letter 44 vol3Series books of any kind are one of my favorite things to read. I get hooked into the characters’ lives and find myself wondering just what is going to happen to them in the next volume. This is what was happening to me as I sat waiting for Letter 44, Volume 3: Dark Matter to be released for me to read. (I have previously read and reviewed the first two volumes, so check out the reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2!)

Letter 44, Volume 3: Dark Matter continues investigating into the lives of the astronauts on the Clarke and the people on Earth. At the end of the previous volume, President Blades released the knowledge of the presence of alien life in space to the people of Earth despite being warned of the disastrous consequences this could have for everyone involved. After the release of this information, world war broke out. Countries are battling for control of the planet, most notably a coalition of nations led by the United States and a secret second group that is being controlled by former President Francis Carroll and the barrage of secret weapons he had developed during his term as President.

While this battle for control of the Earth rages on, the crew of the Clarke has been captured and is being held somewhat captive by the aliens that they discovered in space. The only way for them to try to escape is to cooperate fully with their captors, much to the chagrin of some crew members. Left with a ship that has been partially destroyed and having no way to communicate with people back on Earth, they are left to rely on the small tidbits of information they can gather from the aliens. Gaining access to information through somewhat back channels and limited access to the aliens’ own communication devices, the crew learns that a massive threat is heading straight towards Earth, a danger that no one on earth knows about. Communications become a dire need and the crew of the Clarke is forced to use any means necessary to find ways to contact Earth. Massive world war, corrupt politicians, alien life, asteroids heading toward Earth, assassination attempts, and crazy high-tech weaponry make this an incredibly fast-paced read, action-packed, compelling, and gripping. I could not put this book down and am immensely looking forward to the next volume!

midas flesh The Midas Flesh: Volume One is an entertaining journey into the future, where a space crew finds themselves within the orbit of a gold gilded Earth. Flashback to how this whole shindig got started. Do you know the story of King Midas? The Midas Touch? That’s basically the gist of this book with some high-tech space flight and dinosaurs in space suits involved.

In The Midas Flesh: Volume One, one night King Midas got drunk and decided that if he had only one wish, it would be to have everything that he touched turn to gold. Low and behold a thunderbolt slashes out of the heavens and his wish is granted. Flash forward quite a bit and the entire planet Midas was inhabiting has turned to gold, BUT the kicker is that it does not show up on ANY of the space maps nor is it in any of the galaxy records. The Federation has covered up the entire existence of this planet and to prevent others from stealing anything from said planet, they have effectively covered its entire close orbit with satellites, ships, weaponry, etc. to alert them if someone stumbles and finds this place.

Somehow  Joey and her space crew, Fatima and Cooper, have managed to find this planet and are desperately trying to figure out why everything on it is made of gold. They are struggling to do so before the Federation realzies they have found the planet and before a bounty can be placed on their heads for being able to take something off the surface of the planet. Joey’s ultimate goal is to be able to harvest the weapon on this gold planet and somehow reconfigure it to be used against the evil Federation, the group who is tracking them down and the same group who was taking over planets and destroying whole civilizations. This first volume gives readers a good introduction into the Midas legend and also to the forces the crewmembers find themselves up against. If you’re not a fan of graphic novels, and even if you are, I recommend this book as there are few flash backs, the artwork is not overwhelming, and the overall story reads like a linear piece of fiction, but the graphic novel as a whole is still widely appealing. Check it out.

letter 44 vol 2Previously I reviewed Letter 44, Volume 1: Escape Velocity and was instantly intrigued. As a result, I decided that I needed to find the second volume to figure out how the story progressed. Letter 44, Volume 2: Redshift goes further into the extraterrestrial life the astronauts on the space ship, Clarke, discovered in the first volume.

With President Blades struggling to deal with if and when he should alert the public to the existence of the aliens, he finds himself having to deal with other people in the government who are calling for him to tell the truth and if not, risk being impeached. This alien presence is becoming more than he think he can deal with and instead of following the plan laid out for him by the previous administration, he decides to go his own way and ends up thinking more short-term than long-term. That decision ends up costing the American people dearly.

While Blades deals with threats from inside his administration and tries to balance everything happening outside, the people on spaceship Clarke are struggling just to live day-to-day. Losing one of their own on the asteroid and with a newborn baby on board, they are trying to figure out what the aliens want and what their device is actually for. Learning what the aliens plan to do throws the crew into a state of panic, especially when it is discovered that one of their own has the ability to communicate with the aliens. This second volume is jam-packed with action, sabotage, danger, and the struggle to survive. Personally, I cannot wait for the third volume, so I can catch up the crew of the Clarke and see how Blades is doing as President.

letter 44 v1What would you do if you were thrust into a situation that you initially thought you could control, but then you found out that everyone who had prepared you had either lied to you or had been unaware of a certain MAJOR event? Would you panic? Would you want to tell everyone about the secret you just learned about? This is the predicament that newly-elected President Stephen Blades finds himself in on his very first day in office in Letter 44, Volume 1: Escape Velocity.

In this first volume, President Blades is ushered into the oval office to find a letter for him from the previous President. Opening the letter and expecting to have to dive headfirst into fixing the critical issues facing the nation caused by President Carroll, Blades instead discovers the one singular event and reason behind the country’s involvement in two major wars, the economy collapsing, and the healthcare system to be failing. It’s a national and world secret that only a handful of people are aware of: seven years ago, NASA discovered an alien presence in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, one that was able to cloak itself somehow and had the potential to be dangerous. In order to learn more about this, a team of 9 astronauts made up of both military members and scientists was sent into space to discover what is really going on.

This graphic novel divides focus between Blades and the group of astronauts who are almost to their destination. As the astronauts prepare to reach their destination, you learn their ship, the Clarke, is becoming increasingly damaged and should not have been sent on this mission so quickly. Secrets abound both in the air and on the ground, leaving readers to wonder what really is the truth and showing that President Stephen Blades has the ultimate power in his hands. All that’s left is for him to decide what to do with it.

Stay tuned for a review from Volume 2 (and be on the lookout for Volume 3)!

ascensionThe Syfy channel premiered Ascension, a limited event series, in December of 2014, as a way to introduce people to the idea of what would have happened if Project Orion (also check out their Wikipedia page), a government sponsored program from the 1950s that would have placed over 150 scientists on the moon and even been able to send expeditions to other planets, would have actually happened. Ascension chronicles what could have happened had Project Orion actually occurred.

Ascension gives viewers a glimpse into the secret programs of the government and the lives of the people who both wittingly and unwittingly found themselves stuck on that spacecraft. In 1963, at the height of the Cold War, the government secretly recruited 350 people for a mission into space. A huge interstellar spaceship called Ascension was launched into space on a 100 year journey to another solar system. Present day on the ship is 50 years later and viewers are introduced to the children of the original crewmembers, the middle group of people, the ones who are doomed to spend their whole lives on the ship without ever being able to see their destination. Their parents started the ship and their children will be remembered as the ones who complete the journey. This middle group will be forgotten.

Tragedy has struck on Ascension with their first murder having been committed. This leads to chaos as the captain and his crew struggle to figure out who committed this crime while also working to keep the rest of the ship calm. Striated class systems and struggles for power dominate the investigation of the death of a woman from the upper decks as people from the lower decks are accused of the crime. This television show is wracked full of plays for power, multiple ship romances and trysts, and rivalries that will have you on the edge of your seat. Add in the fact that people on board only have access to culture, information, and technologies from 1963 and before and the whole spacecraft takes on an eternal 1960s feel that is intriguing and pleasing to the eye.

Check out this show to learn more information about the launch of Ascension, the people aboard the ship, as well as information about the founders and the governmental organization responsible for making sure the mission stays on course no matter the cost.

rocket raccoonThe release of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie brought about a slam of new materials about the characters to libraries and bookstores everywhere. One Guardians rendition that the library just purchased is Rocket Raccoon: A Chasing Tale. In this graphic novel, writer and artist Skottie Young, along with the help of many other artists, have created the world of Rocket Raccoon, one of the stars of Guardians of the Galaxy, and his friend, Groot.

In A Chasing Tale, Rocket spends his time away from the other Guardians of the Galaxy by going on a series of extra money-making adventures. His time rescuing princesses and saving the world may come to a screeching halt though when he is arrested for committing multiple murders on planets all over the galaxy and is thrown into jail! Rocket does what any other upstanding superhero would do in a situation like this: turns to the nasty underbelly of criminals that he knows exist to buy their help in figuring out who is setting him up and how it’s possible that someone could be framing him when he is the ONLY existing one of his kind left! It’s a mystery! With multiple groups chasing after him and wanting him dead, Rocket and Groot have to take matters into their own hands(or maybe ummm… paws and branches…) to figure out who or what is behind this frame job, what Rocket possibly could have done to make them so angry, and most importantly, if there actually are other creatures like him from Halfworld left.

Young has crafted a graphic novel that dabbles in Star Lord and other Guardians of the Galaxy knowledge, but mostly draws upon the character of Rocket Raccoon and Groot. Don’t be worried that you will be overwhelmed or need to have background knowledge about Rocket Raccoon in order to understand this graphic novel. Some references to previous adventures happen, but most are quickly explained by subsequent dialogue. The colors are vivid, characters and their stories well-developed, and some side storylines are introduced to help liven the main story arc up and to also introduce a look into why some characters are behaving the way that they do. The second volume, Rocket Raccoon: Storytailer, was just released and is on my list of things to order, so check the catalog soon to check out this next volume of Rocket’s crazy adventures!

Interstellarinterstellar takes place in a future Earth where a plague called the Blight is eating up the food sources around the world. Another effect of the Blight is routine dust storms that cause a range of health problems. Scientists have concluded the Earth is dying.  As food dwindles and dust storms increase, a young girl begins to receive messages through her bedroom bookshelves. Her father (played by Matthew McConaughey), an ex engineer and pilot, is called upon to lead a hail Mary expedition through space to find a new home for Earth’s residents.  He is joined by three others (including the lovely Anne Hathaway) to travel through space and time where minutes lost in space mean years lost on Earth.

Watching Interstellar is a complete mind boggling experience. Be prepared going in to it that you will be stuck to your seat for the next three hours. I recommend going to the bathroom first and keeping liquid intake to a minimum. Whatever you do, do not start this moving an hour before bed time. You will be up two hours past your bedtime. I made all of these mistakes. Luckily  during my bathroom break, I stopped the movie long enough to knock some sense into myself and go to bed (only an hour late). However I spent the entire next day thinking about this movie and wondering how it was going to end. And one more thing, use the subtitle function. It may seem strange at first to have it on, but you will get used to it. Action movies tend to be really loud or really quiet and you can never get it just right. You might miss some good information if you don’t have the subtitles on.

Interstellar has all of the things we have come to expect from a space movie (including plenty of terminology and theory that you need a degree in astrophysics to understand), but it finishes way ahead of predecessors. Interstellar gives you raw human emotion and good, sometimes great acting. On more than one occasion I wanted to drop to my knees, snap my head to the sky and scream ‘nooooooo!’  Other times my face lost all expression and my body went limp as I tried to grasp what just happened. It is the kind of movie that will you keep you up at night, and make you hold on to the ones you love just a little bit tighter.

I’m sure after reading this you will all be determined to watch this movie. While you will love it, you will be confused. After you have watched the movie, come back to this blog and check out this site. Den of Geek gives a great explanation of what is really going on in this movie as the movie does wrap up pretty quick.

Verdict: Not only one of the best movies of 2014, but could possible break into my personal top ten hit list of all time.

Award Watch: Won the Oscar for Best Visual Effects. To see a full list of awards visit Interstellar Awards.

Fun Fact: Matt Damon is actually in this movie! He pops up about halfway through the movie. Interstellar is full of big name actors that have little actual screen time. John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, Michael Caine, Casey Affleck, and Topher Grace all appear in Interstellar in small roles.

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey has enjoyed high ratings since its March premiere and much of that credit goes to its charismatic presenter, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson, a renowned astrophysicist and director of the Harden Planetarium in New York, has been a major player in the astronomy and physics fields for years. He has written books that are described as witty and insightful, and concepts are explained in layman’s terms, no advanced knowledge of science required! If you’re one of the many people who are watching Cosmos and want to know more about our universe, check out some of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s books at the Davenport Public Library:

Space Chronicles

Space Chronicles: An exciting book about space travel and the potential benefits of space exploration. Tyson discusses NASA’s space program and the countries competing in the continuing “space race” to pioneer the future of space travel. As always, Tyson advocates for science literacy in the classroom and makes sure to thoroughly explain his subjects.

 Death by Black Hole

Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries: more than 20of Tyson’s essays fromhis”Universe” column in Natural History magazine, each exploring a different cosmic topic. These topics are what he considers “the Best of the Universe” and range from the colors of the universe to why Hollywood can’t seem to get their space movies accurate (see his Twitter critique of the movie Gravity here).

 

Pluto Files

The Pluto Files: As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson made the decision not to include Pluto on the planet exhibits, and when the planetarium opened to the public in 2000 the missing planet caused an uproar. The decision sparked outrage among schoolchildren (many of whom sent written hate mail to Tyson) and started an international debate among the International Astronomical Union who, after years of deliberating, voted to officially demote Pluto in August of 2006. In this book Tyson describes the history of the planet from its discovery to its demotion.

Origins

Origins: This book details the origins of the universe from the first 3 seconds after the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies, planets and stars. He explains the current theory on the beginning of life and describes the search for life in other solar systems. Though this book delves deeper in to the physics of the universe, Tyson, as usual, does a great job of explaining these concepts to non-scientists.

February 4th

dallas buyers clubDallas Buyer’s Club – Matthew McConaughey, Jared Leto, Jennifer Garner

Texas cowboy Ron Woodroof’s free-wheeling life was overturned in 1985 when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive. Shunned and ostracized by many old friends and bereft of government-approved medicines, he decided to take matters in his own hands, tracking down alternative treatments from all over the world by means both legal and illegal. Bypassing the establishment, he joined forces with an unlikely band of renegades and outcasts and established a hugely successful ‘buyers’ club.’ Rated R

February 11th

riddickRiddick – Vin Diesel, Karl Urban, Katee Sackhoff

Riddick must fight for his life after his people betrayed him, leaving him stranded on a desolate planet to die. On this unbearably hot planet, Riddick is up against predators of an alien race. Using his emergency signals, he summons two ships: one transporting a mercenary, and the other led by an old acquaintance. Rated R

 

 

enders gameEnder’s Game – Asa Butterfield, Harrison Ford, Hailee Steinfeld, Abigail Breslin, Ben Kingsley, Viola Davis

A hostile alien race attacked Earth, and if not for the legendary heroics of Fleet Commander Mazer Rackham, all would have been lost. In preparation for the next attack, Colonel Hyrum Graff is training only the best young children. Ender Wiggin, a shy, but brilliant boy, is soon ordained by Graff as the military’s next great hope. Once at Command School, he’s trained by Mazer Rackham to lead them into an epic battle that will determine the future of Earth and save the human race. Rated PG-13

all is lostAll is Lost – Robert Redford

An open-water thriller about one man’s battle for survival against the elements after his sailboat is destroyed at sea. Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling, and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face. Rated PG-13

austenlandAustenland – Keri Russell, Jj Feild, Jennifer Coolidge, Bret McKenzie, Jane Seymour

Jane Hayes’s adoration of all things Jane Austen is complicating her love life. Determined to be the heroine of her own story, Jane spends her life savings on a trip to Austenland, an eccentric Austen-inspired resort, where she meets two very different gentlemen…but has a difficult time determining where fantasy ends and real life, and maybe even love, begins. Rated PG-13

 

February 25th

rushRush – Chris Hemsworth, Daniel Bruhl, Olivia Wilde

Set against the golden age of Formula One racing in the 1970s, Rush is based on the true story of a spectacular sporting rivalry between English playboy James Hunt, and his structured, intelligent opponent, Austrian driver Niki Lauda. Directed by Ron Howard. Rated R

 

 

gravityGravity – Sandra Bullock, George Clooney

Dr. Ryan Stone is a brilliant medical engineer on her first shuttle mission with veteran astronaut Matt Kowalsky. On a seemingly routine spacewalk, the shuttle is destroyed, leaving Stone and Kowalsky spiraling out into the blackness. The deafening silence tells them they have lost any link to Earth and any chance for rescue. As fear turns to panic, every gulp of air eats away at what little oxygen is left, and the only way home may be to go further out into the terrifying expanse of space. Rated PG-13

nebraskaNebraska – Bruce Dern, Will Forte

After receiving a sweepstakes letter in the mail, a cantankerous father thinks he’s struck it rich, and wrangles his estranged son into taking a road trip to claim the fortune. Getting waylaid in the father’s hometown in Nebraska, the son tries to reconnect with his impenetrable father. Rated R

 

 

thorThor – the Dark World – Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Christopher Eccleston, Stellan Skarsgard, Natalie Portman

Thor fights to restore order across the cosmos, but an ancient race led by the vengeful Malekith returns to plunge the universe back into darkness. Faced with an enemy that even Odin and Asgard cannot withstand, Thor must embark on his most perilous and personal journey yet, one that will reunite him with Jane Foster and force him to sacrifice everything to save us all. Rated PG-13

 

 

Spin(1stEd)You’re twelve years old, sitting in your backyard at night with your two best friends. You are looking up at the sky, and without warning, preamble, or explanation, the stars flare as one and then abruptly disappear. A mere facsimile of the sun – a perfect yellow disk unmarred by solar flares or sunspots – rises in the morning, but the stars are gone for good. This is what Tyler Dupree and his friends, the brilliant twins Diane and Jason, encounter. These three friends grow up under ‘the Spin,’ as it is soon called – a barrier around the earth placed there by some unknowable alien intelligence, for a purpose they can only guess. Even more perplexing: time is passing much, much faster outside the barrier than inside it. A satellite sent up to explore the phenomenon breaks through and then comes crashing down immediately, but instead of the pristine machine launched hours earlier, what crash lands on earth is a banged up satellite with weeks, months, of data recorded. A moment on earth is measured in millennia outside the Spin, which is dire news: at that rate, humanity will live long enough to be destroyed by our own decaying sun, which hasn’t slowed its life cycle down at all. The timeline? About 40 years on earth until the sun expands far enough to fry us where we stand.

How would you choose to spend those 40 years?

Jason dedicates his life to pure science, learning more about the Spin than any other earthling. Diane finds refuge in one of the many new religions that spring up in the wake of the slow disaster. Tyler plows ahead with life as usual, becoming a doctor and as “average” as any citizen can be under the Spin.

Spin falls on the hard side of the science fiction spectrum, which means there is lots of real science in addition to speculation in the plot. It also means that even the invented aspects of Wilson’s universe are imbued with a plausible explanation based on real science; for example, the scary global epidemic he invents, CVWS, is fake, but its symptoms (similar to tuberculosis) are familiar and its behavior – a disease crossing over to humans from cattle – is all too real. Because of this it’s a better pick for established fans of speculative fiction; if you like the genre already, the sophisticated plotting, satisfying conclusion, and smart characters will delight you. If you just have a casual interest, you might have a bad time trying to wade through all the science on display here.