The 12th Planet (Book I of the Earth Chronicles)

The 12th PlanetThe 12th Planet by Zecharia Sitchin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

How did civilization begin seemingly out of nowhere? And how did humanity evolve so fast in comparison to what had happened before? These are the questions that Zecharia Sitchin set to answer in his book, The 12th Planet, in which he purports that he found said answers in cuneiform text dating from time of Sumerians over 5000 years ago.

Sitchin begins by going over the spurts of cultural development that lead to the beginning of Sumerian civilization and how modern man appeared so soon in terms of evolution to even develop the civilization that we are a part of. Sitchin then describes all the firsts that Sumer did in, many of them were not continuous since then through to our day, and then asked where the Sumerians learned this knowledge to he responded that the Sumerians learned it from the gods. Using the Sumerian Creation myth, Enuma Elis, Sitchin details the beginnings of the solar system including how a rogue planetoid entered the developing solar system and began circling the sun in a 3,600 year long orbit. This planet, named Nibiru, created havoc in the early solar system resulting in the asteroid belt and Earth, seeded with the building blocks of life from this planet. Eventually humanlike beings eventually developed technology to explore the solar system and find Earth habitable and with resources they needed. These beings, the Annunaki or Nephilim, began travelling to Earth and mining for resources but bringing with them their own politics and grudges that eventually led to the “creation” of modern humans then the Deluge in an effort to destroy them. But in the aftermath were thankful that some survived so they could help them rebuild their operations.

Sitchin’s work was one of a number “ancient astronaut” books throughout 1970s and his influence within the community is immeasurable still almost a decade after his death. Yet, this book is rife with many scientific errors related to astrophysics, celestial mechanics, cosmology, and plate tectonics to name a few and is out-of-date in human evolutionary thought. While those are big drawbacks, Sitchin’s focus on Sumerian & Akkadian cuneiform on the reported Annunaki influence on early Earth and human history is very interesting and thought-provoking even if you disbelieve it. This focus on Sumerian myth, or record of history, is the most important part of the book as well as it’s relation to other mythological traditions along with the Bible.

While many might discount this book because of the incorrect scientific propositions put forward and disagree with the “ancient astronaut” theory. The best argument for reading Zecharia Sitchin’s The 12th Planet is the focus on Sumerian history and myth, which is one of the oldest and little known compared to many other cultures. Agree or disagree with Sitchin, this book is just one you have to say that you’ve read.

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So Why Zecharia Sitchin?

Sitchin
Zecharia Sitchin 1920-2010

I remember the first Zecharia Sitchin book I saw, but when and where exactly are somewhat are an issue.  Given whom I was with besides my parents—my aunt, uncle, and cousin recently moved up from Florida—and the weather, I’m thinking it was fall 1996 or winter 1997.  It was this little new age shop in Chattanooga that we had gone to one Saturday night because of this performance by someone—some Native American performer I believe—but we came in just after the person finished and had nothing to do except look around the little shop.  I was close to a little bookcase and started looking at it when I saw the title The Wars of Gods and Men, which instantly got my attention.

The Wars of Gods and Men

For several years before that night, I had pretended to have adventures in this fantasy story I had created in my head that featured numerous gods from various pantheons inhabiting this grand Paradise on Earth but not on Earth (I didn’t know anything about dimensions or pocket universes at the time) with myself as an immortal going through history awaiting my showdown with the big bad but until then battling his minions in fantastic lightsaber duels that ended with me cutting off their heads.  Back then I had no idea of copyright infringement and plagiarism, but I had a healthy creative bent for fan fiction that included aspects of Star Wars and Highlander.  So the title, The Wars of Gods and Men, was something I was interested in.

I grabbed the book and looked at the front cover, noticing that it said it was “Book III of the Earth Chronicles”.  Further intrigued I looked at the author’s name and noticed three other books with his name—The 12th Planet, The Stairway to Heaven, and The Lost Realms—which together with the book in my hand were the first four books of Sitchin’s work.  After reading the back covers, I really wanted to read them and it was easy to convince my parents—well my mom since my dad didn’t care one way or another—to buy them.

To be honest at the time in the shop I didn’t know if Sitchin’s work was fictional (a cross between fantasy & science fiction) or history, but it really didn’t matter either way since I was interested in both and still am.  However as I began The 12th Planet I realized Sitchin was writing about “hidden” history or as some would call it pseudohistory.  But as a teenager, who was finding stuff to use as rebellion, I didn’t care and I kept on reading.  From approximately spring 1997 to July 2001, I completed the four books I had purchased that night plus the fifth book, When Time Began, which I had purchased at either Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million.

When Time Began

Over the years I’ve read—or listen to—various books in which the authors have used the ideas in speculative books as plot points for their books.  The most famous is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that takes from Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln.  Others examples are by Clive Cussler, Atlantis Rising is most likely influenced by Fingerprints of the Gods by Graham Hancock and Trojan Odyssey uses Iman Wilken’s Where Troy Once Stood as a backdrop.

I bring this up because one day I hope to write my own fantasy epic set on an alternate history version of Earth by humans along with my own versions of elves and dwarves.  One of the things I want to do is make things seem familiar to our own history, but with two other sentient species on the planet things will also be very different.  This is where my rereading of Sitchin’s books comes in.  Although Sitchin’s work is now famously known in popular culture with HISTORY’s Ancient Aliens, I’ll be eschewing those particular aspects and focusing on cosmology, mythology, and other theories Sitchin wrote about.  My major issue is to ensure that people who read my work will not use the following meme for their review:

aliens

So that is how I came across Zecharia Sitchin and why I’m reread him over the coming year.

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld #31, Industrial #3)

Monstrous Regiment (Discworld, #31)Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Polly Perks cuts her hair and leaves home to join her nation’s army to find her brother and bring him home; however her act of defiance against her country’s social norms turns out to have consequences geopolitically. Monstrous Regiment, the 31st book of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and the third of the Industrial subseries in which the vast majority of the book comes from Polly’s point-of-view in which gender, religious, and military issues play a big role in the narrative.

The nation of Borogravia is always at war in one neighbor or another, their god Nuggan is dead because they believe his Abominations more than him, and their ruler The Duchess is probably dead after not being seen for decades but is slowly becoming defied in replace of Nuggan. All of these things conspire to make Polly go to find her brother Paul in the Kneck valley and bring him home so that she doesn’t lose the family inn. After signing up, she and the rest of the new recruits become the new “lads” of legendary soldier Sergeant Jackrum but on the way to the front Polly finds that all the other recruits are also women having joined for their own reasons. Throughout the book, the regiment starts impacting the war on an international scale as the Anhk-Morpork Times details the adventures of the troop making them underdogs back home even as they oppose the alliance that Anhk-Morpork is a part of.

Although the geopolitical aspects of her regiments actions comes as a surprise to Polly, most of her concerns throughout the entire book is understanding a “woman’s role in a man’s world”, the insane religion they’re dealing with, and finally military culture between commissioned and non-commissioned officers. Pratchett’s use of real world issues into his fantasy world might annoy some readers but I thought it was handled well especially in his dry satirical style. The only really big irritation was that after a while the surprise of another woman-as-a-man in uniform lost its impact because you could basically guess who was going to be eventually revealed to be a woman, so it became less important and just Pratchett check off another reveal.

Monstrous Regiment deals with a lot of real world issues in a dry satirical style that Pratchett is famous for. Although the book’s long running gag of revealing women-as-men in uniform gets old and easy to predict as the book goes along, it doesn’t take away from the overall good quality of the book. If you’re a Discworld fan you’ll like this book but if you’re new to the series try another book first.

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Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities

Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America's UniversitiesSpy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities by Daniel Golden
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program in exchange for an honest review.

The openness of American colleges and universities for thought and research is seen by academics as the keystone to higher education. However Daniel Golden writes in Spy Schools: How the CIA, FBI, and Foreign Intelligence Secretly Exploit America’s Universities this is seen as opportunities to recruit agents and cultivate operatives as well steal technological innovations both by our own intelligence agencies and those across the globe.

Golden divided his book into foreign and domestic intelligence agencies exploitation of American universities. The first focused how foreign agencies, mainly the Chinese, have been exploiting American universities need of prestige and tuition money to gain partnerships between Chinese universities and their American counterparts resulting in an exchange of students and professors. Yet the most important focus of Golden’s investigation was on how the openness and collaboration within American university labs opens up opportunities for individuals to funnel research, including those paid by the U.S. government and American companies, to their home country to be exploit by their own government or to patient and start up a business. The second half was on the complicated relationship between American intelligence agencies and universities, some of who encourage a relationship and those that do not. The aspect of conflict between secrecy and openness is seen throughout the latter half of the book with 9/11 playing a pivotal role in each side’s views. Unlike the first half of the book, this section is seen over the course of 60 years compared to more near 2000 but in a way to show that past is prologue.

As an investigative journalist, Golden uses extensive research and a multitude of interviews in giving a full history and the scale of a front in the global spy game that many in the United States haven’t been aware of. Unfortunately for Golden the timing of this book while on the one hand current and on the other potentially dated. Nearly all his interviews take place no later than 2015, but since the election of Donald Trump with a seemingly nativist groundswell behind him and student demonstrations against conservative speakers might have begun a fundamental shift that could drastically change how both American and foreign intelligence services are seen on American universities especially as a post-9/11 “tolerance” on campus changes to hostility.

Even though the subject Daniel Golden has written about could be in the midst of a sudden sea change, Spy Schools is still a book to read in at least to understand an important part of the global spy game. Although no up-to-date, the recent and long-term history is significant for anyone who is concerned about national security and foreign intervention in American affairs.

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Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and PoemsEdgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Edgar Allan Poe is best known for his dark and psychological poems and short stories that have had an influence not only American literature throughout the world not only in literature but television and film. Yet while a number of Poe’s work has stood the test of time and made a large impression, a lot more expose stereotypical tropes and themes that repeat so much that they lose impact to the reader.

Before I go through the problems I have with Poe, I’m going to spend a little time praising his better pieces. “The Raven” is obviously the best known of Poe’s poetry and arguably his best, even though you’ve might have read it or heard it read before just reading it again makes you appreciate it before. The three Auguste Dupin short stories, the precursors to the detective genre, are wonderful reads in which Poe’s deductive reason is used well in written form to create fascinating mysteries and solutions. Although I could go on, the last story I will mention is “The Cask of Amontillado” which is a fantastic revenge story in which the narrator has no qualms with it afterwards.

Unfortunately this unrepentant narrator in “Amontillado” is unfortunately the exception to Poe’s trope of the narrator going crazy with guilt and admitting his crime which is featured in many stories Poe wrote. Along with a young woman always dying and premature burials, Poe’s writing is fraught with these tropes that after a while exhaust the reader with the almost predictable way a trope takes over a particular story to end with the same way. While these trope takeovers are discouraging, the tendency of Poe to begin a short story with a philosophical discourse only for the narrator to suddenly go off on a tangent (usually on a murder he committed) that had nothing to do with the discourse at the beginning. Frankly these literary quirks, or crutches, that Poe used throughout numerous compositions get tiresome while reading the entirety of Poe’s work and make one question his supposed literary greatness.

If you a true Poe fan, this complete collection of his tales and poems are for you. However, if you are someone who wants the best of Poe then avoid this complete collection and find a smaller collection that gives his best.

Story Ratings
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V
Part VI
Part VII
Part VIII
Part IX
Part X
Part XI
Part XII
Part XIII
Part XIV
Part XV

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Gojira (Godzilla #1)

GojiraGojira
My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The 1954 horror-science fiction classic Gojira, aka Godzilla, is the original film that launched a film franchise longer than any other in the history of cinema as well as spawning numerous spinoffs around the globe, particularly the United States.  The film directed by legendary filmmaker Ishiro Honda, written by Honda, Takeo Murata, and Shigeru Kayama was released during the “golden age” of Japanese cinema after the Post-WWII Occupation which along with the atomic bomb plays a background theme of the theme.

Japanese cargo ships and fishing boats begin disappearing around Odo Island, for the locals it is the return of an ancient sea creature “Godzilla”.  Because of the mystery around the waters of Odo, reporters arrive and begin interviewing people as well as learn about the local beliefs about what’s happening.  Then that night, a huge storm arrives as well as something else that demolishes and consumes parts of the village.  The resulting coverage and demand to relief results in the government sending an investigative team lead by paleontologist Dr. Yamane, who is on the island when the creature is seen for the first time in daylight proving it to be a living dinosaur affected by the testing of atomic and nuclear bombs.  Though the Japanese government attempts to keep their findings secret even as they attempt to kill the monster and more ships go missing, when Godzilla appears in Tokyo Bay and does some damage on both land and sea.  With the secret out the Japanese Defense Forces attempt to kill Godzilla, but only make the creature angrier which results in Tokyo getting devastated.  During all of this Yamane begs that Godzilla be studied not only because of his uniqueness but his resistance to radiation even while his daughter is in the midst of a love triangle that will result in finding out the method in killing Godzilla by her former fiancé, Serizama.  Using his Oxygen Destroyer, Serizama kills not only Godzilla and himself to prevent his discovery from becoming a weapon though Yamane is fearful that more nuclear testing will result in another Godzilla.

This brief synopsis of the nearly 100-minute film, gives a faint hint at all the nuance that is within the picture.  The slow build up at the beginning of the film of Godzilla’s actions, though the monster is unseen, and the grief-stricken and stressed reactions of the survivors of sailors lost at sea by unknown means hearkened back to World War II and the loss of soldiers and sailors during the war.  Godzilla’s rampaging through Tokyo several times causing massive damage is a painful reminder of the American bombing campaign during the war.  Then there is Godzilla himself, brought to the surface because of underwater nuclear bomb tests in the film but obviously a stand-in to the long-lasting effects of radiation from the atomic bombs that were just then being understood.

Yet not everyone wants to go really in-depth the meaning of some films, so what of the face value of the film itself?  Gojira isn’t perfect especially when it comes to the human-centered story and the characters themselves.  Of the all the named characters with significant time, only Dr. Yamane and Serizama are the best fleshed out and only the latter shows any character development from when we first meet him in the film to his decision to die so his superweapon won’t be replicated.  The reason this film has become a classic is the special effects.  Using techniques the Japanese cinema had honed for decades under state control wanting war films, the industry learned to recreate real-life locations in miniature and editing techniques to make things look as realistic as a film in the 1950s could.

While subsequent ToHo films featuring Godzilla are not as high quality as the first, they do not take away anything from Gojira.  This horror-science fiction classic’s use of symbolism to express the underlying currents of Japanese society and culture a decade after the end of the World War II still speaks to those viewers today that look for it.  And for those who do not, the first and original film to feature Godzilla is a recommended must see given the worldwide culture impact the character has had.

Edgar Allan Poe (Part XV)

PoeEureka: A Prose Poem
My rating: 0.5 out of 5 stars

An essay on, well I’m not really sure to be honest and that was the first issue. Poe reused his “Mellonta Tauta” piece at the beginning of the essay and then went from there using or making up scientific information on a piece entitled “A Prose Poem” that had no poetry and might have been an attempt at humor that unfortunately was too serious for that.

 

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Poe’s only novel was a bit of this and a bit of that, namely an adventure on the sea and exploring unknown regions. Think of this book as a “dime novel” sorta feel with the American hero smuggled on his friend’s ship only for said ship to have a mutiny then a counter mutiny complicated by the ship being hit by storms then slowly drifting and sinking before Arthur and one fellow sailor are picked up by a passing ship then begin exploring the Southern Seas and finding habitable lands close to the South Pole. Obviously then story trends towards quasi-fantasy today, but as an very old school adventure tale is as passable, but ended abruptly when Pym (whom Poe was writing for) dies with the manuscript incomplete.