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Dangerous Days of Daniel X, The – Review

by: Patterson, James and Michael Ledwidge

Publisher: Vision, Hachette Book Group, New York, NY 10017

Location: 237 Park Ave

Copyright: 2008

Type: Paperback

 

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/2/2010

 

Summary: Teen alien Daniel X saves the world from other aliens.

 

Someone started a thought with, “If THE DANEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X were a movie . . .” We can only hope it doesn’t come to that but given the infinite capacity for digital fabrications in the world, this book is bound to be a movie if for no other reason than it is a book—sort of. That it is aimed at “young readers”—whoever they are—makes DANIEL X an even greater mishap than if it were merely scrawled on a bathroom wall in a gas station somewhere: all 220 pages, divided into 92 chapters.

DANIEL X is an imaginative romp in the realm of imagination. To what end? There is no end. Therein lies the problem with this book. The argument can be made that the unknown bounds of quantum physics essentially means that there really are no bounds to imagination and possibly no bounds to reality as well. The reader must keep this, or some variation of it, in mind while reading DANIEL X. Even this generous license however is abused in a subtle and iconoclastic manner. If it were written by a “young reader”–whoever he or she might be-subtlety would not be an issue. Iconoclastic logic would not be an issue. But it was written by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge—not your run of the mill “young readers”—whoever they are.

Okay, so there are evil aliens masquerading as humans. They are hell-bent on conquering the lovely blue planet Earth. As the top twenty alien infiltrators await their backup invasion force, they engage in every conceivable nefarious crime imaginable including-and this is odd-making block-buster movies. As galactic luck would have it, Earth has a savior in the form of Daniel X. At the tender age of three, having escaped the execution of his parent by The Prayer, one of the alien force, by turning himself into a bug, Daniel X takes up the torch of saving Earth from the evil aliens. The story fast forwards twelve years and we find Daniel X in his boy form at age fifteen doing anti-evil-alien things, tracking down the aliens on the top twenty list and destroying them. All this in preparation for his ultimate battle with The Prayer, the executioner of his crusading parents.

Very entertaining stuff. Escapism—almost.

Can a three year old, even an alien three year old which Daniel X is purported to be, turn himself into a bug in order to escape a life-threatening situation? The answer is probably yes. For quantum physics reality, the answer is definitely yes. More to the point perhaps, a child witnessing the murder of his parents could transform into an insect to escape the situation. In psychological literature, human children confronting sexual or physical abuse engage a fantasy realm to achieve Daniel X’s “reality” coping mechanism. There’s that word, reality. Is it okay to cope with an adverse reality by engaging the imagination? It is a rhetorical question.

The evil-alien (as opposed to illegal alien-we don’t want to confused the two) that Daniel X spends the greatest amount of time fighting in the book is Ergent Seth. According the Daniel X list of top twenty, Ergent Seth is known for his “drug dealing, mass murder, abductions [as in kids], torture, mind control and possession. . .” His favorite haunts for illegal activities are “LA and Orange County, California, Central City, East LA, Arizona Nevada, Mexico, South and Central America. And still branching out.” The only thing which can safely be said about Ergent Seth is that he is not “us”. If not “us”, he must be “them”.

There was a time when an imaginative romp in the realm of imagination meant moving beyond the pedestrian sidewalks of everyday life. In Daniel X, the pedestrian sidewalks are re-named and imbued with just enough non-logic to make them seem “novel”. Hence, Ergent Seth the drug dealing alien who keeps kids as “slaves” and sends them out on the streets of Orange County, California to sell “drugs” is a rather run-of-the-mill, pedestrian drug trafficker with the caveat that he is an extraterrestrial alien. Nice. Does this mean that THE DANEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X could be an allegory for the life-and-death threats to today’s youth? But to what end?

Let’s say that there is an age between three and eight years of age when our proclivity for fantasy is fueled by realities we can not control. After a spat of cowboys-and-Indians or perfect-mother in a perfect house, we shift gears and start engaging reality on mutually agreed upon terms. We bend to the dictates of reality because we have no choice. But reality also curves somewhat to fit the force of the “me” pushing back.

The problem with THE DANEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X is that there is no “me” anywhere in its pages. It is a sojourn into the realm of fantasy for fantasy’s sake. It is inescapable that this book be compared to JUMPER. Unlike the novel JUMPER by Steven Gould (published in 1992 and re-released in 2008), THE DANEROUS DAYS OF DANIEL X ventures out into the wasteland of childhood fantasy and stays there. Lost. Hopefully. For eternity.

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By

Lost Symbol, The – Review

by: Brown, Dan

 

Publisher: Doubleday

Location: www.doubleday.com

 

Copyright: 2008

Cover: Michael J. Windsor, Murat Tanner/Getty Images

 

Type: Hardcover

 

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/2/2010

 

Summary: Robert Langdon searches for an “ancient portal” in Washington, D.C.. So how ancient can it be?

 

What?

No controversy?

A superhuman, three resurrections from the near-dead, and this despite the opening factoid in THE LOST SYMBOL that there is document in a CIA safe discussing “an ancient portal and an unknown location underground”.

THE LOST SYMBOL is 509 pages divided into 134 chapters and an Epilogue. There are irritations. There are annoyances.

The book unveils a story that takes place over roughly a twelve hour period with backtracks to a Turkish prison where the foundation for the current events were set in place. The thread weaved to pull you into the story starts fraying fairly early. Robert Langdon, with his Micky Mouse watch, arrives almost late for a lecture he hastily agreed to give at the last minute. When he arrives at the venue, the Smithsonian Museum, National Statuary Hall, there is no audience. With a call to the office of his friend, Mr. Peter Solomon for whom he agreed to give the lecture, he in effect gets his assignment for the story of the novel. Of course Langdon does not get to speak to Mr. Solomon, but rather to his Mr. Solomon’s assistant, Anthony. Only, it is not Mr. Solomon’s assistant Anthony to whom Langdon is speaking, it is someone pretending to be Mr. Solomon’s assistant. This pretender reveals himself to be the arch-villain of the story. He charges Langdon with finding “an ancient portal”. If Langdon fails, Mr. Peter Solomon will be killed.

Getting to this point in the story is a challenge. First, there is the extremely irritating fourth-voice intrusions. For instance, on page 32, it is “Seven o’clock” when Langdon is approaching the site of the intended seven o’clock lecture:

Robert Langdon was now running. Talk about a dramatic entrance.”

If you have managed to suspend the twenty million sensory stimuli vying for your attention up to this point in the story, your reaction just might be, “Okay, let’s talk about ‘dramatic entrances’. This ain’t one.” So now, instead of having to deal solely with the author’s narrative voice, the voice of the characters, your own reader’s voice, you pile on this editorialist voice which seems to be just itching for a response from you. Which you supply. A fifth voice.

If all the “editorialist” asides in THE LOST SYMBOL were cut, nothing would be missed. This is the first work of fiction the reviewer has read in which these extraneous asides proliferate as the story progresses.

The greater challenge in getting through THE LOST SYMBOL is simply the one created by the first. The fifth voice. You are no longer reading a story, you are reading fiction. Something that may have been, could have been, except for this or that. Reading as work. THE LOST SYMBOL. You want the story to end. It seems to go on forever.

If you like a cerebral adventure version of INDIANA JONES, THE LOST SYMBOL comes close. But again, the strategy the author employs to tell the story lets you know upfront that you are dealing with a work of fiction rather than a story of may-have-beens or could-have-beens. If you can take a step back from the mess that imitates the craft of story telling, you do find a possible gem, an underlying nugget of thought that may make the reading worthwhile.

When Robert Langdon is charged with finding the “ancient portal”, it is as if he has been charged with validating the past history of occultism, of mysticism. In contrast, there is Katherine Solomon, the sister of the abducted Peter. Katherine is a researcher in “human potential”. Indeed her brother has facilitated setting up an entire complex devoted solely to exploring the potential of the human mind. The effort fits into what is now being called Noetic Sciences, after the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) established in 1973 by former astronaut Edgar Mitchell and Paul N. Temple. Throughout the novel, little hints are planted that Katherine has discovered scientific proof of an amazing ability of the human mind. The discovery rivals the purported significance of an “ancient portal” that would grant the discoverer powerful knowledge.

Viewed from this perch of “ideas matter”, author Dan Brown seems to be saying that the search for human enlightenment is a process in which the goal is the process. The “ancient portal” which supposedly conveys wisdom to its founder, the scientific apparatus that excavates extraordinary human potential are both overshadowed by the process that leads to them and is ultimately submerged within that process. In other words, there is no ultimate, hidden knowledge waiting to be unveiled. Everything that has been, everything that will be is in the here and now if we but open our eyes and see.

A stretch?

Each of us takes away from a story an equal measure of what we bring to it. THE LOST SYMBOL, because it is more an exposition of fiction crafting than a story, requires too much effort to make it entertaining. As for the tour of occultist Washington, a travel guide would have served the same purpose.

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By

There is Life After Death – Review

by: Varghese, Roy Abraham

Publisher: The Career Press, Inc, 3 Tice Rd, PO Box 687

Location: Franklin Lakes, NJ

Copyright: 2010

Cover: Dutton & Sherman Design

Type: Softcover

 

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 1/2/2010

 

Summary: Logical argument for life-after-death, morphing into an argument against reincarnation.

Life after death.

You either believe there is some aspect of your spiritual self that survives the transition of the physical body from life to death, or you don’t. You either believe that some part of your spiritual self has been on this earth before, that you are a “born again” spiritual essence, or you don’t. There is no scientific proof. There is no scientific protocol to establish life after death, nor reincarnation. I believe in both the reality of life after death and in reincarnation and, to borrow a current self-serving solipsism, “god-willing”, there never will be such proof.

So, we take up THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH by Roy Abraham Varghese and discover the edifice that is faith and science. Imagine this edifice as a single story structure in which perception is solely a matter of focus and belief a matter of feverish activity followed by catalytic moments of outward stillness.

The first part of THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH is an extremely effective argument against using science as a yardstick to measure the validity of life after death. Varghese successfully shapes the argument by drawing a distinction between the physical world and the non-physical. This has been done before of course. But the sticking point is always defining precisely what constitutes the non-physical. In Chapter 6, under “10 Hard Transphysical Facts”, Varghese lays out a reasoned argument as to why there is a non-physical world, having tackled the “the brain as a computer” analogy and the whole concept of a physics derived definition of the human mind (Francis Crick’s “nerve cells and their associated molecules”). The question might arise as to why Varghese takes nearly 300 pages to restate the obvious. Well, it does not take much digging to find the answer to that quandary.

Aside from tantalizing tidbits such as pointing out that demographer Carl Haub of the Population Reference Bureau estimates that 100 billion people have died since the beginning of history (whenever that was), and that 234 people will die “while you’re reading this page”, Varghese goes the extra mile to argue that “human persons retain their identity in an after-life”. It is an amazing supposition. He devotes the last half of the book attempting to justify it.

What is a human person’s identity?

After repudiating the validation methodologies of science as an argument against the existence of life after death, Varghese resorts to a scientific methodology-logic–to argue that it is the complete person, the personality and spirit, which survives death. This is something new. It is a reach beyond Plato’s “know thyself”. In a section of chapter 7 titled “The Human Person-A Psychophysical Organism Capable of Thinking and Willing”, he attempts to show that the “person/I/self” is an interaction of spirit and the physical. It is this interaction that results in personality, or the person’s identity. The logic is flawless. The supposition brings to mind a number of quotes. Among them:

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool that for him” – – Bible, Proverbs 26:12

and

Know ye not that ye are the temple of God and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you” – – Bible, Corinthians 3:16

and finally,

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ . . . And he said: ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 18:1-4

According to Varghese’s argument, all our love ones who have died, passing from our physical lives, survive as “persons we know” and will greet us when it is our turn to exit the physical world. It is a nice argument. According to this argument, the loving and wise grandfather who influenced you in your early life will meet you on the other side of death and be just as loving and just as wise, as perhaps his grandfather before him. It is an argument like the fundamental argument for life after death. No science. Dig a little deeper into Varghese’s argument however and we find an agenda sprouting from an interpretation of Christian doctrine. The Christian belief in an after life is modeled after the resurrection-body and soul-of Jesus Christ. In short, a “person” goes through the process of life-choices and arrives, in the end, at the gates of Heaven or the portal of Hell. End of story. For this reason, Varghese argues against reincarnation. Indeed, how can there be reincarnation if the “person” survives after death? Since it is the physical body and the soul that makes the “person”, a “person” just can’t jump into another body and be the same person, escaping the final disposition of their life. Flawless logic.

After quoting a poll showing that “an incredible 70 percent” of people who have experienced a near-death-experience believe in reincarnation, Varghese points out that this belief most likely stems from “New Age literature” which promotes a belief in reincarnation. He them elevates a belief in reincarnation into the “theory of reincarnation”. And, to prove the point, he exhibits a list of four critical questions highlighting the implausibility of the “theory”.

The acrobatics of arguing faith makes senile centenarians of us all-all including children. Children however have a fall-back position: because my mommy said so.

After reading THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH, the only explanation I can find for Varghese’s argument against reincarnation is his desire to support the premise that personality survives death. The tactic of using the same logic to support life after death and the implausibility of reincarnation negates both arguments. The juxtaposition however of pro and con arguments standing side-by-side, constructed from the same scaffolding, is rather startling. The tactic makes THERE IS LIFE AFTER DEATH worth reading as a primer on how NOT to argue matters of faith.

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