Unsolved Mystery....Solved?

Eerie coincidences, unexplained voices coming through television sets, cryptic, even rambling messages appearing as if out of nowhere embedded in seemingly impossible parts of city streets...somebody knows something about the Toynbee tiles, but nobody's talking....

For decades, people have been happening upon hundreds of these mysterious tiles in cities as far west as Kansas City, as far north as Boston, and as far south as Santiago, Chile. Yes, even Detroit has a few, though it's not really clear if both are still there or if they've been paved over. All have a variation of the same message:

Toynbee Idea
in Kubrick's 2001
Resurrect Dead
on Planet Jupiter

But what do they mean? Who put them there and how? Who is Arnold Toynbee, and what does he have to do with 2001: A Space Odyssey? Are the Toynbee tiles messages from aliens? Time travel blueprints? Paranoid and even anti-Semitic rants? 9/11 predictions? Just another form of street art?

Like a lot of people, I'd never heard of this mystery before. I stumbled upon it just as if it was a Toynbee tile itself when I checked out the fantastic 2011 documentary, "Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles." Deliciously creepy, even spine-tingling at times, with otherwordly music and strangely-lit interviews with colorful characters, this film does a great job of explaining the phenomenon...and just might even solve it. Originally a Kickstarter project, the film went on to receive several accolades including Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival. If you plan to watch, I'd recommend staying away from Wikipedia beforehand as it could ruin a bit of the suspense-factor here. Those who remember the show "Unsolved Mysteries" and fans of "The X-Files" will appreciate the style of this documentary!

Melancholia, on DVD

Writer and director Lars von Trier’s latest film, Melancholia, is not just another “end of the world” movie, it’s also a story of the complex relationship between two sisters. A wedding reception at a lavish Scandinavian countryside home sets the scene for this dark and beautifully made film. Newlyweds Justine and Michael celebrate their nuptials at the home of Justine’s sister Claire and her scientist husband John. With their opinionated family members in attendance, including the girls’ mother who bad mouths all marriages, it makes for quite the melancholy reception. Kirsten Dunst portrays the deeply depressed bride so wonderfully that it appears effortless, which earned her the best actress prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

The dreary state of the reception leads one to believe that the new marriage is doomed from the start. At the same time, the planet Melancholia is on a slow path towards earth, which has the sisters on edge as they try to comfort Claire's son and deal with Justine's illness while the giant blue planet's collision course taunts them. It is cinematically breathtaking and unsettling. I’m not usually a fan of films of an apocalyptic nature, but there’s something about this one. Perhaps he beauty helps balance the tension?

Titanic Inspired Fabulous Fiction Firsts #324

April 15, 2012 marks the centennial anniversary of the sinking of the RMS TITANIC on her maiden voyage. Locally, check out Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition at the Henry Ford Museum, running through September 30, 2012, as well as other related programs.

The media is feeding the renewed interest with high-profiled and pricy (£10 million) projects like Julian Fellowes' (creator of Downton Abbey) four-part miniseries called simply - Titanic that will premiere Saturday, April 14 (8:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on ABC. Like Downton, the focus is on the divide between the classes.

Not to be outdone, publishers have timed their release of 3 first novels inspired by this historic event.

The Dressmaker by DC political reporter Kate Alcott is a "vivid, romantic, and relentlessly compelling historical novel about a spirited young seamstress who survived the disaster only to find herself embroiled in the media frenzy left in the wake of the tragedy."

A highly-anticipated debut, The Lifeboat * by Princeton grad. (Architecture) Charlotte Rogan, (with glowing endorsement by Emma Donoghue, J.M. Coetzee, Hilary Mantel, Tim O'Brien and Valerie Martin) sets the scene in 1914 when a young and newly-minted heiress is on trial for her actions during the three weeks she spent on an overcrowded and under-provisioned lifeboat after an explosion at sea. A provocative, complex psychological drama that examines instinct and morality. Read the New York Times review and author interview.

"Time travel, airships, the Titanic, Roswell ...David Kowalski builds a decidedly original creature that blends military science fiction, conspiracy theory, alternate history, and even a dash of romance..." in his debut The Company of the Dead *, which promptly won 2 SciFi Awards when it was published in Australia in 2004.

In April 2012, Joseph Kennedy--nephew of John F. Kennedy, and a major in the Confederate army, is one of six people who can restore history to its rightful order -- even though it would mean his death, and the deaths of everyone he loves.

"Imaginative, monolithic, action-packed", "(a) magnificent alternate history, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest maritime disasters."

David Kowalski is an obstetrician and gynecologist living in Sydney, Australia.

* = Starred review

The Hunger Games Book and Movie

With release this week of The Hunger Games movie, the Amazon Best Sellers for Teens list shows 11 of the top 15 books are from Suzanne Collins' mega blockbuster series: The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay. That's amazing, to think of all those teens reading all those books.

Meanwhile the film is rated 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and 8.2 of 10 on IMDb. Entertainment Weekly has a piece called 'The Hunger Games': What the movie missed about the book. A young colleague who saw the movie last night said she liked the book better -- but enjoyed the film and appreciated that it was exciting but not gory, faithful to its PG-13 rating. What do you think?

March's Books to Film

The most anticipated feature film this spring is perhaps The Hunger Games (PG-13), to be release on March 23rd, based on the novel by Suzanne Collins. In a bleak future, the United States has been reduced to a dictatorship with 12 districts. Every year, in order to prevent uprisings, the ruling Capitol forces one boy and one girl from each district to fight each other to the death in a nationally televised arena --- and only one will survive. Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts and make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love if she's ever to return home.

Dr. Seuss' The Lorax is the 3D-CG adaptation of the classic tale of a forest guardian who shares the enduring power of hope. The animated adventure follows the journey of a 12-year-old as he searches for a real Truffula Tree, the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams. To get it, he must find the story of the Lorax, the acerbic yet charming character who fights to protect his world.

John Carter, a Disney production (PG-13) based on Sci-fi novel A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. From Academy Award-winning filmmaker Andrew Stanton, this sweeping action adventure set on the mysterious and exotic planet of Barsoom (Mars) tells the story of John Carter, who is inexplicably embroiled in a conflict of epic proportions amongst the inhabitants of the planet, and discovers that the survival of Barsoom and its people rests in his hands.

Based on the fairy tale of Snow White by The Brothers Grimm, Mirror, Mirror (rated PG) retells a wicked enchantress's schemes and scrambles to control a spirited orphan's throne and the attention of a charming prince. A star-studded cast - with Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen; the fresh-faced Lily Collins as Snow White; gorgeous leading man Armie Hammer as the Prince, and the incomparable Nathan Lane as Brighton, the Queen’s right hand man.

THE MOVIE I AM MOST EAGER TO SEE :
Already out on the coasts but hopefully coming to theaters near us is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, starring eye-candy Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt, and the dynamicKristin Scott Thomas; directed by Lasse Hallström (Chocolat)

Based on the 2007 novel by Paul Torday, where a visionary sheik believes the peaceful pastime of salmon fishing can enrich the lives of his people, and he dreams of bringing the sport to the not so fish-friendly desert. Willing to spare no expense in order to turn the dream into reality, he enlists Britain's leading fisheries expert and the Prime Minister's overzealous press secretary. This unlikely team will embark on an upstream journey of faith and fish to prove the impossible, possible. Check out the recent review and trailer in EW.

John Carter of Mars

100 years ago, Edgar Rice Burroughs created the character of John Carter, an American adventurer who is mysteriously transported to the dying world of Barsoom, known to us Earthlings as Mars. John Carter fights to the death with strange creatures, rescues a beautiful princess, discovers ancient alien technologies, and leads an army into battle against the evil barbarian hordes. A Princess of Mars is a seminal work of science-fiction, inspiring many later generations of sci-fi authors from Ray Bradbury to George Lucas. Read the book and check out Disney’s big-screen adaptation, John Carter, coming to theaters next week.

In a display of space-age technology that Burroughs himself would have loved, all of his works are available as ebooks from Project Gutenberg. We live in the future!

'1Q84'

Recently, I've read several books that were good enough to recommend: Stephen King's 11/22/63, Lev Grossman's The Magician King, and Pascal Girard's Reunion, to name a few. The problem is that none of those books come as close to, well, perfect, as 1Q84.

To be fair, I haven't actually finished Haruki Murakami's "1Q84" yet, but this is because the process of reading it cannot be rushed. I'm going to go out on a corny limb here and actually put this next sentence in print. Reading "1Q84" is the literary equivalent of watching a flower bloom. The plot unfolds slowly, the direction of the book is kept mysterious, and the reader is drawn in to see what will happen next. The writing is wildly eloquent and the characters are fascinating. Only halfway through this book it already surpasses everything I've read since Jeffrey Eugenides Middlesex.

The story begins with the introduction of Aomame, who steps down a ladder and enters a parallel universe. Next, the story sits down with Tengo, a man who can write lyrically, but cannot create a story in which to lyricize. Soon afterward the audience is shown Fuka-Eri, a nearly monosyllabic teenage girl with wisdom beyond her years and a past she won't explain.

Nebula Award Nominees announced


The Nebula Awards are one of several prestigious prizes for writing granted within the scifi/fantasy genre. They are nominated by members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. and this is the 47th year in doing so. Award winners will be announced on May 19th. Categories of awards include best adult novel as well as one for best young adult scifi/fantasy novel.

The nominees for best adult novel are:
Among Others, Jo Walton
Embassytown, China Miéville
Firebird, Jack McDevitt
God’s War, Kameron Hurley
Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, Genevieve Valentine
Kingdom of Gods, N.K. Jemisin

The nominees for best young adult novel are:
Akata Witch, Nnedi Okorafor
Chime, Franny Billingsley
Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor
Everybody Sees the Ants, A.S. King
Boy at the End of the World, Greg van Eekhout
The Freedom Maze, Delia Sherman
Girl of Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson
Ultraviolet, R.J. Anderson

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #313

Rod Rees' highly imaginative The Demi-Monde : Winter * * kicks off a "brilliant, high concept series that blends science fiction and thriller, steampunk and dystopian vision. "

Demi-Monde, a computer-simulated military training virtual world is dominated by history’s most ruthless and bloodthirsty psychopaths—from Holocaust architect Reinhard Heydrich to Tomas de Torquemada, the Spanish Inquisition’s pitiless torturer, to Stalin’s bloodthirsty right-hand man/monster, the infamous Lavrentiy Beria.

When the U.S. President's daughter, Norma Williams, becomes trapped in the Demi-Monde, a young jazz singer named Ella Thomas accepts the assignment to enter the computer-generated world to rescue her. But when Ella stumbles upon a plot to merge the real world with the Demi-Monde, her mission suddenly expands from a simple retrieval to the survival of the real world.

Fans of The Matrix; Philip Jose Farmer's classic Riverworld series; and Tad William's Otherland series will find this "elegantly constructed, skillfully written" page-turner irresistible. As we move into the second week in February, could Spring be far behind?

* * = Starred reviews

The Inaugural Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration

Established in 2010 by the American Library Association Collection Development and Evaluation Section (CODES) of RUSA, The Listen List recognizes and honors the narrators who are a pleasure to listen to; who offer listeners something they could not create by their own visual reading; and who achieve an outstanding performance in terms of voice, accents, pitch, tone, inflection, rhythm and pace.

This inaugural list (Be sure to check out the wonderful listen-alikes with each of the winners) includes literary and genre fiction, memoir and history and features voices that enthrall, delight and inspire.

The 2012 winners are:

All Clear by Connie Willis. Narrated by Katherine Kellgren.
This sequel to Blackout, a stellar science fiction adventure, follows the plight of a group of historians from 2060, trapped in WWII England during the Blitz. In a narrative tour de force, Kellgren brings to life a large cast of characters, including a pair of street-smart urchins who capture the hearts of characters and listeners alike.

Bossypants by Tina Fey Narrated by Tina Fey.
In a very funny memoir made decidedly funnier by its reader, Tina Fey relates sketches and memories of her time at SNL and Second City as well as the difficulties of balancing career and motherhood. In a voice dripping with wit, she acts out the book, adding extra-aural elements that print simply cannot convey.

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley. Narrated by Dominic Hoffman.
Dominic Hoffman reads this elegiac novel of memory and redemption with fierce grace, inhabiting Mosley’s characters with voices perfectly crafted in pitch and rhythm. His rough, gravelly narration manages the pace and mood of the book with astounding skill, brilliantly capturing the mental clarity and fog of 91-year-old Ptolemy Grey’s world.

Life Itself: A Memoir by Roger Ebert, Narrated by Edward Herrmann.
Ebert’s clear-eyed account chronicles his life from his youth in Urbana, Illinois, to his fame as a world-renowned film critic in Chicago. Herrmann’s engaging, affable reading mirrors the author’s tone—honest, often humorous, sometimes bittersweet—as he unhurriedly ushers listeners through Ebert’s moving reflections on a life well lived.

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Narrated by Juliet Stevenson.
Juliet Stevenson brings crisp clarity, a witty sensibility and a charming tonal quality to Eliot’s masterpiece of provincial life. Through her deft management of pacing and tone, she reveals character motivation and illuminates the many themes of the novel. But most of all she reclaims Eliot for listeners who thought they did not enjoy classics.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willg. Narrated by Kate Reading.
In this Regency Christmas caper, a pudding, a spy, a hilarious school theatrical and a memorable country house party lead to laughter, love and an offer of marriage. Reading’s lovely English accent and exuberance are a perfect fit for the wide range of characters, from young girls to male teachers to members of the aristocracy.

One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde. Narrated by Emily Gray.
In this genre-bending romp, the “written” Thursday must rescue the “real” Thursday from a nefarious Bookworld plot. Emily Gray wears Thursday like a second skin, as she does the robots, dodos, and space aliens running around. The story is paced such that every nuance of pun and word play is captured and rendered aurally.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. Narrated by Jayne Entwistle.
Flavia de Luce, a terrifyingly proficient 11-year-old amateur chemist and sleuth, investigates the beating of a gypsy and the death of a villager in this third outing. Entwistle’s spot-on narration reveals the irrepressible, intrepid heroine’s prowess and captures a delicious range of secondary characters in these whimsical mysteries set in 1950s rural England.

The Snowman by Jo Nesbø. Narrated by Robin Sachs.
The icy chill of the Norwegian countryside and a series of cold-blooded murders dominate this Harry Hole crime novel. Sachs contrasts Hole’s world-weary professional attitude, his unquenchable thirst for justice and his yearning for love and comfort, as he skillfully maintains a suspenseful pace and projects an overarching sense of doom.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Narrated by Simon Prebble.
The tragedy and heroism of the French Revolution come alive through Prebble’s distinctive and graceful narration. As the lives of Charles Darnay and Sydney Carton intersect, Prebble takes listeners deep into France and England, narrating terrifying descriptions and breathless acts of courage with a cadence that sweeps one away.

The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht. Narrated by Susan Duerden and Robin Sachs.
In this imaginative novel, Balkan physician Natalia, on a mission of mercy, learns of her beloved grandfather’s death. Duerden’s mesmerizing voice leads listeners through the complexities of this rich novel with its intertwining stories, while Sachs memorably relates her grandfather’s haunting tales in a gentle and gruff voice.

Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick. Narrated by Nathaniel Philbrick.
In what should be required reading before cracking the pages of Moby-Dick, Nathaniel Philbrick’s homage to this great American novel compels the listener to experience Melville with an almost incandescent joy. His voice resonates with palpable enthusiasm and calls to mind a New England professor giving a fascinating lecture.

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