Friday, August 1, 2014

Reading the Enemy's Mind by Paul H. Smith will both amaze with insight and provide a comprehensive perspective about remote viewing

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

I've read only about a half-dozen book about Remote Viewing, but I'm willing to bet that this one, READING THE ENEMY'S MIND by Paul H. Smith, is the definitive book on the topic.

Clocking in at more than 600 pages, Paul Smith slogs through just about every aspect of remote viewing -- from the mind boggling to the mundane -- from the first days of it's development through its eventual demise as a sanctioned government project.

Smith was a U.S. Army Intelligence Officer and among the original remote viewers. Here he doggedly documents the endless and banal bureaucratic twists and turns of managing a super secretive, highly classified intelligence operation -- but, wow! -- it was a spy game unlike any other in the already dark and spooky underworld of international espionage.

Most readers eager for sensational stories of extraordinary paranormal happenings will find themselves enduring some eye-glazing moments as Smith plods through all the crushingly boring -- the red tape, the funding methods, the inter-governmental squabbling. However, those who wade through it will be rewarded with a greater perspective about what really happened inside our government's unlikely foray into "psychic spying."

But there is much to amaze as well. There's lots of juicy paranormal stuff -- psychic powers, UFO tangents, channeling strange entities, spoon bending -- that will satisfy the inquiring mind.

It would take pages to provide a truly comprehensive review of everything Smith covers in this book, so let me focus on one area where I think the author provides invaluable insight into a deeply controversial topic.


The insight I am talking about is the window inside Smith gives us on certain people who emerged as high profile public remote viewers after the official program ended -- especially Ed Dames and David Morehouse.
Paul H. Smith

Smith levels his biggest criticism at David Morehouse, whom he describes as a barely involved, minimally trained slacker who was, if not actually AWOL, absent for much of the time when he was supposed to be on duty working RV sessions. Morehouse also had periods of mental instability, a disastrous illicit affair, was once suicidal -- none of which was precipitated by the strangeness of remote viewing -- although Morehouse sought to us RV as an excuse for his behavior when he was facing court marshal.

Yet Morehouse is active today as a "celebrity" remote viewer, promoting himself as an original "PSYCHIC WARRIOR" (That's the title of his book). He also peddles a RV study course, he leads remote viewing seminars and is popular on the lecture tour. But Smith paints Morehouse as little more than a failure at remote viewing, a fraud and a blatant, self-serving opportunist.

But the guy who really sucks up all the oxygen in the world of remote viewing today is former U.S. Army Major ED DAMES.

Smith is somewhat kinder to Dames in terms of his work ethic and commitment to military intelligence. Smith even gives him high marks for his professionalism as a soldier. However, when it came to performing the actual remote viewing sessions, Dames was rarely the one sitting in the psychic spying seat. Rather, Dames served more often as a monitor and facilitator for other remote viewers. His own ability to remote view were unremarkable, and he barely worked more than a hlf dozen official RV sessions himself.

Smith writes that Dames also frequently thwarted protocol by improperly "front loading" remote viewing sessions -- that is, Dames frequently attempted to "lead" or bias remote viewers with his own unstoppable obsession with UFOs and his own pet theories about extraterrestrials.

When Dames could not goad disciplined remote viewers into coughing up questionable information about ETs, he would go ahead and conduct his own sessions with sloppy protocols, which would, not surprisingly, confirm his own belief system about aliens from other worlds.

Even worse, Dames displayed an extreme proclivity for apocalyptic scenarios. Again and again, Dames came up with end-of-the-world predictions both during his time with military intelligence, and for years after as a public figure -- and he continues to do today. Dames has appeared dozens of times on the hugely popular Coast to Coast radio program hosted by Art Bell, and over the years had made one disaster-scenario prediction after another, none of which have ever come true.

Smith also sharply criticizes Ed Dames for the claims he has made about his involvement with the development of the remote viewing program -- in short, Smith says that many of Dames' claims about what he did and to help develop the military remote viewer program are flat out false. Dames was a far more marginal player than he has long advertised himself to be, according to Smith.

So this is an outstanding book which is an invaluable historical document that both dispels the many myths that still linger about remote viewing, and which provides incredible insight -- a clarifying window into one of the strangest times in the history of U.S. espionage and intelligence operations.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and worked for two years as an AmeriCorps volunteer on problems of poverty and homelessness. Ken taught writing at the University of North Dakota for give years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS



Friday, July 25, 2014

Free ebook about channeling ghosts and spirits is a remarkable look into what mediums were finding out about the afterlife 150 years ago

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Mediumship, spirit writings and the séance were becoming all the rage by the late 1860s and perhaps would peak in England and America around end of the 19th Century. After, say, 1910, the fascination with hard science began to gain steam, and before long, science fiction magazines were emerging, displacing that sense of wonder one filled by the spiritualists and occultists.


But in 1869 a klatch of free-thinking transcendentalists gathered somewhere in America -- and apparently they had access to one incredibly talented medium. The result is this remarkable document, "Strange Visitors."


Download the free ebook here: Strange Visitors


It's a collection of "original papers" which are the messages channeled from the dead, but not just any of the dearly departed. This ambitious project goes for the cream of the crop. They seek contact with luminaries from the world of science and literature, philosophy and government, art and poetry, and more.


Such VIP Dead as Lord Byron, Nathaniel Hawthorn, Napoleon Bonaparte, Edgar Allen Poe and William Thackeray are contacted and queried for their impressions of what it is like to die and what the `The Other Side' is like.


Also, people who were famous at the time, but more or less forgotten today, are tapped for after-death reports.


For example, there is a session with Lady Blessington, who was born to poverty in late 18th Century Ireland as Margaret Power. She suffered through a bad marriage to a drunken sea captain (which ended with his death in debtor's prison), until she finally married into the aristocracy, landing Charles Gardiner, the 1st Earl of Blessington. Upon her elevation into high society, Lady Blessington became something of a celebrated literary figure across Europe and among elite, over-educated Americans.


But who is Henry J. Horn, the editor of this document?


I've done considerable sleuthing, and the best candidate might be a lawyer who spent most of his life here in my native Minnesota. Today, the "Horn House" at 50 Irvine Park in St. Paul is a prominent landmark listed with the Minnesota Historical Society. Born in Philadelphia in 1821, Henry J. Horn passed the bar in Pennsylvania and moved to the Twin Cities area in 1855. He purchased the Horn House in 1881. The home was built by Dr. Jacob Stewart in 1874 and designed by the German-American architect August Gauger. Henry J. Horn died in 1902.


Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any connection between Mr. Horn and spiritualist groups, mediums and séances -- but is it likely that a high-profile, respected Minnesota attorney would lend his name to such an arcane publication? It's a mystery.


An even bigger mystery is the identity of the medium himself/herself. Who was this remarkable person who contacted these disincarnate souls, and via "automatic writing," produced reports an array of richly divergent writings (and poetry)from beyond the veil?


What's even more amazing is that these manuscripts are much more than musings about the Afterlife -- for example, an entire Gothic novel is presented, purportedly written by the ghost of Charlotte Brontë herself!


There are also political ravings by Napoleon -- clearly still a megalomaniac-imperialist in the hereafter. A dirge by Edgar Allen Poe reveals that he remains a bleak, dreary, haunted poet despite having cast off the agony of the flesh!


The examples of Napoleon, Brontë and Poe might lead one to believe that these missives are not so much after-death communications, but rather, impressions of a creative medium with a literary bent -- except that the majority of these works read like "authentic" contact with the dead.


Here's what I mean:


In recent decades an interest in mediumship has experienced a resurgence. It all goes hand-in-hand with the rise of all things "New Age," but interest in the idea that "no one truly dies" has also received a boost from medical types, such as Dr. Raymond Moody and his groundbreaking book "Life After Life," and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross with "On Death and Dying."


Others have since have gone much further with talking-to-the-dead kinds of books -- consider the likes of psychologist Michael Newton and psychiatrist Brian Weiss who use hypnotic regression to document volumes of intense information from people's past lives, but also from deceased loved ones.


Then there's a whole string of folks from all walks of like who are either channeling the dead or reporting intense experiences in the Afterlife --books I've read recently (some reviewed here) along these lines include those by Natalie Sudman, Erika Hayasaki, Julia Assante., Dr. Eben Alexander, Dr. Allan Botkin, Bill Guggenheim, Dr. Don Miguel Ruiz -- and many more --


-- and the point is, the descriptions and communications these folks report about the after-death environment are remarkably similar the writings presented in "Strange Visitors" -- which suggests that there is a certain authenticity to these works.


So this obscure gem published in 1869 is of great significance and interest.


Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and AmeriCorps volunteer in which he worked with poor and homeless people. He also taught writing at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER





Monday, June 9, 2014

Freaksome Tales by William Rosencrans is an unrelentingly brilliant send-up of H.P. Lovecraft -- funny as hell and dripping with dark irony

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Here's my theory about this book: The author sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for extraordinary literary talent. But he also had to agree to write like a person afflicted with a diseased mind. Finally, his satanic bargain allowed for a generous portion of humor, as long at that humor was black as pitch.

Not only are these short stories remarkably well-written, but the entire collection is packaged or couched in a meta-premise that is unrelentingly hilarious -- the premise is that the author is a certain fictional fellow by the name of V.V. Swigferd Gloume, a sort of  British version of H.P. Lovecraft.

Like the real Lovecraft, the fictional Swiggy Gloume lives a dreary, dismal existence of self-absorbed alienation, bizarre neurotic fears, loathing of others, loathing in general and loneliness. He is obsessed with monsters, death, slimes and filth. His plight is a chronic inability to get his work consistently published in mainstream periodicals -- only to achieve notoriety after his death.

William Rosencrans

And pity the poor saps that Gloume must elaborately bamboozle into publishing his work. Running a piece by Gloume is the kiss of death, either for the obscure publication or even the poor editor himself.

Author WILLIAM ROSENCRANS trots out this gag again and again -- and it's funny every time!

Rosencrans also has taken great pains to keep his parody running to the Nth degree. He provides fictional pictures of Gloume, his family and childhood home, and also an appendix which creates additional insight into the character of the nonexistent author through his correspondences, poetry and more.

But it's the short stories themselves that make this book an astonishingly dark and demented delight.

If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, then you'll love these works; if you are not a fan of H.P Lovecraft, then you're in luck -- that's because Rosencrans does Lovecraft while improving Lovecraft in all those ways he could and should have been improved -- with more plots that are complete and resolve at the end, by adding humor, irony and charm (yes, charm), and by daring to stray beyond Lovecraftian style whenever a story needs its own flavor.

As I read, for example, I found myself thinking, "Wow, this story really has the seasoning of a G. K. Chesterton!" or "This one has a smack of Ray Bradbury!" or "This Rosencrans fellow writes like he's the reincarnation of Horace Walpole!"

Best of all, William Rosencrans writes like William Rosencrans, obviously an author of singular and unique talent, even while he's sending up Lovecraft or anyone else.

So FREAKSOME TALES is a marvelous book. It gets my top recommendation, and will easily land in the "Top 5" spot of my 100 Best Books of 2014, and I say that with confidence even though it's only June.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Too many timeworn plot gimmicks and cookie cutter characters makes Artificial Absolutes by Mary Fan a work of bland artificiality

Review by KEN KORCZAK

ARTIFICIAL ABSOLUTES is a book with a fairly intricate, well-developed story line buried under a gigantic mountain of cliché plot gimmicks that renders what might have been a decent book into a dreary mass of almost insufferable blandness.

The work often also devolves into mawkish dialogue so drippy with smarmy goo, it's on par with a weepy love ballad written by, say, the Jonas Brothers, for tweenie fan girls.

To prove that I am not delusional or just being a mean reviewer, I will invite the reader to join me now by logging onto a favorite search engine and look up something like, "The 10 most common cliché movies scenes" -- because many appear in this book.

The first cliché is one we all know and you probably won't even have to Google it (although please feel free to do) is that the best way to escape from the cops, or the bad guys, or anyone chasing you with guns is to squeeze into the ventilation duct work of a large building.

Time and again, movie heroes (and criminals) cleverly slip away from their pursuers by getting into the duct vents because they know that the clueless authorities or bad guys will be 100% perplexed and always fooled by this never-before-thought-of escape plan.

Artificial Absolutes includes this scene -- and for good measure, it also presents the first cousin of the Great Air Duct Escape Plan -- the dreaded -- Escape Through the Opening at the Top of a Stalled Elevator Car Plan -- and an oh-so-hackneyed climb up the cables of the elevator shaft to baffle one's pursuers.

The next cliché plot gimmick that fills dozens of pages of this book is the:

"The bad guys can shoot at you all they want and they can never hit you, but the good guy can shoot back and score a hit on the bad guy almost at will."

We have all seen it hundreds of times -- Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris -- they run around bristling with machine guns while being pursued by dozens of other guys with even more machine guns -- but no one can hit the good guy! Yet, the hero can score a dead-middle-of-the-torso-shot while jumping, rolling and firing.

In Artificial Absolutes we are inflicted with page after page of the same. The first such scene features a sophisticated, high tech robot which chases our heroine Jane "Pony" Colt through the hallways of a building -- the robot shoots and shoots and shoots but it can't hit the broadside of a barn!

The conveniently inept robo-killer suffers dozens of near misses -- right next to her shoulder! a real grazer just missing her head! a blast that splinters the door frame she just runs through! -- it's not the least bit exciting because we all know the scene -- we've seen it hundreds of times in movies.

One would think that a super-advanced robot constructed in an advanced society that has mastered interstellar space travel would include some kind of sophisticated target acquisition and tracking hardware to easily laser down it's prey -- like our drones can do today. But not in this book.

Even when "Pony" and her brother, Devin Colt, are being chased by a squad of heavily armed, battle-trained starship troopers, all they have to is run, dodge, zig-zag -- and they become completely unhittable targets! Robotic drones flying through the air at the same time can't nail them either!

And yet, whenever Devin Colt chooses to whirl, shoot wildly from the hip while on the run with a borrowed gun -- he can expertly knock the weapons right out of the hands of the bumbling, can't-hit-nothin' interstellar marines! And do it again and again!

Suffice it to say: Heroes who can run through a torrential hail of bullets without getting hit, while at the same time being able to shoot anyone they want -- is among the used and abused of movie clichés -- and the fact it has been transferred to the pages of a book does not make it any less of a hack.

For good measure, and to really slather it on, the book includes what has become one of the most universally used, overused and annoying visual gimmicks of all time -- it's ye olde:

"The hero blows something up, but turns his back and walks away not bothering to look at the massive fireball erupting being him."

Here's the scene right from the book at location 5561 on my Kindle:

MARY FAN
"The attackers were gone, and not much remained of the mansion. Devin nevertheless fired a fifth grenade. He walked up the ramp as a colossal fireball rose behind him."

Speaking of moth-eaten plots, the very central plot element, the heart of Artificial Absolutes, is an worn-to-baldness retread premise that has already been explored by hundreds if not thousands of other science fiction writers, beginning in the 1920s.

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Just a few months ago I was wading through the free pulp science fiction of Project Gutenberg and selected to read the 1961, MEMORY OF MARS by Raymond F. Jones. In it, the hero falls in love with his childhood sweetheart. They meet in the third grade. They have a long courtship through high school, they fall madly in love and they get married. Later -- GAK! -- he finds out she was never real in the first place! She's a robot!

In Artificial Absolutes, Devin Colt meets a beautiful woman, they date, the fall in love and he asks her to marry her. Later -- GAK! -- he finds out she was never real in the first place, She's a robot!

His sister, you know "Pony Colt," meets a handsome young man (boy). He rubs her the wrong way at first because he is a simplistic religious gasbag, yet they keep seeing each other, they go through some stuff together, they fall in love, she has finally found her soul-mate. Later -- GAK!-- she finds out he was never real in the first place! He's a robot!

It just keeps happening!

But even by 1961, falling in love with lifelike robots was already far from original -- dozens of others had already written a spin on the same plot element. In the mid-1960s Philip K. Dick practically built a career around stories in which perfect replicants of human beings pose questions of what is real and what is not real, and whether a robot can possess true consciousness or not have true consciousness.

END SPOILER ALERT!

Certainly, these are standard saws of science fiction, so we can't take points away from author MARY FAN for trotting out this threadbare SF rag doll one more time -- it's a fan favorite after all -- but we certainly can't give extra credit for originality either.

There are many other elements of hackneyed plot devices and cliché gimmicks, but I simply can't get them all (er ... cough, cough ... Travan Float is a thin re-imagining of Mos Eisley of Star Wars ... ) without making for too lengthy a review, and I want to make a final comment:

Young writers today -- those of Generation X, Generation Y and Millennial extraction -- have all been raised in on TV and movies like no generations before. They have also been embedded in the online world since they were babies. They have endured total immersion in on-the-screen fictional scenarios.

Thus, what I am seeing from one young writer after another today (I read more than 100 books per year) are plots and scenes in books that are soaked in movie and television clichés. Even the minor characters are not original creations -- very often plucked right out of a TV or a movie.

For example, in this book Commander Jihan Vega would seem to be almost an exact duplicate of ADMIRAL HELENA CAIN of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. Again, I challenge the reader to find a scene featuring Admiral Helena Cain on `Battlestar' and compare her to Commander Jihan Vega of this book -- they are near Kinkos of the same fictional person -- different in name only.

Sure, in a sense, most books are at least somewhat derivative of other works and leverage broad themes, archetypes and conventions of their genre, but Artificial Absolutes takes the copy-and-paste lifting of other standardized memes to such an extreme degree, the result is a literary work of Absolute Artificiality.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Natalie Sudman's "Application of Impossible Things" is a different kind of near death experience book

Review by KEN KORCZAK

After getting blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq, civilian contract worker NATALIE SUDMAN "blinked" and found herself in another reality. It was a strange place indeed. Sudman discovered herself standing center stage in what she struggles to describe as perhaps a vast stadium filled with thousands of beings -- but who or what kind of beings?

Souls? Personalities? Entities? Spirits? People?

None of the terms seemed quite adequate or accurate. Sudman realized that she was having a near death experience (NDE) after suffering severe trauma to her body. But this event didn't have any of the classic attributes popularly associated with the NDE.

There was no tunnel of light, no greeting on "the other side" by dead relatives, no experience of a spirit detaching and flying away from her physical body. She just "blinked" and she was there. Once arrived, she felt instantly at home and did not want to go back.

She also became immediately aware of her first function in the afterlife: She acted as a kind of cosmic computer cache with the purpose of "downloading" all of her "stored" information to the waiting gathering of souls -- who absorbed the information "with gratitude."

NATALIE SUDMAN
By now you may be getting the idea that APPLICATION OF IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is yet another near death experience book, but one that makes a significant departure from what have become the conventions of the genre.

This is not airy fairy New Agey fare but more of a thinking man's (in this case, a thinking woman's) report on the afterlife. Sudman is at once a serious, sober observer of the extraordinary situation she encountered, but also an often funny and charming writer with something entirely different to say.

This is a book about the ultimate issues of all reality -- What is life? Who are we? What are we? What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be a conscious human being? Why are we here? -- and Sudman has a truly remarkable ability to delve into these weighty questions while never talking down to us, and at the same time, challenging us to expand our way of thinking.

This is a slim volume at just over 100 pages, but it has the effect of reading a book of 200 or 300 pages. Each paragraph seems impregnated with richer meaning, as if there is information coming at you from the spaces in between the words and sentences. If you read it twice, don't be surprised is if you get as much more even more out of it the second time around.

It's perhaps important to note that Sudman was not a New Age type or any sort of formal spiritual seeker before she was encountered a roadside bomb on Nov. 24, 2007. She was an archaeologist by profession, and then had transitioned to working as a project engineer for a civilian contractor in the Basrah South Region Office in Iraq. She was managing the building of a health care center at Khor Az Aubair at the time of the incident that transformed her life.

She comes to the NDE subject as an outsider with a fresh perspective, and so perhaps without the baggage of those who spend their lives immersed in mystical esoterica -- and yet, many can expect to have their old and calcified belief systems rattled by what Sudman suggests here.

Open-minded skeptics only need apply.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Free history ebook takes you down a remarkable Ohio River journey

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Lyman C. Draper was a driven historian who was determined that certain events of American history should never be forgotten. The result of his lifetime's work are a number of fascinating manuscripts like this one, Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90.

This account records the experiences of Maj. Samuel S. Forman who was a member of a large party that traveled the length of the Ohio River in crudely constructed barges. Included with the party were more than 100 black slaves.

Born in 1765, Forman was a young man in his early twenties at the time of his Ohio River adventure. His company navigated to the Mississippi where they sailed south to establish a plantation in Natchez. Natchez is located in the present-day state of Mississippi, which was still a holding of Spain at the time. Spain would relinquish the territory about a year later.

The source of the Ohio River is in Pennsylvania and flows westward through West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana before flowing into the Mississippi in Illinois.

At the time of Forman's journey in 1789, the territories along the river were home to a marvelously rich collection of native American peoples, forts and the various scattered outposts of Europeans settlers. It was wild and dangerous country loaded abundant wildlife and colorful characters.

For the history buff this rare manuscript is a treasure, not just for its overall narrative, but for those incidental historic asides which jump out at you like nuggets washed from a stream. For example:

* We learn that the first First Lady, Martha Washington, was a chunky woman. Major Forman was lucky to be near at hand at the the second inauguration of George Washington and he notes that Mrs. Washington looked "pretty fleshy."

* The city of Cincinnati owes it establishment to a love infatuation. A certain Ensign Francis Luce was charged with establishing a block house at a site called North Bend, but he caught site of a "beautiful black-eyed lady" who was the wife of a settler. The husband found it necessary to move from North Bend to remove his wife from the strenuous advances of Ensign Luce -- and the location they moved to became Cincinnati.

Reading this evinces a tremendous sense of sadness for me. That's because today the Ohio is the most polluted river in America. It was once a vital artery of life for the Native Americans. The river was the lifeblood of their rich and imaginative culture, as well as a source-mother for abundant wildlife.

The journey of Samuel Forman was the beginning of another kind of bleak journey -- toward the devastation of the native population, and the toxic environmental degradation of what was once one of the most life-giving bodies of water in the world.

Not anymore.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Spiritual Lucid Dreaming by Samira Nuriyeva is a well written introduction for the novice dream explorer

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This short manual introducing the concept of lucid dreaming to a new audience is well written in a clear and "lucid" style. It delivers a broad overview on how to lucid dream, while also thoroughly grounding the reader in a framework based on the Hindu tradition of Vedanta.

That's no small accomplishment considering that this is just 60-some pages, but the author handles the task well. As a person who has been exploring lucid dreaming for some 30 years, I can find little fault with the approach taken here.

However, let me say that I don't think lucid dreaming must necessarily be considered from the perspective of Vedanta only -- if you want, you can achieve the lucid dream state, practice it and gain its insights without the baggage of any religious or philosophical system, including Vedanta.

This is not to imply that Vedanta is "baggage" in a negative way; I think anyone who chooses to immerse themselves in this ancient tradition would only benefit from doing so, and find great personal growth.

But take, for example, the purely secular and scientific approaches to lucid dreaming, such as that exemplified by the work of the psychophysiologist STEPHEN LABERGE PH.D. It was LaBerge who reintroduced the concept of lucid dreaming to a modern audience with his books LUCID DREAMING and EXPLORIING THE WORLD OF LUCID DREAMING.

LaBerge made lucid dreaming palatable to a western, rational-materialistic audience by scientifically proving the reality of the lucid dream state with innovative and repeatable experiments using EEG readouts and monitoring the eye movements of REM sleep -- it established beyond a reasonable doubt that the fundamentals of what ancient adepts of Vedanta had been telling us for untold centuries is accurate.

The point is, millions of people learned to lucid dream and gain all of its benefits with LaBerge's purely secular approach -- on the other hand, adopting the methods grounded in Vedanta as explained in this short manual by SAMIRA NURIYEVA will be of equal benefit, and perhaps in many ways, will lead to an even richer understanding of what is implied by lucid dreaming.

So this brief, well-written introduction to lucid dreaming gets my best recommendation.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Steps To Heaven by Wendy Cartmell is crime thriller novel a tad short on the thrills

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Sgt. Major Tom Crane is a British military cop with a big problem. Soldiers are turning up dead. Their throats are slit -- and so are the jugulars of their wives and sons -- the crime scenes are a horrid bloody mess.

The first case seems like a classic double murder suicide, maybe the result of a marriage gone bad, or perhaps a soldier suffering from PTSD. But Sgt. Crane smells a rat. When a second murder suicide turns up on another garrison, Crane becomes a human bloodhound, nose bent to a trail of clues that strangely point to a local church.

If this sounds like a terrific premise for a thrilling crime novel, well it is. Author WENDY CARTMELL has hatched a first rate plot and she does a credible job of laying it all out, holding it together and keeping us guessing to the end.

However, STEPS TO HEAVEN is not a great novel; it’s merely an average or perhaps a “just ok” offering to the crime fiction genre. There are several reasons why this novel fails to be all it could be.

Sgt. Crane’s methods are procedural, clerical and plodding. The majority of the action plays out far more like a bunch of bored cops sitting around for committee meetings to read reports and compare notes. They analyze computer data and comb through various records -- and then they stay late to go over it all again.

Granted, this might be the way real police work is actually done, rather than the high-octane gun-play, car chases, knife fights and narrow escapes of movies or TV -- but this is fiction and we don’t want paperwork and reports -- we want our adrenaline to boil through every page.

Another significant drawback for me are characters that are flat. Everyone here is more or less a cliché -- the prim, proper and a-bit-too-tightly wound Sgt. Kim Weston. Her well-starched uniform crackles as much as her obsessive efficiency.

Kim Weston is set off against Staff Sergeant Billy Williams -- an easy going athletic type who feels more comfortable on a football field than in front of a computer. He’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky but sometimes does sloppy work -- which draws the evil eye from the uptight Sgt. Williams.

But the most bland of all is Tina, the wife of our viewpoint character, Sgt. Major Crane.

Wendy Cartmell
The author makes a valiant effort to flesh out the character of Crane through scenes that show interaction with his wife when he’s off duty -- but we get little traction there since Tina Crane is about as vibrant and interesting as a jar of mayonnaise.

Crane and his wife bicker tediously over her sloppy housekeeping when they aren’t mulling over having a baby -- the discussion of which centers around projections of the family budget. Wow! They do everything but get out some spreadsheets to regale us action-hungry readers about how they might micromanage future income potentials which combine the pay of her boring job as bank teller vis-a-vis his military salary.

GAK! Poor Mrs. Crane! She might have to give up getting pedicure at the occasional spa outing, or sacrifice carefree jaunts with her gal pals if she has to stay home and wet nurse a freshly minted army brat!

It’s all pretty dull.

The author almost saves the day by providing some dramatics at the end -- but the biggest story here is a tremendous case of missed literary opportunity, and let me explain:

For me, the final actions scenes are rendered problematic because of implausibility -- and that implausibility centers around the fact that I don’t think the "Bad Guy" could have pulled off what he did in acting alone.

I’m trying hard to word this in a way without having to issue a spoiler alert by revealing too much about the ending -- but when I say this is a titanic case of missed opportunity -- I am talking about the idea that the "Bad Guy" guy should have had an accomplice -- and that accomplice should have been Mrs. Morrison!

Let me repeat: If the author would have made Mrs. Morrison an accomplice in the horrible crimes played out in this narrative, it would have saved the day for me, and would have made schlepping through the rest of this novel much more worthwhile.

But, alas, it was not to be.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Time travel book by Richard Bullivant is an intriguing collection of stories, highly entertaining

I became a fan of author Richard Bullivant after I read his book ANTIQUES DON'T BOUNCE the story of a young man working his way up through the ranks of large, multifaceted British firm that specialized in the handling of antiques.

In that book he made an ordinary slice of life seem extraordinary. So I was curious to see how this writer would handle a topic that's extraordinary to begin with-- time travel. I was not disappointed.

There's some intriguing stories here that I'm sure even those who already eagerly follow time travel have never heard about before. For example, there's a story about a man from a small town in the American Midwest who is astonished when he is spontaneously transported back to ancient Alexandria.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the complex, true story of a Victorian-era conspiracy-like plot by a famous British architect and a brilliant inventor living on the edge of poverty. This unlikely duo teams up to place a series of "teleportation devices" throughout a number of locations in London -- which may have ended up transporting a mysterious wealthy widow and her spinster daughters through time!

Yes, a couple of the stories presented here will strain the credulity of even the most open-minded New Ager, but there's also plenty of "red meat" for the dyed-in-the-wool skeptic -- such as the ambitious attempts of respected American physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett to build a real time machine based on the known scientific principles of quantum physics.

This book is called "More" True Time Travel Stories because it follows up a previous short book, TRUE TIME TRAVEL STORIES.

A fun and fascinating read from front to back. Find the book here: TIME TRAVEL

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Monday, December 30, 2013

The Convoluted Universe by Dolores Cannon: Fantastic Flights of Astounding New Age Revelation Will Be a Challenge for Even the Most Open Minded

Review by KEN KORCZAK

If you’re a hard core rational-materialistic skeptic and you have accepted Carl Sagan as your personal savior you need not apply to THE CONVOLUTED UNIVERSE.

Author and hypnotherapist DOLORES CANNON doesn't just throw out the scientific method playbook, she sends it through a paper shredder. That includes methods of hypnotism that wouldn't remotely be considered legitimate by anyone in the mainstream psychological community.

But no matter! All is well!

Cannon herself makes no bones about her methodology and where her works stands in the greater context. She’s unfettered and free-wheeling, traveling the New Age universe as light as a butterfly flitting from one astonishing flower to the next.

Her method is to put her subjects into what she calls a “somnambulistic trance.” This allows her direct access to the subconscious -- but even here Cannon parts ways with standard definitions. She says the kind of “subconscious” she is dealing with is not the same at that defined my modern psychology.

The result is direct communication with extraterrestrials, energy beings, spirit guides, astral entities of amazing variety -- including the spirits of former residents of the the vanished super civilization of Atlantis.

If you are thinking by now that I am a typical skeptic who is hostile to Cannon’s brand of unbounded flights of fantastic New Age revelation -- you would be wrong.

I see no harm in being an open minded skeptic and taking the work of Ms. Cannon at face value. After all, she lays all her cards on the table. She’s not trying to hoodwink anyone. She’s sincere. She’s just doing what she’s doing -- she’s putting it all out there for the reader to decide what they want to believe -- or not.

Her amazing 50 years of unstoppable, dedicated work at putting people into trance and recording their transcripts has produced reams of information. Cannon displays not an iota of selectivity for the type or quality of the information she records, choosing instead to dump everything into the pages of her massive books. The Convoluted Universe clocks in at well over 500 pages and is just the first in a series of several, but also builds on at least a half-dozen earlier works.

The problem with this all-in approach is that a lot of the information often tilts toward the 100% absurd, no matter how open-minded we choose to be. For example:

* The Loch Ness monster is real! It’s a vegetarian that lays its eggs in the mud, and it lives in a cave deep beneath the lake!

* Bigfoot is real, too! It likes to snack on butterflies and uses it’s powers of ESP to avoid contact with human beings!

Dolores Cannon
* The Bermuda Triangle? Well, of course, the strange phenomenon there is caused by some kind of giant cracked lens or crystaline super machine left over from the days of Atlantis. It’s sitting at the bottom of the Caribbean sea where it occasionally causes trouble by sending out cosmic rays that alter space and time, sending sundry hapless ships or airplanes careening off into an alternate universe! Darn!

But wait a minute -- I will now say with complete absence of mockery or sarcasm -- that I find a lot of the material here compelling. After all, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.

That is, some of Cannon’s hypnotized subjects are far more credible than others. Some of them channel esoteric information that smacks of legitimacy -- such as the subjects who insistently contend that human beings are confused about the nature of physical reality.

The general belief is that first comes a biological lump called a brain, and from that springs consciousness. But the nonphysical entities Cannon’s subjects channel say just the opposite it true: That consciousness comes first and the brain is a receiving device that captures and interprets the information -- but then biases and distortions creep into our interpretation of reality because of phony belief systems, phony fears and our phony ego-infected human personalities.

I think that’s right. Even the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said: “Consciousness precedes being.” That’s not only the case, but it's the situation to a much greater degree than any of us might imagine. To this end, some of Cannon’s subjects offer remarkably insightful metaphors that help us see ourselves as beings of nonphysical consciousness or beings, of pure energy-intelligence, rather than biologically programmed meat machines.

If we accept the premise that Consciousness -- Consciousness with a Big C -- does not originate from physical biological matter, then we have to consider that at least some of the information produced by Cannon has value. I think it does.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to believe everything you read. No one’s putting a gun to your head. Go ahead and give the book a read. Be a skeptic, but an open-minded skeptic. And always remember what the great biologist J.B.S. Haldane said:

The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Friday, December 13, 2013

"Life Erupted" by Mary Stanik: The Tale of a Minnesota Woman Looking For Love While Eating Her Way Through an Electra Complex

Review by KEN KORCZAK

We don’t have to make any pretense that LIFE ERUPTED is anything more the a light romantic comedy with a central premise pulled straight out of a daytime soap opera. Author MARY STANIK concedes as much when she puts these words into the mouth of her character, Jenn Bergquist, near the end of the book:

“It is all too unreal. It’s like a soap opera, or some sappy movie … this is all too crazy.”

That’s pretty much sums it up. Life Erupted is a not just Chick Lit Lite, it’s Chick Lit Ultra-Lite.

Even the main character is borrowed right off the ol’ tube. Again, the author makes no bones about this, saying her heroine was inspired by Mary Richards of the MARY TYLER MOORE show. I have always thought that Mary Richards was a wafer-thin reincarnation of Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie in THAT GIRL. And now we see that the transmigration of the soul is possible because TV characters can be reborn onto the printed page.

Like Mary Richards, Jenn Berquist lives in Minneapolis and works in the media business. She she also sports the same hairstyle of that slightly earlier TV queen, Ann Marie. Both have that 1960s funky bouffant flip with blunt bangs held up by killer eyelashes.

Mary Stanik
Like Mary and Ann Marie, Jenn Bergquist is witty, spunky and bright, but as yet unlucky in love despite being a charming thirty-something hottie. Not too worry -- you know she’s going to hook up with a handsome hunk sooner or later.

Thus, if you’re looking for a fluffy-feel-good fun read about a woman who wants to “have it all” and who’s going to “make it after all” -- then buy the book and enjoy.

Okay, now let’s have a discussion:

The great American writer JOYCE CAROL OATES suggested that all American women are obsessed by food and all American men are obsessed by money. Life Erupted is Exhibit A for this notion

The actual main character of Life Erupted is not Jenn Bergquist -- but food -- and to an astonishing degree.

Food is lovingly described, food is dwelled upon, food is a central aspect of the most important scenes. Even that which is tangentially related to food looms large in the background of the narrative, such as restaurants, menus, styles of food, traditions of food, kitchens and eating utensils. (I'm not making this up: In one scene a woman actually "holds onto her fork" for emotional support).

What’s truly remarkable is that in the central “plot payoff” scene of the book -- wherein the main character is receiving a stunning life-altering revelation -- the event takes a back seat to a stack of pancakes dripping with maple syrup, and not just any maple syrup, but maple syrup imported from Canada.

That Girl
Further yet -- while Jenn Berquist is wolfing down her mountain of flapjacks, her mind is already wandering off to a delicious contemplation of homemade muffins -- and then she ponders further the idea of taking some muffins home for a future nosh.

The exciting trip to Iceland to chase erupting volcanoes recedes into the background as an examination of Icelandic cuisine ensues -- the famous salted cod is discussed, as is other ocean fair, wines, juices, drinks, desserts and side dishes. Says Jenn Bergquist:

“I actually did eat a fair amount of fish. You were totally right, you have not eaten salmon or cod until you have eaten the Icelandic variety. But not so much with the vegetables, they are pretty expensive there and so we didn’t have many, save for a few $15 side salads.”

Fifteen bucks for a side salad! Certainly that would necessarily limit one to “a few.”

Now let’s leave food behind to discuss this books other major underlying them -- the latent but raging Electra Complex of Jenn Bergquist.

You have probably heard about Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, but from Neo-Freudian psychology with get the Electra complex. It was proposed by the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. An Electra Complex is a daughter’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father.

Mary Tyler Moore
The Electra Complex is also associated with a dwelling upon the defeat, displacement, death or pyscho-social death of the mother. In Life Erupted, in true Electra fashion, the author presents one mother as already dead and the “other mother” is slowly dying and then dutifully killed off before the tale ends.

At the same time, the only person who has a lot of exciting sex in this book is -- you guessed it -- Jenn's aging father, the stoic and heavily repressed Olaf Bergquist.

In true Electra fashion, Jenn expends considerable psychic energy coming to grips with the burgeoning sex life of her father.

As for Jenn herself, she seems to have adopted that old maxim: If you can’t have sex, have chocolate -- or pancakes, or lobster-stuffed ravioli, or salted cod, or muffins, or spicy pasta in marinara sauce, or angel food cake with blueberries, or Belgian chocolate dessert -- or the “large slices of crusty, very tasty bread” -- purchased for her by yet another father figure, her surrogate grandfather.

Electra
As for the woman -- Caroline -- who is providing sexual pleasure to Jenn’s father, she also dwells with powerful intensity on food even while she is angling for a night sex with Olaf during their first date at a restaurant.

Olaf Bergquist glumly looks across the table at the object of his sexual desire, the sizzling-sexy Caroline, only too observe that she:

“ … goes silent so as to scarf down a huge and steaming chocolate pudding cake ...”

Then Olaf asks Caroline if she ever had a chance to meet Jenn’s dying mother, but he sees the dismal sight of Caroline:

“ … carefully scraping chocolate from her plate, looking genuinely unhappy that there was nothing left of her dessert … “

The only thing our plucky heroine Jenn gets, by the way, is a cold date in frigid Iceland with a gay man.

In light of all this, it would seem that the obsession with food throughout the narrative serves as a kind of displacement for the frustrated sexual desire of Jenn Bergquist -- which might lead us to the conclusion that the seething, exploding volcanoes of Iceland serve as the ultimate metaphor of a desire for explosive, orgasmic sexual fulfillment -- never realized, except when projected onto the father.

So, you know ... well, this is a pretty interesting book when you think about it.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Timelock by R.G. Knighton is Devilishly Clever Fun: Well Written Campy Blood and Gore Horror At Its Best

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was trying to think of the last time I had as much fun as I did while reading TIMELOCK by R.G. Knighton, and then it hit me: The year was 1987.

I was at the movies with a friend. The film we were seeing was EVIL DEAD II, Sam Raimi's campy-but-ingenious blood and gore classic. Evil Dead II is outrageously goofy but devilishly clever. It became an instant laugh-and-shock-a-minute classic. I still consider it to be among my personal "best movies of all time."

Devilishly clever, nutty, bloody, gory, funny and fun would well describe TIMELOCK, which is actually a set of two novels.

The first book involves a group of twenty-something college students attending a second-tier, but upper crust British university. They began to dabble in occult practices and stumble into a way to open a portal into another time and dimension. Trouble ensues when malevolent spirits leap through the portal and attach themselves to the students.

Each student is now "infected" with evil forces from the distant past. A variety of nutty hijinks ensue. What's worse, one of the evil spirits is that of an extremely powerful witch with the wacky name of "Toomak." She has the power to bring about he return of the Antichrist -- Satan would be unchained resulting in the destruction of everything that is good, decent and holy forever.

R.G. Knighton
While the first novel takes place in the 1980s, the second novel shifts the action to the ancient Mideast at the time of Jesus. In the end, the events of the first novel and the second converge in a climatic ending pitting a fierce battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

What really makes this a first rate novel is the author's superior ability to create interesting characters -- they are ordinary human beings with all the normal strengths and weaknesses of people we find in the real world.

Each character's motivations are shaped by their circumstances and background -- which the author inserts into the narrative with marvelous finesse and ease.

R.G. Knighton is a rare writer -- I believe he is a natural talent. He commands a razor-edged wit and a wonderful sense of sardonic irony. His ability to place ordinary people into extraordinary situations is what gives this book a breezy kind of power that doesn't pretend to be anything but sheer entertainment.

The humor of Timelock is dripping with cynicism. Yes, this is dark humor, but pleasant; it's like a premium dark chocolate with a tad of bitterness but ultimately sweet.

Timelock gets my highest recommendation and will easily make my Top 10 List of best books I've read in 2013.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and has been successfully freelance writing for the past 25 years. He taught writing at the University of North Dakota. Ken in the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Vesuvius Isotope smolders occasionally but never erupts

Review by KEN KORCZAK

It’s inevitable that novels such as this one will be compared to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” so let me get that out of the way right now -- Brown practically single-handedly rejuvenated a genre of fiction which incorporates the elements of ancient history, religion, mythologies, conspiracies all mixed up with elements of modern science and politics -- and THE VESUVIUS ISOTOPE is solidly in that realm.

I should mention that Brown’s Da Vinci Code was largely derivative of UMBERTO ECO'S masterful novel, FOUCAULT'S PENDULUM. But whatever the case, after Brown sold about a hundred ba-zillion copies of his low-brow version of Eco’s epic, it was no surprise that many new writers followed suit, and so that’s why I say it’s practically a new genre.

In The Vesuvius Isotope instead of a brilliant Harvard professor of symbology we have world-class Ph.D. biologist, Dr. Katrina Stone. Instead of a mystery involving the tangled ancient dealings of the Catholic Church dovetailing with arcane pagan belief systems, we have the multifaceted mysteries of ancient Egyptian religion.

The start of both novels are even similar. They both launch with the discovery of a dead body that is naked. In the case of the Da Vinci Code it is the curator of the Louvre. In the Vesuvius Isotope it is the husband of biologist Katrina Stone - her husband happened to be one of the world's leading scientist.

So in both books a morbid naked discovery launches the characters on a journey of international intrigue. This entails a globe-trotting search across spectacular venues of the ancient world to solve a vexing mystery. In Brown’s book it’s cracking the so-called Da Vinci code. In this book it’s a search for an ancient remedy for cancer possibly developed by none other than Queen Cleopatra herself.

Unfortunately, and for the sake of full disclosure, I consider Brown’s Da Vinci Code to be among the worst novels ever written. I agree with Salmon Rushdie who said The Da Vinci Code is, “a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name,” and Stephen King who said the Da Vinci Code is, “the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”

But wait a minute -- Is it even fair to make the comparison? After all, a visit to author KRISTEN ELISE'S WEB SITE reveals her day job is actually that of Ph.D. biologist and cancer drug research specialist, the same as her Katrina Stone heroine. Elise says it was her work with a certain isotopes that inspired the plot of this book.

And yet, I think anyone can see the similarities I point out between "Vesuvius" and "Da Vinci."

Okay, with that caveat -- and clearing the table to leave all comparisons behind -- how does The Vesuvius Isotope stand on it’s own? In my view, not very well. This is a first-time novel definitely not ready for prime time. My reasons have nothing to do with unfortunate resemblances to The Da Vinci Code. For me The Vesuvius Isotope falters all by itself on many levels, including:

* The narrative does not sustain a consistent feeling of tension and urgency. That’s because the author frequently stops the action for detailed explanations (lectures) of historical facts, personalities and situations. The ancient history background is necessary to provide context for what is happening today -- but it means a full-stop in unfolding the plot. A more skilled writer would be able to weave these elements together more seamlessly.

* Overuse of flashbacks, dream elements and introspective interludes inside the head of the main character. The author relies heavily on flashbacks to flesh out characters and provide background context -- but she goes to the “flashback well” far, far too often, creating a choppy, disjointed feel to the narrative -- which is also often confusing.

* Cliche elements: As just one example, The Dr. Jeffrey Wilson character seems plucked out of a Harlequin Romance novel. He’s amazingly handsome, a multimillionaire and brilliant. He won the Nobel Prize before the age of 40! He looks fantastic while naked with his “lean surfer's body.” He not only has blue eyes, but “smoky blue eyes” (the vaunted ‘smokiness’ is mentioned no less than four times). His “sandy locks” fall seductively onto his forehead. Ladies, this delicious hunk is not only sweet, thoughtful, kind and romantic -- he loves wine, museums, flowers, Paris and surprise gifts -- he’s available!

Well, after all, this is fiction.

But there are other cliché gimmicks as well: Such as the old Hollywood ploy to bump somebody off via ye olde: “rigging the car brakes” and the hackneyed, “monkey around with the oxygen tanks of the scuba gear.”

One of the biggest drawback of the book for me is this: A murky enemy that only emerges toward the end. We eventually find out who the nefarious forces are -- but the troublemakers are only revealed in the final scenes.

Why is this a problem? Because a really thrilling novel pits a frightening, twisted, evil and devious enemy against the heroic goodness of the protagonists. In order for us to be afraid for the heroes, we need a vivid picture of how loathsome the enemy is. We need to see them, fear them and hate them. The worse the enemy, and the more viscerally defined, the more we will be afraid for our heroes. We'll also be satisfied when the creeps are defeated in a big show down at the end.

But in this novel, we only get hints of shadowy figures involved in some conspiratorial operation are scheming to trip up the do-gooders. For some reason, they don’t want a miracle cure for cancer to be found, but we don’t know why. (Certainly it must be the pharmaceutical giants, right? No, you would be wrong!) When the "big reveal" does finally come, it has all the climactic punch of a friendly game of darts.

Certainly other readers may disagree entirely with my take on The Vesuvius Isotope. Without guile I say that I hope a lot of other readers would buy this book, read it, and then come back here and tell me if my take is spot on -- or if I’m nuts.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pherick Morton: A Life and Beyond Begins With Great Promise But Quickly Devolves Into a Swamp of Preachy, Pretentious Irrelevancy

Review by KEN KORCZAK

About once a year among the more than 100 books I read per year there is always one that vividly stands out to receive “Ken’s Crash and Burn Award.” This is for books which start out with extreme promise, but then veer disastrously off course, never to recover.

In the case of PHERICK MORTON: A LIFE AND BEYOND, author PETER MESSMORE was cruising toward a rave review through the first third of the book, but then the narrative gets utterly lost, and the reader is confronted with one downright absurdity after another.

The author does a terrific job of creating unique, believable and nuanced characters who are instantly interesting. He embeds them in themes that promise to be rich in possibilities -- the conflict of fundamentalist religious beliefs confronting the world of hard rational science devoid of spirit -- in this case, super-advanced robotics.

To add even more flavor we have a background clash of a tough-as-nails international union boss striving to organize “the working class” set against the lofty world of corporate and scientific elites.

But then it all devolves into a miasma of soporific detail. The author attempts to leverage what is essentially a biography of a fictional character to drive the narrative, which is no substitute for an actual plot. There is an attempt to keep us interested by killing off a major character every 40 pages, or so, and the author adds a couple of soap-opera-like twists, but it all falls flat.

There is scene after scene that ends up having no bearing on the ultimately vague conclusion the author has in store.

For example, we get niggling and inexplicable diversions wherein the character obsesses about a marketing logo for his robotics company. There is a pointless detailing the kind of domestic cleaning robots he plans to build (you know, like the Roomba, which has already been around for more than 10 years, though this is the year 2030). Then there is the agonizing description of the fancy, pretentious house Pherick is building; the details of this clog the narrative like so much flotsam washed up to lay dead on the page.

Pherick Morton himself is a creepy character in many ways. For example, he is obsessed with genetic purity. There is a scene where he and his wife are consulting with a genetic specialist in their quest to birth a perfect child via a surrogate mother. It's like something out of a ghoulish eugenics training manual.

It would be kind to describe Pherick as a morally ambiguous character. An unkind reviewer might peg him as a self-absorbed ego maniac who easily rationalizes his use of illicitly-gained wealth -- as in when Pherick’s father supplies him with smuggled blood diamonds, some of which Pherick promptly fashions into a necklace to hang at the throat of his beloved wife. He also has one cut to serve as her engagement ring.

Blood diamonds are called so because they fund weapons procurement for brutal war lords in Africa. The results is the violent deaths of countless innocent people, including women and children. They are often obtained via child slave labor -- since Pherick is supposed to be a genius, he should know this -- he knows how his father obtained the booty -- yet he chooses to use these diamonds as his ultimate symbol of love.

He also trades illicit diamonds to pay for his brother’s brain surgery -- rather than paying medical bills the way the rest of us do -- through hard work, our own resources, or with a legitimate appeal to society. But not Pherick. He rationalizes by promising to give an amount equal to his dirty gains to charity at some later time -- you know, after all his own needs and material goals have been taken care of first.

Pherick’s conception of spirituality is fantastically bland.

Even though he receives visitations from no one less that Jesus himself while meditating in a cave in Israel, these visions do little to alter his ambitions to make gobs of money -- he buys houses, cars and the sundry material creature comforts the “real Jesus” would have found anathema.

Toward the end of the book, Pherick has earned a half-billion dollars, enabling him to retire in luxurious ease. Thus he is able to focus on his spiritual quest. He endeavors to formulate an enlightened philosophy -- but what we are eventually presented with is a warmed over interpretation of Gnosticism which anyone could glean from Wikipedia.

Pherick also establishes what is portrayed as a cutting-edge, new kind of religion free of dogma and hierarchical structure, which has nothing on the Unitarian Universalist model (and many others) that have already been around for centuries.

Most of the action is set in the future about 20 years hence, but the author has no feel for creating a world that feels any different from our own. Except for the occasional appearance of a smartphone, the action here could just as easily take place in the 1950s as the year 2030.

The final scene depicts Pherick in the afterlife, a realm depicted in a way that is amazingly mundane, clumsy and absurd. It's ridiculous, including a part where Pherick meets his old dead professor. This man reports he has been having sit-down meetings with Yeshua. (While alive, the professor had always maintained "Yeshua" was the true "Jesus.”)

The professor tells Pherick lamely: “(Yeshua) has interacted with professors before -- but not many.”

Say what? The great Yeshua is fussy about which guy with tenure and Ph.D he’ll talk to? Hmmmm. Doesn't seem to be too much of an equal opportunity Savior of All Mankind. Maybe Yeshua favors the rabble from lower society, you know, like undergraduate English majors? I don’t know, but I digress.

There are many other problems with this book as well, not the least of which is the peculiar woody way dialogue is handled -- the characters speak to each other like robots -- but I think you all get the gist of my view by now.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA