TV Review: "LOST"….

Take one part Gilligan’s Island, mix with liberal parts of Jurassic Park, X-Files and The Twilight Zone and you get one of the most compelling new shows of 2004…..LOST. JJ Abrams, the man behind the surreal spy drama “Alias”, brings “LOST” to the screen. It is the story of 48 survivors of a horrific air disaster who are now stranded on a tropical island where all things are not as they seem.

Much of what makes “Lost” so compelling is it originality as it is very different than anything currently on TV. As much as the originality the characters are what set “Lost” apart. The brilliant ensemble cast is lead by Matthew Fox, last seen on the Fox TV drama “Party of Five”. Fox plays the role of Jack a trauma surgeon who becomes one the de facto leaders of the group. Among the other characters are Sayid (an ex-member of the Iraqi Republican Guard), Kate (the beauty with a mug shot), Locke (a man with a second chance at life),. Sawyer (the con man and opportunist) and others. None of the characters are what they seem to be. Each character has their own often tragic back-story and these are revealed weekly by way of flashbacks shown during the episodes.

The decision the writers made in determining who would emerge as leaders of the group was equally compelling. While Jack is the obvious choice the decision to make Sayid not only a leader but a wholly sympathetic character is certainly a bold choice.

As the season and hopefully season’s progress it will be interesting to see the direction the program takes and where they decide to go with the plot. The ratings are strong and hopefully “LOST” will enjoy a long run.

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Book Review: "Iron Tigers"…..

The emergence of a stable and democratic Iraq has greatly shifted the balance of power in the Middle East. As a consequence, Saudi Arabia has found itself all but marginalized. When hard line elements in Russia, promising to return their nation to its former glory, come to power the Saudi’s see an opportunity. A Russo-Saudi alliance is formed with the goal of driving the United States from the region and gaining control of the worlds oil reserves. Standing in their way are elements of the Unites States military and the battle hardened Iron Tigers.

That is the premise behind Michael Farmer’s military thriller “Iron Tigers”. It is a straight forward, get to point war story. While not on a par with Tom Clancy’s World War III masterpiece “Red Storm Rising” or works by Larry Bond (Vortex and Red Phoenix) it is nonetheless a fast paced, enjoyable read.

As an active duty member of the military serving with CENTCOM Farmers knowledge of tactics and tank combat is clearly seen within the pages of “Iron Tigers”. His writing reminds me of Harold Coyle (Team Yankee and The Ten Thousand). He also does a nice job of taking the reader into the halls of power in Washington and Moscow to observe some the statecraft and brinkmanship involved in waging a war.

The characters in “Iron Tigers” are fairly one dimensional and standard for a novel of this type. There are two exceptions. Rolf Krieger is a Schwarzenegger-esque type character, the son of parents from the East Germany he has a burning hatred of Russians and is delighted for an opportunity to confront the Russians in battle. The other is a Jack Russell Terrier named

Phantom who survives a run in with a brutal Russian Colonel to fight another day.

The story while fast moving and entertaining does feel a bit rushed particularly a cloak and dagger B plot inside the Kremlin itself. This B plot alone could make a great read. Fans of the movie “Patton” will appreciate the climax of “Iron Tigers” be it a bit farfetched.

A few faults aside “Iron Tigers” is a nicely conceived, well-executed military thriller and well worth a look.

Book Review: "Goliath"……

Take one part Tom Clancy, one part Michael Crichton, add a pinch of Ian Flemming and sprinkle liberally with Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001 A Space Odyssey” and you have Steve Alten’s “Goliath”. It’s a boffo, sci-fi, action, techno-thriller destined for the big screen. Alten effectively mixes science, with breath taking action, with a good deal of philosophy. This is book that will make you think.

At the center of “Goliath” is the character Simon Covah; a villain in the best James Bond tradition. Yet unlike the usual amoral Bond villain Covah has an almost overdeveloped sense of morality. Covah is a brilliant ex-Soviet scientist who sets out to reform humanity through force. His engine for change is the Declaration of Humanity. The means through which he will enforce his will is the US designed, massive, nearly invincible, stealth super sub the Goliath. At the heart of the Goliath is the super sophisticated bio-chemical computer call Sorceress (think HAL from “2001 A Space Odyssey”).

Standing between Covah and his plans for humanity are three things: former US Army Ranger and convicted traitor Gunnar Wolfe, the beautiful ex-fiancé of Gunnar Wolfe Navy Commander Rochelle “Rocky” Jackson and Sorceress itself.

The editing in “Goliath” is a bit sloppy. I detected a couple of misspellings and there is some confusion regarding Jackson’s military service (in one instance they talk about her becoming a general, which is not a rank in the Navy, and in another she talks about always wanting to be in the Army, she’s a naval officer).

These minor things aside “Goliath” is a first rate read. It provides a thought-provoking premise with edge of your seat action. I highly recommend it and look forward to the promised sequel entitled “Sorceress”.

Book Review: "Trasfer of Power"…..

“Transfer of Power” by Vince Flynn is an exceptionally well written, well paced action novel that is literally impossible to put down. “Can’t put it down” is one of the most overused cliches in publishing but in this case it happens to be true. I devoured it in a handful of sittings. Rarely have I enjoyed a political thriller more.

The plot, which in a post September 11 world takes on new significance, involves the capture of the White House by a group of Middle Eastern terrorists and the efforts made to take back the presidential mansion. What comes in between is enough political intrigue and special forces action to satisfy even the most jaded of techno thriller fans.

My only criticism is that the character’s that populate Flynn’s book are a fairly standard lot for his type of novel. The protagonist of “ToP” Mitch Rapp, while a very engaging and likable character, is nearly indistinguishable from Tom Clancy’s John Clark or Jack Ryan or any of the other black ops super spy’s that are so common in this genre. Other character’s suffer from the same sense of familiarity. The exception being the villain. Terrorist mastermind Rafique Aziz is a very well crafted foe for agent Rapp and is one the reasons the novel is so entertaining. I should note that while the characters are fairly standard I still found myself making a significant emotional connection with them

It’s minor character flaws aside “Transfer of Power” is an example of the political/techno thriller at it’s finest. It moves at lighting speed with not a single wasted page or sentence and packs a number of very satisfying moments. I highly recommend it!

Book Review: "First Landing"…..

“First Landing” is a quick reading no-brakes story (I devoured the 262 pages in a couple of sittings) about humankind’s first landing on Mars that packs a shocker of an ending to boot. “First Landing” is the tale of a team of five Americans (three men and two women) that make the long the and perilous journey to Mars only to find themselves stranded by the vagaries of public opinion and a few nasty surprises. As a result they are forced to rely on themselves if they are to survive.

Wasting very little time with exposition Robert Zubrin (president of the Mars Society) jumps right into this story and never slows down until the end. His detailing is quite effective if somewhat limited. Despite the speed with which the story unfolds his characterization is sufficient for me to have rapidly made an emotional connection with main actors.

In an interesting addendum the books epilogue is Zubrin’s contention that the type of mission he details in “First Land” is what he sees as a blue print for real manned mission to Mars by 2011. In that limited space he makes a convincing case for a more ambitious Mars program than the one currently being undertaken.

On the down side, I wished there were a bit more to this book. I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know these characters. Further, the swiftness with which things unfold leaves a few holes in the motivations of certain key actors that a longer novel could have addressed.

However, if you are fan of Mars fiction you will find “First Landing” a fun and fast read. It’s not as detailed or plot heavy as Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars”, “Green Mars” and “Blue Mars” trilogy. But it definitely put a smile on my face when I finished.