

I finished this book in 2 days, it is a fun, exciting read, and I had a good time with it. I am grateful to have discovered this series, and I look forward to reading the next Sigma Force novel, titled "The Map of Bones". And my conclusion is, if you like Indiana Jones, then definitely try this book. If you like it, there are 7 more Sigma Force novels available, and you are likely to have lots of fun reading them.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Dark Tower book 2: The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

"What we like to think of ourselves and what we really are rarely have much in common..."
                         - Stephen King, The Drawing of the Three

So, I finished The Gunslinger (book 1 to The Dark Tower series). I liked the first book, and I decided to read the second book. I want to know the next chapter of the story, I want to know the next stop for the gunslinger. I, was hooked to this fictional world bizzaro penned by Stephen King.

The journey continues, and the Dark Tower is getting closer, but is the second book any good? Is the story becoming more interesting? Or is the series on the path of downward spiral? Let's find out.


Following the end of the first book (The Gunslinger), the protagonist, Roland Deschain continues with his quest for the Dark Tower. In the previous book, The Man in Black showed Roland 3 cards that are connected to Roland's quest for the Dark Tower: a prisoner, the lady in shadow, and death.

After his encounter with The Man in Black, Roland continues with his journey. Ill fortune brings Roland to be attacked by monsters on the beach, and he sustained heavy injuries. As Roland struggles to survive, a mysterious door appeared on the beach. For Roland, the only hope of survival and finding the Dark Tower, all depend on the secrets behind this door. New allies, friends, and the future destiny for Roland's quest will all be revealed in The Drawing of the Three...

What I think about this book:

In my opinion, I think The Drawing of the Three is a bit better than The Gunslinger. The reason is, this book introduced some very interesting, and complex characters into the story. There are a lot of
character developments in the story, and sometimes their stories spammed into our world. Also, Stephen King's use of words, and his style of writing seem to have changed a little bit (for the better). Descriptions of images are lively and vivid, but Stephen King also took his readers inside the heads of his characters. As a result, the personalities of these characters are flashed out quite well. Overall, this book is an exciting ride powered by impressionable story telling.

Themes such as drug addictions (or addictions in general), racism, justice, and dealing with past hurts dominate this book. All characters in this book are flawed, and they are in constant struggles with something from their pasts. These character portraits painted them in realistic lights.

I like The Drawing of the Three, and I am liking this series more and more. This is why, I definitely want to read the next installment, and find out what's in store for Roland and his friends on their journey to the Dark Tower.