Friday, August 30, 2013

"Prophets of the Ghost Ants" by Clark T. Carlton: An absorbing, exciting work of epic fantasy that soars to the highest level of the genre -- and just pure fun!


Readers who dare enter the realm of PROPHETS OF THE GHOST ANTS should be prepared to be carried off, as if by a giant swarm of locusts, to a world of epic fantasy that rivals Lord of the Rings and is on par with the likes of Dune or Watership Down.

First-time novelist CLARK T. CARLTON pulls off an amazing feat. He “out-Gaimans” Neil Gaiman, channels a bit of Jack Vance and pulls it all together with the technical finesse of Ben Bova.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants finds a perfect balance between science fiction and fantasy but should easily cross over as mainstream fiction to enthrall a general audience. It does that with vividly realized characters embroiled in a compelling plot, all immersed in a rich and vibrant world – a beautifully imagined, yet not-so-make-believe version of the insect world.

If the idea of plunging yourself for 400-plus pages into the creepy crawly world of bugs does not appeal to you, I say, take the ride into the hive anyway! It’s a land of agonizing beauty, aching pleasures and bold loves – combined with the most abject dungs, filthy smells and putrid slimes.

Danger and horrid multi-legged death lurks behind every leaf and twig, but joy and triumph await the pure of heart and the brave.

We all know that our real-life dominion of insects is like an alternate universe. The rules “down there” are so bizarre, the behaviors so weird and the guidelines for survival are so arcane that even our species, wielding the most powerful intellects on the planet, are today at best holding a only a stalemate for dominance of the planet.

But now -- what if you could magically reduce the size of the humane race to insect scale? The “rule-set” of the survival game would completely change. All this sets up a fantastic premise for a fantasy novel – and in the hands of a gifted writer such as Mr. Carlton, the result is magical.

Prophets of the Ghost Ants also leverages our most central archetypical themes. The viewpoint character, Anand, is a Moses-Messiah-like figure – lowly born into the most abject and despised caste. But he is destined to rise through sheer force of unlimited will (and divine providence?) to become the most pivotal figure of his age.

Can Anand and his growing cadre of followers, captains and lieutenants overcome seemingly impossible odds to carve out a new kind of existence based on joy, hope and equality? Will they be crushed by the grinding cruelty of a deadly environment -- or will they succumb to swarms of human foes grown as wicked as bloodthirsty insects?

Even if you can guess the ending you’ll eagerly keep turning pages to the finish – and then, believe me -- you’ll be wishing for the quick release of a second book in what promises to be a trilogy. As for me, I’ll be relentlessly sawing my legs like a cricket chirping away for Hollywood to make the movie.

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: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Free SF ebook "Creatures of the Abyss" by Murray Leinster is abysmal


Oh hey, let me tell you: CREATURES OF THE ABYSS by MURRARY LEINSTER is truly some putrid pulp. This novel by one of science fiction’s greatest masters is not as bad as it gets – it’s worse than “as bad as it gets.”

Even in a genre where high quality was not often a prerequisite, here is a piece of work that provides abundant ammunition for all those bookish snobs who relegate science fiction to “the urinal of literature.”

Leinster has been dead for almost 40 years, but I feel like I should conduct a séance so that I can demand back from his soul the hours I spent dragging my eyes across this work of fiction, which not so much qualifies as writing, but as a bizarre waste container for writing.

What I mean is: This book stinks. It’s depressing that a man who spent his entire life writing as much as he could and selling everything he produced to dozens of top-line publishers should have such bland contempt for his own craft, and his readers.

Pulp fiction writers were famous for cranking out “one-run-only-through-the-typewriter” schlock, but in this case, Leinster evinces an “I’m-on-automatic-pilot-cranking-out-crap” sense of entitlement that displays scorn for his readers, and who knows, perhaps a dollop of self-loathing thrown in.

Life is strange. There is great beauty in our world, blissful works of art, soaring achievements in literature, but sometimes, when you least expect it, you step in a pile of shit.

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Fighting for An American Countryside is a short ebook examining the plight of small town America, focusing on Minnesota: It also is a multimedia platform with video


I was delighted to see a free Kindle book offered by Minnesota Public Radio News. As a resident of our far-flung rural northlands, the subject matter promised to be one of great interest for me - the plight of rural and small-town America.

I was not disappointed.

Written by MPR reporter JENNIFER VOGEL, this short book is perhaps more a very long, in-depth news piece than an actual "book" - but it is also multimedia vehicle because it embeds a series of videos throughout to support the text.

Alas, I am still slumming with my old first generation Kindle, so my device does not support watching the videos. Thus, I did not get the full impact of the information presented; so I warn other readers who are still in the "Kindle Stone Age" with me, unless you have the proper Kindle Fire or other device, you won't be able to view the many video spots offered throughout.

I also navigated over to the MPR GROUND LEVEL web site to see if I might see the videos there, but could not find them - although I did not spend a lot of time searching.

(And one more mild warning to the general audience: The title is "FIGHTING FOR AN AMERICAN COUNTRYSIDE" - but it would have been more proper to call it the "MINNESOTA" countryside because the focus is almost exclusively here on the North Star State).

Anyway - In about 90 Kindle pages, Vogel skillfully provides a sweeping overview of the challenges facing rural Minnesota, and its small towns. She does a masterful job of highlighting an array of issues and challenges - shrinking and aging populations, dwindling tax bases, loss of schools and businesses, the flight of young people to big cities, rural health care challenges and even transportation and Internet availability issues.

She also zeroes in on solutions, and does so with some marvelous individual case study profiles. She introduces us to real people in small towns who are doing incredibly innovative things to breathe life back into their communities - from folks establishing cultural and art centers, to sustainable farming start-ups, renewable energy projects and various other innovative business models.

Author, Jennifer Vogel
Vogel finds a perfect balance between presenting the dire situations and enormous problems of a changing world to outlining a possible road map that might direct us to a brighter future.

So this is a terrific piece of work that I think will be inspirational especially to folks like me living in small towns -- although I really hope folks in Urban America read it closely as well.

One last thing: I can't think of a better person to be judging this work than myself.

I have worked as a newspaper reporter in every part of the state -- in the far southeast corner at the Winona Daily News, the far northwest corner at the Hallock Enterprise, in the west at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal and right in the center of Minnesota at the Pequot Lakes Echo.

Take it from an aging burned out newspaper guy who has covered Small Town Minnesota on the ground and in-depth for years - Jennifer Vogel hits the mark with this terrific ebook. (I only wish I could see the videos).

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, and served two years as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer. He taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years and is former communications coordinator for Minnesota's Board of Water and Soil Resources. Ken is the author of:MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

William Hazelgrove hits a home run with his latest novel, The Pitcher


The last book I read by William Hazelgrove was ROCKET MAN -- and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to come to a quick conclusion about his latest novel, THE PITCHER.

This is a straight-up feel good novel designed to milk your emotions and tug at your heart strings. It’s a big fat fastball tossed right down the heart of home plate – and most readers will be taking all the way, and glad they did.

At the end of the novel, you may feel like you hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs in the Seventh Game of the World Series. MR. HAZELGROVE is a literary engineer who knows how to manufacture a resounding conclusion you will feel in the gut.

So -- The Pitcher is a sports novel perhaps directed primarily at young teenage males, but it’s meaty enough for adults to enjoy as well.

The story revolves around an unlikely triad – a poor Mexican-American boy growing up in south Florida with an illegal immigrant mother who is divorced, unemployed, riddled with deadly health problems but with no insurance to pay for treatment.

The third leg of the stool is a Major League Baseball pitcher who is long past his day glory days. Years ago he reached the summit of the baseball Nirvana – winning the World Series. Now he’s a pathetic drunk running out the time clock of his life as a booze-soaked TV zombie, hazed with tobacco smoke and drooling spittin’ chaw.

Young Ricky Hernandez, age 14, has nothing going for him; he’s poor, edging toward homelessness and academically adrift. He‘s among the brown-skinned ethnic American underclass. He has a violent absentee father who only who only shows up occasionally to slap around his ex-wife and kid, or steal money. On top of that, Ricky has a learning disability and yes – he’s unfocused and lazy.

But wait, Ricky does have a gift – a rocket for an arm. He’s a natural; that is, he would be, if he could only get his fuzzy mind together, get some discipline, develop a work ethic and burnish his golden arm into the shining ticket it could be to the good life. It just so happens that the guy living across the street in self-imposed alcoholic exile is a slowly rotting baseball god -- but can Ricky reawaken the Old Deity to get the help he needs?

William Hazelgrove
Needless to say, it all comes together for a wonderful Frank Capra-esque conclusion – and so now that 90% of you have dropped out of the review by this time and are trotting over to the nearest bookstore or Amazon to get a copy – it’s time for me to push “Ordinary Book Reviewer Ken” aside and unchain from the basement my evil twin brother, “Cynical Jaded Pedantic Book Reviewer Ken.”


William Hazelgrove is one of the most interesting writer’s in America today; some critics say he’s resuscitating great American literature, and I agree. In addition to reading Rocket Man, I have also occasionally browsed his web site, THE VIEW FROM HEMINGWAY'S ATTIC. He’s obviously a thoughtful man of insight whose views I am entirely in sync with.

But for the sake of doing my (nonpaying) job as a book reviewer, I must add these observations about vexing aspects of The Pitcher which nettled me along the way:


Many frustrated social critics and reformers working in our inner cities say that young people of color, especially blacks, have been oversold on the fantasy that the best way off the Mean Streets of America is success in sports. Only a tiny – very tiny – fraction of any ethnic minority ever make the big leagues, yet like people playing the lottery, millions of young men of color all believe they at least have a shot at sports fame and riches. They don’t ... but the result is they end up ignoring other more constructive life pursuits for a near-impossible dream. This book leverages that same fantasy. I highly recommend an essay by Lee Jones, “Hoop Dreams, Hoop Realities,” here: HOOP DREAMS

On the other hand, some might reasonably argue this is a story about a boy who is just trying to make the high school team and prove something to himself.

• A technical Point:

Years ago I had a chance to sit down with one of America’s most successful writers, Ben Bova. I asked him to give me his best writing tips and he said, “Make sure your characters always get out of their own jams.”

He said that when the character is always getting saved by the cavalry thundering over the hill, or by a white knight that swoops in to save the day it robs the story of punch.

Bova said you should make your characters solve their own problems, get themselves out of their own scrapes, even if you, as writer, have to “practically kill them” in the process. Don’t let someone or something else magically swoop in and provide salvation. Bova’s advice might be applied to several scenes of the The Pitcher, and I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

• Derivative Themes: The Pitcher is basically “The Karate Kid” as baseball. The student wears mitt and hat rather than a dogi and belt; the “master” is burned out drunk rather than a humble Zen handyman. Hazelgrove even seems to give a preemtpive nod to the movie in this passage:

“I breathe heavily and I really want to learn how to pitch. I feel like that boy in the movie Karate Kid where the guy is teaching the boy how to wax his car you know, wax on, wax off.”

• Predicable outcomes:

While Hazelgrove is a master of creating tension and getting the reader to root eagerly for his characters, no one will be surprised by the ending, even if they are delighted.

• Enough saccharine to give you diabetes

Many years ago in the blissful days before the Internet I sold my second article to a national magazine – it was a story about my cat. Cat Fancy magazine bought it, and when it came out, my older brother read it and said in a tone laced with contempt: “Boy you really laid on the sappy schmaltz pretty thick.”

God! Did that ever hurt my feelings! But it was true; my article was emotional and sappy … but … on the other hand, what’s wrong with lathering on the sticky sentiment?

I still don’t know the answer – some might say too much sentimentality is gratuitous – or maybe going for the “cheap score.” Well, I only bring it up here because it’s my job to inform my readers about what to expect. Especially in the denouement, the tenor of The Pitcher is far more “Harlequin Romance” than “gritty inner-city drama about a tough Mexican-American kid.” It’s a Hollywood Ending that oozes smarm.

I have a few other quibbles (in fact, several) but I have already gone on way too long – no matter what I say or think, this is a compelling read that even the most cynical among us can enjoy, and even if that means we must keep our cranky alter-egos shackled in a dark basement corner.

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Once Upon a Missing Time by long-time UFO researcher Philip Mantle is a terrific read that is compelling and entertaining, a work of integrity but never waxes ponderous


When I saw that one of Britain’s most respected, renowned and dogged UFO investigators, PHILIP MANTLE, had published a work of UFO fiction my first thoughts were, “Uh-ho.”

That’s because I have been down this road before with researchers famous in the UFO field, most notable the great Jacques Vallée, who a few years back took a turn at fiction with his novel Fastwalker. It was pretty bloody awful.

Others in UFO or similar fields have also attempted a fictional turn with disastrous results, notably NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin who wrote a fantastically boring science fiction novel called Encounter With Tiber – and I refuse to even speak of Graham Hancock’s recent foray into fiction.

And so I was not only pleasantly surprised – but absolutely delighted by Mantle’s, “ONCE UPON A MISSING TIME.” This is a terrific book that delivered everything I expected from a tale of close encounters with strange beings – but the plot also took unexpected turns which makes this book a work of depth and pragmatic integrity.

As far as I can tell, the story is based on a bona fide UFO abduction event known as the Aveley Abduction which occurred on a dark country road in West Essex in 1974. I believe the story was first reported in Flying Saucer Review by writer and long-time UFO investigator Andrew Collins. Collins also writes about the Aveley Abduction in his recent book, LIGHTQUEST. (See my review of LightQuest HERE).

I’ve also seen the story of the Aveley Abduction bounced around in the endless echo chamber of the Internet – often with details slightly altered and with the “names changed to protect the innocent” – but with the core of the story essentially in tact. Some call it the U.K.'s “most important UFO multiple abduction case."

The events involve an ordinary family: Dad a school teacher and mum a social worker, who along with their 12-year-old daughter, enjoy a middle class lifestyle that couldn’t be more grounded and normal. But then they confront the extraordinary – or I should say – the extraterrestrials!

The result is the shattering of three lives. In additional to the eschatological shock of having their world views torn to shreds, the larger effect precipitated upon the close-nit, small-town and social network of their staid Yorkshire community is vexing, to say the least.

What makes Once Upon a Missing Time truly a top-notch read is Mantle’s considerable skill at creating vivid characters. He makes us feel strong empathy for them as they struggle with their stunning situation.

Believe me, taking a run-of-the-mill school teacher and a plodding social worker and selling them to the reader as interesting and sympathetic characters is no easy task for any writer – but Mantle pulls it off.

The author gets it done – in my opinion – by not being a blowhard and trying his hand at “great literature.” Rather, Mantle writes within his own capabilities. His years spent writing nonfictional UFO accounts and serving as editor of a number of UFO publications has provided him with the pragmatic clarity of a journalist, but also the expanded skill of observation required for someone in the endlessly enigmatic, twisted and tangled field of Ufology.

The result is tale well told, the ordinary made extraordinary, and a piece of fiction that displays a keen eye for what makes common people tick. Once Upon A Missing Time has my highest recommendation.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS