Wednesday, November 21, 2012

"Hidden" by Dublin-based writer Derick Parsons features murder and insanity and characters that are at once normal, neurotic, troubled and heroic


Meet Kate Bennett - she's a train wreck.

She's a swirling mass of neurotic self-doubt, self-questioning, self-loathing and inner confusion. She's has problems with men, problems with her job, problems with her co-workers, problems with her past, problems with her country and society. She's lonesome - she is a festering boil of dysfunctional angst - she occasionally gives into delicious, lusty sex which makes her hate herself - she seems an excellent candidate for a truck load of Valium and a future straight jacket.

Yet, her job is that of psychologist! That's right! Kate Bennett, Ph.D, is a counselor charged with healing the maladjustments of her fellow man!

Why not!

You have to admit, it makes for a great fictional premise. The blind leading the blind, as it were. Of course, most of us have always suspected this is the case anyway in real life - that no one is more screwed up than a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Anyway, that's the best thing about this book, HIDDEN, by Irish writer DERICK PARSONS. All fiction is based on character and I give the author and A+ for creating the beautiful Kate Bennett, a walking contradiction. I did mention she is drop-dead gorgeous and a sizzling sexual lioness, right? Well, she is. She attracts men like flies.

Unfortunately, these men are barely above the evolutionary scale of the common house fly - sleazy politicians, sexual deviants, criminals, and fellow psychologists with brains ruled by their testicular organs.

The trouble for me is that I can't decide if this book is supposed to be a standard romance novel or a murder-mystery thriller. It's actually a combination of both, and there's nothing wrong with this, except that, for my tastes, the author is unable to hold it together in an effective way.

Derick Parsons
The vast majority of the book is intensely internal - it dwells constantly on the tortured mental self-dialogue of Kate Bennett. She is in a perpetual state of self-questioning and misgiving. She's can't understand herself, but she squirms and struggles heroically to find clarity and change.

The problem is that this voluminous inner dialogue often becomes tedious. I think most readers will grow frustrated or exasperated as we listen in on Kate Bennett endlessly, yet fruitlessly self analyzes herself, questions her every move, doubts her every thought, second-guess her every motivation.

The author manages to cobble together a fairly reasonably complex and compelling murder mystery plot - the key to which is centered on a deeply-troubled mental patient - a shockingly lovely 18-year old girl who unfortunately can't help because she is mostly catatonic or too delusional to be of value.

But the entire plot collapses upon itself at the end like a house of cards. It does so because of the way the "big finish" scene is choreographed. To say the least, the denouement is not skillfully handled - and I mean really not skillfully handled at all. That's a shame because it tarnishes the rest of what is a well-written, well-conceived book with characters that are interesting and vivid.

My impression is that some readers will find this a 4- or 5-star read, while others will drop out well before the final chapters and rate it a 1-star read. To that end, I split the difference and offer three stars - and I will add that I believe Derick Parsons to be a deeply skilled writer with a brilliant future -- a brilliant future indeed.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Free ebook: "The Inner Consciousness: How to Awaken and Direct It" by Swami Prakashananda is well worth the read

Swami Prakashananda

This short manuscript published in 1921 is an extremely brief introduction about what it takes to expand your mind, your view of who and what you are, and seeks to explain the true nature of what we call "consciousness." It's nothing fancy but that's why it's a marvelous little document.

The approach is matter of fact and no nonsense. Swami Prakashananda takes a topic many would consider "cosmic" or "esoteric" or "mind-expanding" and boils it down to practicality. It's lean and no-nonsense. It's not lofty or New Agey, nor does it take off into soaring poetic flights of wordy wonder extolling the glories of "enlightenment."

Rather, the Swami just lays it out: This is what you must understand, this is what you must do, and by the way, it won't be easy, so dang it, get to work on it! It takes time and hard work to clear away the cobwebs of delusion. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, the Swami reminds us, and that includes getting beyond your limited, purely objective mind.

Perhaps what I like the very most about Prakashananda's tactic here is that he emphasizes that you should not accept anything on faith; don't believe anything that you can't absolutely prove to yourself by your own direct experience. Most other religious tracts urge you not to question; they demand simplistic belief in what you're told or what some ancient books proclaims. The Swami urges just the opposite. Great!

Some limited research on my part reveals that Swami Prakashananda came to the U.S. in about 1906 to work at the San Francisco Vedanta Center. He worked there as an assistant until 1914. He served under Swami Trigunatita, who was assassinated in a bomb blast set off by a "derranged ex-member" of the Vedanta Society. (READ MORE)

By 1914, however, it seems the Swami had developed some differences with the San Francisco organization and established his own center, called the Pacific Vedanta Center. He was highly regarded and some pleaded with him to return to the San Francisco Center, an offer he firmly refused.

I have as yet been able to find out more about Swami Prakashananda, who is not to be confused with a Swami of the same or very similar name who was convicted of sexual crimes just a few years ago.

At any rate, this is a terrific read, just 32 pages or so, and you can get it free here: FREE EBOOK: SWAMI PRAKASHANANDA

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH

"Progeny" by Patrick C. Greene follows a tried and true formula for a scary monster yarn featuring the legendary Bigfoot, but a tad too much formula for me


As a person who reads more than 100 books a year, it's easy for me to quickly spot patterns and formulas after reading just the first chapter or two of a novel. So it swiftly became apparent that PROGENY would deliver its plot in tried and true, but familiar formulaic fashion -- and it does so to the end.

There's nothing wrong with writing a formula or genre novel as long as the rendering is skillfully handled by the author, and PATRICK C. GREENE manages that here.

On the other hand, such a book will necessarily embody a certain blandness. Think of it like going to a fast food restaurant: It's familiar, you go there because you like it; you know what to expect; the food will be good enough; you'll get full and happy with the price -- but you won't fool yourself into believing that you just feasted at a fine bistro.

Progeny is like good fast food. It reads much like a made-for-TV movie screenplay for the Science Fiction Channel. All the standard props are here: (a) some unsavory, despicable bad guys, (b) some sweet and nice good guys, and, (c) a monster in the wilderness. I don't have to tell you what is going to happen, do I? Okay, I will anyway, and don't worry, there's no need for a spoiler alert warning because you already know the formula. You've seen it a thousand times. It goes this way:

Patrick C. Greene
Some of the bad guys - out of hubris, greed, or both - will be horribly mangled and killed by the monster. The good guys will be in grave danger, but they'll come out okay after some close scrapes and terrible frights. The bad guys will be at odds with the good guys to bolster the subplot. Speaking of subplots, you know there will be a lovely female character - one of the evil guys will have the hots for her --but she'll fall in love with the good guy somewhere along the way. This will make the evil guy even madder and creates more tension.

The good guys will emerge from their harrowing encounter with the monster enlightened, amazed, humbled and giddy to be alive. The bad guys? Most of them will be dead. Their manner of dispatch will be painful, bloody and shocking.

So in Progeny the "monster" is Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, if you prefer. But you could switch in just about any creepy beastie -- the Creature of the Black Lagoon, a giant ant, a mutant man-mosquito hybrid, chupacabra, a space-alien fiend - and everything would play out more or less the same.

Sometimes you're in the mood for a popcorn movie, or a decent but basic page-turner you can read on the beach. Well, when you're in that kind of mood, and you like scary monster stuff (like me) - this book is your choice.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Free ebook gem: "The Mosstrooper: A Legend of the Scottish Border" by Robert Scott Fittis is a marvelous, authentic document that entertains


Mining the hoary ebook files of Project Gutenberg is like panning for gold. Every once and a while you wash up a shiny nugget. Such is the case with THE MOSSTROOPER: A LEGEND OF THE SCOTTISH BORDER by Robert Scott Fittis.

Fittis was a writer’s writer and a Scotsman’s Scott. Born in 1824 in Perth, Fittis took to his pen early in life; he completed Mosstrooper at the age of just 17. That's astonishing considering the shimmering quality of this short novel. It should be noted, however, that Fittis revised this work years later after many decades of writing and publishing volumes for local “penny papers.”

The Mosstrooper was originally published in serial fashion, as were just about all of Fittis’ works that eventually became books. Fittis was a master of keeping his audience of fellow Scotts enthralled. I have been unable to find significant ancillary information about Fittis, so I’m uncertain if he achieved recognition beyond his regional popularity. He died in 1903. What’s beyond doubt is that he ascended to the status of legend within his realm – and was widely considered a favorite son of Scotland.

The Mosstrooper is a rather simple tale of tragedy and triumph, knights and damsels, set in late 1400s Scotland. The background scene is what was then the somewhat murky region of what was then the borderlands between England and Scotland. It was a time of powerful lords and barons who were virtual kings in their own right. Although nominally under the sway of the English Crown, they commanded private armies. Disputes among them were a constant source of power games, political maneuvering and war.

This border region produced a mercenary class of soldier called a “Borderer.” They were part outlaw, part Scottish nationalist, opportunistic plunderers, and as Fittis describes them: “ … rough-living, law-defying, rarely out of “sturt and strife.”

The border was also often in dispute not just between England and Scotland, but perhaps even more so among local barons, whether it be Scott against Scott or Anglo against Anglo, and any combination thereof.

What makes Mosstroopers a marvelous book is a deep authenticity engendered by a writer who was a dedicated historian obsessed with researching ancient genealogies, and poring over dusty, yellowed archives, cracking with age. Equally as important: Fittis was an ardent student of the language as expressed in poetry and verse.

Fittis gives us heady doses of the local Scottish brogue, and expertly tunes our ears to the regional enunciations in passages like this:

“Frae sunset to sunset has this hand been feckless as a withered rush,” he said. “In darkness as in licht I ha’e been weak as water. I micht ha’e flung the brat, like a stane, frae the brow o’ a fathomless precipice, never mair to be seen but by the ravens.”

Or here’s another, quoting a “gaberlunzie” which was a kind of itinerant vagabond or hobo of the Scottish countryside:

“It’s a braw and bonnie nicht,” said the begger … “a braw May nicht indeed. Look to the lift – look to the earth – there’s beauty owre a’. See – the parting beams o’ sun linger on the bald, rocky brow o’ yon hill, like a crown o’ glory, while a’ the dell aneath is losing itself in the shadow.”

It’s wonderful. Reading the Mosstroopers is as close as I’ll probably ever get to climbing into an actual time machine and traveling back to the untamed wilds of the English-Scotch borderlands – to a time of knights and barons, bravery and treachery, Scottish heroes and the beautiful maidens who held their hearts.

Ken Korczak is the facilitator of: THE DR. 58 MATERIAL

Thursday, November 1, 2012

The Green Age does not break a lot of new ground, but it's message is more urgent than ever -- our planet is in deep trouble and we need to move beyond the Industrial Age


I'm not giving this book my tip-top recommendation, but this should not indicate to anyone that I do not recommend this book without reservation. I hope everyone buys this book, reads it, and thinks a lot about its central message - that we simply must, as a species, move beyond our current petro-chemical consumerism dominated Industrial Age to a sustainable clean-energy, local organic food and local community-based "Green Age."

If we don't, the human race may not be headed toward extinction, but our children will increasingly find themselves struggling through dreary lives within a dirty, gritty, crowded, violent, dystopian nightmare kind of world.

So why not a full-blown rave for THE GREEN AGE? At this point you can continue to read my discussion or just drop out here and buy this book. Anyway, here I go:


I'm person who has already largely transformed my life toward living the Green ideal. I grow just about all of my own food. I am blessed to live in a remote rural area, and so I have plenty of room to maintain three modest gardens, on which I produce hundreds of pounds of vegetables. I also keep chickens which lay more eggs than my wife and I can use, and, yes, I butcher chickens in the fall for meat. My chickens have a free-range, Nirvana kind of existence, and a percentage of them meet a blink-of-an-eye end after a blissful summer of chicken fun and freedom.

I do everything without any gas-powered machines (not even a walk-behind tiller) or artificial fertilizers. My chickens supply the manure for the gardens, and the gardens in turn supply them with yummy corn and other stuff to eat the rest of the year. It never ceases to amaze me how a semi-crippled guy like me (I came down with harsh case of arthritis 25 years ago) armed only with a spade and a hoe, can grow so much fresh, organic food, and only working at it a few hours a day from spring to fall. (Our growing season here in northern Minnesota is barely 100 days).

I am also close to moving completely off the grid. I'm about 80% there. I heat my home with dead wood from the trees around my home; I never have to cut a live tree. My wood is sustainable because I can never come close to using more wood than nature can provide locally. But I still want an even cleaner source of heat because wood, while sustainable, is still carbon-intensive. Therefore, I want to advance to solar and/or wind, and I'm getting there - both for heat and basic electricity.

My wife and I grow so much food and my chickens produce so many eggs that we can easily give some away, to friends or a local food shelf. I never use chemicals to deal with insects or other pests. If I have a problem, I mix a concoction of water, garlic, peppers and a tiny bit of dish soap and that takes care of most bugs we have here.

None of the above is by any means my full-time job; I slave away as a freelance writer/journalist 10 hours a day, six to seven days a week. I haven't had a vacation in years, but then, my life is my vacation.

I do have a car; it's an 18-year old clunker that gets about 25 mpg, but I only drive it a short distance maybe once a week. I work at home so I don't need to commute. We don't make a lot of money, but we live well. My wife and I have a small one-bedroom house that's nice, clean and paid for. We have some modern stuff, such as TV (antenna) and Internet (wireless), but not much else. We don't have "big toys" like snowmobiles, motorcycles, ATVS, boats or that kind of stuff.


I tell you all this because I want you to know that I am a person who has come a long way toward living the Green Age lifestyle this book is advocating. I want to assure you it's an okay life, but that it comes at a certain price, and I am doubtful that the majority of people today are, as yet, willing to pay the price.

But even if people are were willing to pay the price, there are many difficult roadblocks - practical, psychological, sociological - for them to overcome - although I am proof that it is possible, and many others have done it, and many better than me.

I tell you all this so that you understand that the criticisms I am about to offer are couched in the background of person for whom a Green lifestyle is not an intellectual abstraction, but a day-to-day reality.

The first reason I withhold a top rating is this: There is little radically new information in this book. It's more or less the same points and philosophies I have encountered in dozens of other books, which I began reading in the late 1970s when I was in high school. Back then I read Thoreau, of course, but also such books as "Silent Spring" by Rachel Carlson and "The Greening of America," by Charles Reich and "The Whole Earth Catalogs" of Stewart Brand. Moving on into the 80s I read stuff like "Limits to Growth" by the Club of Rome, and I tended to buy every issue of Mother Earth News. I am also a fan of practically-yet-poetic essayists, such as Wendell Berry, and so on.

Many other books are tangential to the Green Age concept, such as "The Tao of Physics," by Fritjof Capra and "The Re-enchantment of the World" by Morris Berman, "Critical Path," by Buckminster Fuller and "The Day the Universe Changed," by James Burke. These and other books re-examine our fundamental paradigms of time, inter-connectivity, and which call into question the efficacy of reductionism in science and society.

So the Green Age echoes what has been said in a lot of other books -- but I should give the authors a pass on this because perhaps not everyone is as widely read, and so the perspective offered here may be new and enlightening to many.

For me, the biggest drawback is the latter ¼ of the book, or so, when the authors give advice and examples from their own lives which seek to demonstrate the principles they outline.


For example, one of the authors describes his careful driving practices using his Prius hybrid. First, anyone who wants to strike a true blow for the Green Age would not buy a Prius. He or she would not buy a car at all in favor of walking, biking and using public transportation. The next best choice is to buy a used older model car - (a recycled car!) - that gets decent gas mileage - especially like my two previous cars - the GEO Metro (no longer on the market), which has a 3-cylinder Suzuki engine with mileage that rivals the Prius without requiring the considerable amounts of rare metals and nickel-metal hydride batteries required by the Prius.

Yes, the Prius is a better choice than a new-model conventional car, but the gain is extremely slim when judged on a global scale. If given that both vehicles travel 160,000 lifetime miles, a conventional vehicle requires 6,500 Btu of energy per mile compared to 4,200 Btu per mile for a hybrid, and that's taking into account all parameters, including materials, building the cars, shipping them, etc.

So 4,200 Btus is better than 6,500 but that like a guy who weighs 400 pounds saying he is on a weight-loss plan because he is skipping breakfast once a week.

But wait! The latest Prius models will come equipped with an updated battery system which will enable owners to charge them up by plugging them into the grid, rather than relying on batteries only charged by the gas engine of the Prius. This modification will eliminate any advantage the Prius has over conventional vehicles because 45% of the nation's energy is generated by coal. In this case, a grid-charged Prius will have a net carbon footprint that is greater than a regular car.

To be fair, I think the author's larger point may have been in demonstrating the proper "green attitude" in the way he drives his Prius because he was eschewing an emphasis on time, speed and aggressive driving habits, and this serves as a metaphor for an attitude that should be applied universally to all aspects of our lives and activities.


The example of a Prius and careful driving habits is somewhat representative of the other lifestyle examples the authors offer after they lay out their theme. They encourage us to change our general view about the way we model our world and work, and what life should be about. To that end they suggest developing goal-setting behaviors, and they also suggest that we enhance our creativity with activities like meditation and enlisting the power of dreams.

I also have meditated most of my adult life. I began my first session of Zen meditation on May 11, 1981, and have not missed a single day of Zen in more than 31 years. I also am an adept and practitioner of lucid dreaming and leveraging dreams to enrich my life and creativity. I'm all for it.

The point is, dreaming and meditation is fine and dandy - and will make the world a better place if more people practice them - BUT -- there is a certain point when the rubber has to hit the road - and you have to do something. To the author's credit, they exhort the maxim of Gandhi - you must "be the change."

Being the change means doing something solid and real. It means planting a garden, and then actually and truly displacing your "grocery store" foods with the food you grow - and I mean really displace! - it's not as easy as you might think over the long term, and to do it month after month, year after year.

You have to forego driving a car, or actually stop driving the car you have, say, 75% to 90% of the time. Not easy to do, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere like I do. We don't have any trains or buses here, so if you don't drive, you don't go anywhere. You have to be okay with that. But going Green means choosing to shift your life away from the automobile - extremely difficult to do because of the deep and fundamentally entrenched power structures of our society.

And so forth.

But my point is that after an eloquent theoretical statement of what it means to be Green, and outlining what kind of mind-sets, cultural and sociological changes that are needed to bring about a Green Age -- the authors then offer examples of practicality that come off as "Green Lite" (granted, this may be unfair and others might disagree)--

-- it's just that, to practice better driving methods in a $22,000 mass-produced hybrid car built in enormous factories using enormous natural resources simply isn't going far enough -- not nearly -- it's not urgent enough - it's just a teeny tiny nod toward having at least the right attitude -but that's not what this is going to take. (As journalist Fareed Zakaria points out, we can drive all the Priuses we want and use all the spiral compact fluorescent bulbs we can - and India will eat the carbon savings for breakfast and China will finish the leftover savings for lunch.


As for meditation -- what 31 years of daily Zen meditation has revealed to me is that meditation is not a self-help program. It's not something to make yourself feel good, nor is it a path to some kind of cosmic bliss. What 31 years of meditation reveals is that your feelings may not necessarily be altered by the way you live - whether that be the ultimate Green Age ideal lifestyle, or a carbon-intensive Industrial lifestyle. I have lived both - I am still me. Whether you are living Green or living "dirty" the central dilemma, mystery and fundamental nature of your existence will remain the same. What this means is that a Green Age WILL change society. It MAY NOT change you. It's possible that living Green may make you even more melancholy. That's what happened to me. Or you might be happier. Everyone is different. Whatever the case, you have to come to grips with it. In this sense, the Green Age is a lot like meditation. You don't pursue it to gain something. In fact, if you do pursue meditation to gain something, you'll only get lost. If we pursue the Green Age to bring about bliss and happiness for all - then we're in for a rude awakening - or I should say, we'll never awaken.


Reading a weight loss book will not cause you to lose weight - eating less and exercising will - but you have to do it - yet many people read book after book on weight loss and stay fat, and weight loss is perennially among the best-selling category of book. Reading books about the Green Age will not make it so - you have to do something.

The authors might argue that you have to first rearrange consciousness before action can follow. That may be true, but transforming consciousness does not always or even necessarily lead to real world results. Thinking or reading about change is not change. As Gandhi said you have to "Be the change." To their great credit, the authors make this clear -- and this is what I hope the readers will take most seriously.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE FAIRY REDEMPTION OF JUBAL CRANCH