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By

Ocean Dark, The – Review

by: Rogan, Jack

Publisher: Ballantine Books (ballantinebooks.com)

Location: Random House, Inc, NY

Copyright: 2010

Cover: Carlos Beltran, Jamie Warren

Type: Paperback

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 2/10/2011

Summary: A mysterious island and echoes of Homer with wrecked ships, siren calls, and altered lives.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that throughout recorded history the greatest challenge humankind has faced has been overcoming the arrogant, egocentric myopia of personal nightmares projected onto the unfolding tapestry of everyday life? A theme for a different time obviously. But Jack Rogan’s THE OCEAN DARK scrapes off the sediment from the question and up pops the disasters of environmental pollution, global warming, over-crowding-the usual litany of nightmares we now call human generated eco-potential-disasters. What is unusual about this novel however is that the story almost forces the reader to conjure a nightmare to explain the mechanics of a potential eco-biological nightmare. It is a refreshing departure from the usual litany of potential disasters pulled from news headlines.

In THE OCEAN DARK, Rogan achieves a level of story-telling so far beyond the made-for-TV disaster movie or the lowest-common-denominator news headline that there is really no “story-like” comparison possible. The book, in short, is a brilliant piece of creative and expository work.

Tori Anderson, the heroine of THE OCEAN DARK, is a woman with a past, attempting to escape into a future. She is surrounded by a group of men who also have histories buffeted by the bathos of life and attempting to maintain a steady course. But unlike Tori, the men, brothers Gabe and Miguel Rios, are attempting to hold the future at bay, to keep the status quo as the status quo. Tori fails. The Rios brothers fail. Their plans are obliterated by an onrush of events stemming from a seemingly minor step taken in pursuit of securing their respective futures.

Gabe Rios is the captain of the Antoinette, a cargo skip carrying one-hundred and eighty tractor-trailer size containers across the waters of the Caribbean. Rios and his brother are willing pawns in the illegal activities of the shipping company for which they work. Gun smuggling, drugs–the usual. In an effort to rendezvous with a missing ship, the Mariposa, transporting a cargo of weapons, Captain Rios steers the Antoinette closer and closer to a mysterious and uncharted island in search of the cargo he is supposed to pickup. It is an ill-fated decision on the part of the Captain.

We get the impression that Gabe Rios is a conscientious, moral man who, because of misguided loyalty and no small measure of self-absorption, sleep-walks into a disaster that turns his life up-side-down. But if this is so of Captain Rios, it constitutes the very foundation of Tori Anderson’s existence.

The heroine is also conscientious and moral. But she is so absorbed in escaping the past to build a future that she simply ignores the present. She is vaguely aware of the illicit goings-ons of the company for which she works and the part the Rios brothers have in the activity. But this is her first time aboard the company’s ship. Having worked simply as a secretary of sorts, she has been allowed to sign on to the Antoinette crew as a sort of observer, an efficiency expert. Her main concern is that the Rios brothers not view her as a spy for the company. She wants to be just another member of the crew. She wants the brothers to trust her.

As readers, we progress form a point of merely observing the two main characters of the story, Tori and the captain, to a point of grudgingly empathizing. Yes, Captain Rios is enabling dope and gun smugglers, but his primary motivation seems to be a misguided loyalty to his hot-headed brother, Miguel. Yes, Tori is sliding through the cracks and crevices of legitimacy under false identification, attempting to gain self-respect if not the respect of others, her best to escape an abusive husband and ward-off any like-mined morons on the horizon. Characters with character flaws. Even the trials and tribulations of dumb people doing dumb things can evoke empathy. But then of course there are all the analogous implications from the obverse situation: do smart people doing dumb things ever deserve sympathy? What about people just doing things and we don’t know whether they are dumb or smart?

The monsters of THE OCEAN DARK manage to fit into this latter category. Because of loyalty, misguided or otherwise, a commitment to duty, an illicit duty or otherwise, Captain Rio is determined to retrieve the illicit cargo he has been commissioned to transport. Eventually, he and his crew arrive at a place in which they hear the monsters singing.

In Greek mythology, ship wrecks and song is the domain of the Sirens. The seductive beauty of a Siren’s song could lure sailors into a harbor of wrecked vessels. In THE OCEAN DARK, it is not the seductiveness of the monster’s song that lures Captain Rios and his crew. Instead, there is the inner song of greed, stupidity, arrogance-the usual litany of flawed character melodies.

How do you save people from themselves? You call in science and the military.

Alena Boudreau and her grandson David are the scientists called into deal with the mysterious island. They have seen it all before. They too have life baggage weighing upon their motivations and actions.

As with any crisis or disaster story event, the situation gets resolved. Unlike the genre, in the story of THE OCEAN DARK, not all is a happy ending. But there are new beginnings. For Tori, for Captain Rios, a second chance.

THE OCEAN DARK is a superlative work of fiction.

 

By

Babylonian Codex, The – Review

by: Graham, C. S.

Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers (harpercollins.com)

Location: 10 E 53rd St, NY, NY

Copyright: 2010

 

Type: Paperback

 

reviewed by: Lynard Barnes 2/10/2011

 

Summary: Knowledge-quest book: lost book of Revelations

 

 

Ripped from today’s headlines . . . .A variation of THE DAVINCI CODE. . . .

No. Let’s try something completely different.

THE BABYLONIAN CODEX is a comprehensive commentary on religion and politics in the tradition of THE DAVINCI CODE. Unlike THE DAVINCI CODE, THE BABYLONIAN CODEX pretty much sticks to the facts in its knowledge-quest.

Overstatement? Perhaps.

On 27 January 2011, the Washington Post carried an article by Post staff writer Michelle Boorstein on the world’s growing Muslim population. The article reports on a study by the Pew Research Center and the John Templeton Foundation in which the Muslim population is expected to double between 2010 and 2030 from 2.6 million to 6.2 million. Moreover, Muslims constitute 23.4% of the world’s current 6.3 billion population. By 2030, Muslims are expected to constitute 26.4% of the world’s population. All of which is rather interesting. The trend is germane to this book review because THE BABYLONIAN CODEX revolves around religion and politics.

Noah Bosch, a fired reporter for a Washington D. C. newspaper, witnesses the death of the Vice President of the United States on the streets of Davos, Switzerland. The Vice President had attended the annual conference of “the obscenely rich and powerful” at the World Economic Forum. Bosch was at the conference to warn the Vice President that there was a plan afoot to assassinate the Vice President. His death, Bosch tells Vice President Hamilton, is just the beginning. After watching Hamilton crumple to the sidewalk in what appears to be a heart attack, Bosch escapes a possible interrogation session with the Secret Service and continues his quest to find out who is orchestrating the dismantlement of the United State government.

The most titillating aspect of the way C. S. Graham tells this fictionalized story is how he captures the undercurrent of the religious-political dialogue in the United States without hitting specifics. In fact, the fictional atmospherics is so close to reality that he includes an Author’s Note section to explain what is real and what is not.

Back in the 1930s, Harry Sinclair Lewis was the first American writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature for, among other things, depicting characters caught up in the grit of capitalism. It was “dirty” literature, as opposed to the “evil surrounds us” literature of pre-World War I. The strength of Lewis’ writing came from the characters he put to page. The fortitude and foibles of characters are what drive really good stories. The opposite of a really good story is one in which events dictate character action.

In THE BABYLONIAN CODEX, Noah Bosch is the least among three main characters who are pushed along by an outsize plot that completely detracts from whatever strength or weaknesses the characters might have. Having said that, it is still an entertaining story.

October Guinnes is a military veteran discharged for psychological reasons from the Navy just prior to her deployment in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Her major strength is that she is a trained Remote Viewer. She is able to discern information about a distant “target” without knowing anything about it other than the name is on a piece of paper in a sealed envelope. It is in this capacity that she is called in by an FBI agent looking into the recovering artifacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq during the 2003 war. (The museum re-opened in 2009 with over half the exhibition halls closed because the artifacts are still missing). Guinnes, or Tobi as she is called, is given a list of missing artifacts and told to describe the place of their current location. While during this, a FBI agent observing the proceedings opens fire and kills the other agents attending the session. Tobi escapes the massacre.

Jax Alexander, a CIA operative and acquaintance of Tobi’s, is drawn into the ensuring events when Tobi arrives at this doorstep, fearful for her life and confused about what is going on. Now the hunt is on for the Babylonian Codex.

It does not take Tobi and Jax long to discover that they are up against the dominionists, a religious-political movement in the United States that, to quote one of Jax’s former stepfathers, “. . . teach that salvation can only be achieved by setting up a literal, physical kingdom [author’s emphasis] of God on Earth, and that’s what they’re determined to do.” . In other words, they are seeking a Christian version of a caliphate. The To-ma-toe-To-may-toe of religious-speak.

The message of THE BABYLONIAN CODEX is summed up in Chapter 30 when Tobi visits the Franciscan Monastery of Mount St. Sepulchre in Washington, D. C. She, a more-or-less Christian, is disguised as a Muslim fundamentalist. She is met by a member of the Holy Apostolic Assyrian Church of the East, Father Saverius, an Iraqi. During their conversation in which Tobi discovers what the Babylonian Codex is, Father Saverius tells her,

. . . Most Americans don’t even know that such things as Arab Christians exist. They think of Christianity as their religion, something intrinsically Western. Something born of Western traditions and Western culture. They forget that Christianity was born and nurtured in the Middle East, just as Jesus was born in Palestine. . .”

Author Graham then goes on to have Father Saverius repeat some rather wide-spread though apparently not common knowledge about the birth of Christianity, including the fact that it was St. Paul who pushed for non-Jews having the right to be Christians without observing

 

Mosaic law. For the historians among us, this is fascinating stuff woven into a work of fiction. THE BABYLONIAN CODEX reinforces the view that organized religion is the vestibule leading away from God rather than to God. Perhaps related to this is the reported decline in the membership of Protestant denominations in the United State. Is there a relationship between the decline in Protestant denominations and the rise in Muslim?

Just a cursory glance at the three Middle East religions-Judaism, Christianity and Islam-it is fairly obvious that Christianity has the most convoluted history. Convoluted is not bad, just convoluted. From the simple and rather straightforward message of Jesus Christ, Christianity can encapsulate something like the “dominionists” and other earthbound militant ideals to justify any act in the name of “the cause” because “the cause” is way-off in left or right field somewhere, hidden behind an interpretation of an interpretation. Islam, with its Sunni and Shiite sectarians, does not have a problem with linear justifications. Islam is simple.

THE BABYLONIAN CODEX, as knowledge-quest fiction, is both entertaining and informative. It is worth the time reading.

 

 

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