“The 6th Extinction” by James Rollins (William Morrow, 2014)

Sixth Extinction
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There are two books that have been published in 2014 called The Sixth Extinction, interestingly and perhaps unsurprisingly on the same subject. One is a work of brilliant nonfiction about the sixth extinction taking place now as species continue to be killed by humanity and made extinct; the other is a thrilling adventure involving Sigma Force and one man’s maniacal crusade to give Planet Earth back to nature and its animals. I don’t think I need to tell you which one was written by bestselling author James Patterson.

After an act of sabotage, a deadly airborne virus is released into a remote part of California from a secret laboratory, but it soon begins wreaking havoc and devastation, wiping out all wildlife and causing horrible deaths. Soon people begin to get infected. Sigma Force is brought in to take over the situation and discover a cure, but it is soon discovered that this virus isn’t even DNA-based, but something completely new and exobiotic referred to as XNA.

To get to the origin of this devastating virus, the Sigma team is going to have to split up and travel the globe. One group goes deep into Antarctica to find a specific individual, but find themselves led to secret underground caverns that have been hidden from the world for a very long time and harbor new species and forms of life.  The other group travels to the deep jungles of Brazil in search of a man thought to be dead and there they find unique ecosystems and specifically-engineered species the world has never seen.

As Elizabeth Kolbert was revealing a startlingly changing reality in her book, Rollins is doing the same through the lens of fiction backed up with lots of research (including Kolbert’s book). The author has done his research in history and biology and ends the book with a full breakdown on what is based on reality and our changing world. The action is of course nonstop and over the top, as readers have come to expect and enjoy from Rollins, while the science is startling and fascinating.

Originally written on August 23, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Sixth Extinction from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“S.” by J. J. Abrams and Doug Dorst (Mulholland Books, 2013)

S.
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Some books are just good stories written by an author and thoroughly enjoyed by the reader. And a select few are works of art created by multiple authors and an incredible development team behind a daring publisher; S. is one of those books, perhaps the only one of its kind. A project that has been years in the making, beginning as an idea between two creative guys that became something much bigger when Mulholland Books agreed to publish it and employed the abilities of a team of editors, copyeditors and book development people to create a book that is much more than just any old book.

S. works on many levels. If Inception could be a book, this would be it.

Look Inside

At the deepest level is an old forgotten book by a once well-known author whose life has been shrouded in mystery and whose identity still remains in question. It is called Ship of Theseus about a person known as “S” who awakes not knowing who he is and anything about his life, as he begins a very strange journey into finding answers to his many questions.

At the next level is the translator of the Ship of Theseus who was a huge fan of V. M. Straka’s work, so much so that they were in a relationship, though it is unknown whether the author and translator were ever able to confess their love for each other. However, the translator and author have left secreted messages and ciphers in the text as well as within the footnotes. So while the translator is educating the reader on the story and facts about the book and what she knew about the author, she is also secretly communicating with Straka.

S2

Up one level we have the completed old book which is what the reader holds in their hands when they take it out of the slipcase.  The level of detail that the publisher went to recreating this old book is nothing short of astounding, with stamped check out dates, stains and marks on some of the pages, and an aged feel and color to the pages; their even seems to be a musty smell about the volume. And within the margins and spaces around the text we have a former teacher and an undergrad student conversing back and forth about the text, the author, life, and eventually their own lives and feelings towards each other, even though they don’t physically meet for a long time.

There are a couple sub-levels within this particular level as the two “main” characters are not simply conversing back and forth but are doing so at different points in their lives. Eric has read the book a number of times, and has notations from the first time he read it when he was a teenager in pencil, and then further comments between Jennifer and he at different points in time, when they know different things about each other.

Then there are the number of pieces of media secreted within the pages: photos, letters between Eric and Jennifer, but also relating to Ship of Theseus; postcards and notes and an incredibly detailed map drawn upon a napkin. Again, the detail that went into creating these items is nothing short of astonishing, with the old photos with logo prints on the back, aged postcards, letters with ink smudges and coffee stains. As for the map, it is drawn in pen on a college napkin that still perfectly, delicately folds to show the school logo.

map

At the final level is the reader opening the pages of S. for the first time, taking in all these levels and each of the stories going on at each level. It can be read in certain ways and is the sort of book that can benefit from being read multiple times. Ultimately, it is a book unlike any other, likely unlike anything you have read before. But it will be a journey you won’t soon forget, and one you can return to whenever you want.

Originally written on August 14, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of S. from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Sputnik Sweetheart” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2001)

Sputnik Sweetheart
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Sputnik Sweetheart is another great example of the brilliance of Haruki Murakami: a short novel that sucks you in from the very beginning and doesn’t let you go until the last page.  It is one of those books where little seems to actually happen, but in the minds of the characters, lives are lived and worlds are changed.

K, a college student, has fallen in love with Sumire.  She is everything to him, and he cherishes every moment they share together.  They are both writers; she a complex messy one that engulfs her entire life.  In his heart, he knows they will never be together, but still he continues to hope, and any time spent together he enjoys to its fullest.  Then she tells him of someone she has met, Miu, a middle-aged woman who has captured her heart, much in the same way Sumire has captured K’s.  The she goes on a business trip with Miu that turns into a vacation in Greece on a small island.  K goes about his life until he receives the disturbing call from Miu still in Greece.  He flies to the island eventually finds Miu only to discover that Sumire has vanished into thin air.  All she has left behind are some very personal writing pieces.

Sputnik Sweetheart is the sort of book that continues to pull you down into deeper levels, as you contemplate what is happening and what it means; there is little use in searching for a “why” as Murakami’s journeys are not about that.  The human psyche is not logical and straightforward, but it is a voyage you will not soon forget.

Originally written on February 20, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Sputnik Sweetheart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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“The Cusanus Game” by Wolfgang Jeschke (Tor, 2013)

Cusanus Game
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From the so-called “grand master of German science fiction” comes The Cusanus Game, a work of hard science fiction and philosophy that forces the reader to think far beyond the story.

It is the year 2052 and the world is in a sorry state, especially Northern Europe after an atomic disaster along the French-German border, contaminating the continent with radioactivity. As the threat and fear begins to spread, paranoia and terror break out, affecting the entire planet. The radiation is also messing with human DNA causing mutations and creating monstrosities that shouldn’t be.

A secret research facility located within the Vatican is searching for and employing covert scientists with a plan to reintroduce fresh, healthy fauna to the ravaged world. Biologist Domenica Ligrina may be their saving grace, as she dedicates her studies to the mysteries and puzzles of the Middle Ages and learns of a possible solution that may change the world back to the resplendent place it once was.

While an interesting work of science fiction, the writing is clunky and overly complex and labyrinthine that may be due to the translation, or the style of writing, causing the reader to lose their way at times.

Originally written on January 2, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Cusanus Game from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.