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Michael Siemsen’s new novel “Exigency” is a thrilling science fiction romp

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

For the 347,098,789th time in science fiction, an intrepid crew of brilliant scientists/astronauts crash land on a distant planet, and now must struggle to survive in an exotic environment populated by multiple species of aliens, some hostile, some not so hostile, and others that just fill out the flora and fauna of an alien world.

No, there is little cutting-edge invention in this latest offering by rising SF star MICHAEL SIEMSEN. It’s all tried-and-true formula stuff with the same themes that have been explored time and again since the creation of the genre.

Even one of the most intriguing plot elements – the way which an alien species achieved a fast track to superior intelligence – has been done before. The very same situation was brilliantly employed by Jack Vance in his 1973 novel, The Asutra. (I won’t tell you any more about this because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.)

My point is, like most new works of science fiction today, EXIGENCY stays safely ensconced within the broad parameters of science fiction solidified over the past century, and especially during the “Golden Age” of science fiction.

But you know what? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with formula fiction as long as we have a writer who is up to the task of making it all seem fresh and stimulating again.

Think of it like blues music. It’s all based on just one fundamental riff: “dah-de, dah-de, dah-dah.” The challenge then is to take that basic form and innovate within it to keep making it seem new, reborn and freshly alive. Hundreds of artists have done it. “The Blues” never go out of style.

I’m happy to say that Exigency not only makes what’s old in science fiction exciting, vibrant and new – but it’s also thrilling and fun.

I found this novel to be engaging and enjoyable from first page to last. The reason why it works is:

• Well-developed characters that we instantly care about. The primary character Minnie (Minerva) is complex. She is at once brilliant, warm and likable, but just as often, cold, self-absorbed and exasperating. She is courageous, tough and talented beyond belief – but also struggles with a debilitating Achilles heel. So she has everything you want in a SF heroine, and maybe some things you don’t want – which, in turn makes for top-notch fiction.

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Michael Siemsen

• Almost from the beginning Siemsen expertly builds relationships between his characters (without ever letting the pace drag). This provides an emotional cohesion that is necessary to sustain our interest in the characters as they face their various challenges to survive on an alien world.

• A fully-realized, vividly imagined world that has a depth which not always apparent to the reader up-front, but which looms offstage in a way we can feel intuitively, yet without belaboring us literally.

• The writing is tight – there is very little in the way of exposition, which is the downfall of so many lesser science fiction writers.

• Aliens that are sufficiently alien, yet not so bizarre and exotic as to be entirely un-relatable. This is yet another tried-and-true element of science fiction which, although nothing new, is necessary to sustain the relationship with the reader.

• Plot – well, okay, there really isn’t much of a plot. It can be summed up as: “Stranded space travelers struggling to survive a harsh, alien environment. Will they make it?” But – yes, I’m going to say it – you don’t always need a strong plot to make for an absorbing, exciting read. (To hell with all of those literary snobs who would tell you different). After all, science fiction has always been the “literature of ideas” which separates it from the requirements of mainstream fiction.

But wait a minute, didn’t I already say there were precious few new “ideas” in this novel. Yes, I did, but it’s still a thumping read – and that means Michael Siemsen just has “that undefinable something” that enables him to write a terrific, captivating novel.

It reminds me of the great science fiction editor John Campbell, the famously imperious and despotic leader of Astounding Science Fiction, and the time in the late 1930s when he read a story submitted by A.E. Van Vogt.

The short novel was “The Weapon Shop.” According to ALEXEI PANSHIN, writing in his book The World Beyond the Hill, a study of science fiction:

“… the story proved to have a very strange effect on the editor. As he was reading this novelet, he recognized that he was enjoying it thoroughly. But when Campbell attempted to analyze the story intellectually, he just couldn’t see why it should be so effective.”

Panshin later explains why Van Vogt’s works can invoke such a magical effect on many readers (but completely turn off others) – and all I will say here is that the reason Siemsen’s novel is so enjoyable (and perhaps not so much for others) is due to a similar (similar but not exactly the same) effect.

But I’m not going to go into that further here – this review is already way too long.

In the final analysis – because of what science fiction is today, where it has come from and where it is going – what we truly need to make for a thoroughly enjoyable read is an author who has that certain “Van-Vogt-Like-Effect” that makes us want to keep turning the pages, and wishing that a 400-plus tome such as this was even a 100 pages longer.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Author Jimmy Olsen’s “Things In Ditches” will be the best murder mystery novel you have read in years — I guarantee it

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

If you’re an avid murder-mystery fan, or love crime novels, drop everything you are doing right now and purchase this book. Don’t even finish reading my review. Get the book now.

THINGS IN DITCHES by Minnesota writer JIMMY OLSEN is simply fantastic entertainment – a novel so well-crafted, so loaded with twists and turns, so darkly funny, but also with moments of serious psychological rigor – that it should have claimed a spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

Well, um, maybe it did, I don’t know: This book was first issued 15 years ago, and then seems to have been reissued again in 2010, Whatever the case, the best books are timeless, and this one still reads as fresh as the June kale in my garden.

It’s the story of the murder of an achingly lovely blonde woman whose strangled body is found in a ditch just outside a small Minnesota town. Olsen has us going right from the start by introducing us to the killer on the very first page. Even so, I doubt that the savviest Sherlock Holmesian murder-mystery solver will be able to guess what is really going on here.

Take it from me — a guy who grew up in a northern Minnesota town of 700 people — Olsen brilliantly captures the cultural texture of that unique fabric which makes up a tiny Minnesota community of just a few hundred folks.

But wait, there’s something even better. Olsen doesn’t settle for mere reality. A true wordsmith understands that writing is art, and so there is just a molecular thin layer of fictional unreality spread over this depiction of small-town life.

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Jimmy Olsen

This fictional patina adds an almost imperceptible shimmer that makes ordinary semi-rural folks seem just slightly extraordinary – and this in turn makes for a read that is more fun, more dark, more light, more funny, more sad – in a way that gives us just a slightly deeper peek through the veil, so to speak.

At the risk of blathering on with too much literary analysis, I just want to mention one more thing: Genuinely talented novelists understand that there is no such thing as a minor character. I read more than 120 books per year, and I would estimate that 95% of writers don’t understand this – yet it is so critically important.

Most writers think that if a main character goes into a convenience store, the store clerk can be some throw-away cardboard prop — no need to describe, or flesh out a quick character sketch. But that’s an incredible missed opportunity to add an element of richness to a novel.

But look at the way Jimmy Olsen describes a character who appears for just one brief scene in a couple of pages:

“Curtis Rylander had the sloping forehead of an ape. He also had a bad complexion, skin craters ripe with raw zits and pus-laden whiteheads. Curtis wore a stocking cap even, in summer, to hide his head.”

Curtis Rylander is in the narrative for about 10 seconds but he comes instantly alive!

I must also mention a scene where the author enlists another minor character that just happens to be a timber wolf – again, not just an anonymous beast loping through the woods – Olsen brings the animal to life so vividly and skillfully that it reads like a stand-alone short story – and a short story worthy of Jack London himself!

Reading along I kept saying to myself: This is just a brilliant book!

Having said the above, I must now say I came razor close to issuing my “Ken’s Persian Rug of Literature Penalty” to this author for certain transgressions, but first let me explain “Ken’s Persian Rug of Literature Penalty.”

The ancient carpet weavers of the Persian Empire, beginning in the 8th Century, are renowned for creating the most exquisite rugs in the world. But these master artisans always purposefully included an intentional flaw in each rug – sometimes just a single stitch.

The reason they did so was because they believed that creating something too perfect would be an affront to God.

Well, this book contains not one – but two – teeny-tiny flaws worthy of “Ken’s Persian Rug of Literature Penalty” – but I have opted not to issue these citations today because … well, I’ve just read a great book, I have been thoroughly entertained, and I’m in a good mood.

Also, 99.8 percent of all the books I read cannot even hope to approach “Ken’s Persian Rug of Literature Penalty” because, well, all of these books are nowhere near perfection, as this book is It’s a masterful, nearly perfect murder mystery.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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“I Am Titanium” by John Patrick Kennedy is a super hero novel that reflects our violent movie/video game” culture

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is a book about two ordinary young people who suddenly become extraordinary beings.

In the case of the young man, he’s not so typical because, for starters, he’s 17 but already on his death bed. Pax is dying from a horrific disease called scleroderma – it involves the tightening of the skin and connective tissue. It’s an agonizing way to die.

His only friend, Scarlett, has problems not quite as urgent: She’s a drab, gawky 17-year-old whose lack of feminine grace, good looks and charm means she’s not exactly the most popular girl in school. She’s an outcast and bullied.

But the fortunes of both Pax and Scarlett are about the change in a most amazing way: A couple of meddling “super beings” from the astral world are going to transform them into powerful, indestructible entities with god-like powers – Pax’s diseased body will be replaced with solid titanium and Scarlett will be made of “negative energy” and fire.

If it sounds like an intriguing premise for a thrilling fantasy/science fiction novel, well, it is. It’s made more interesting because there is a decent plot here – Pax and Scarlett are immediately caught up in a game of inter-dimensional politics which will determine nothing less than the survival of the entire human race.

Author JOHN PATRICK KENNEDY writes extremely well; his prose is natural and fluid. He has a lucid, no-nonsense style. He definitely has a sense of pacing and rhythm, balancing scenes of intense, violent action with periods of serene and calm.

And yet, acknowledging all of the above, I AM TITANIUM left me feeling bland and uninspired, even depressed. I’ll be brutally honest: I felt relieved to get to the last page – much in the same way that people are glad when one of Michael Bay’s over-long Transformer movies finally rolls credits.

It’s that frustrating feeling to be inexplicably bored while embroiled in long scenes of spectacular, intense action and eye-popping special effects – while at the same time knowing that all this eye candy is about as nutritious as real candy – empty calories that taste good, but ultimately leave you starved.

The action scenes in this book go on way too long, especially the epic battle between Pax and “the monster” in the latter third of the book. It grinds away page after page and quickly wears tedious – and then after all that, the “monster” and Pax end up working for the same cause anyway!

There are other factors that also seriously erode our reading experience. For example, before obtaining super powers, Scarlett was a typical angst-ridden teen, at odds with her parents, a loser at love (actually, a total nonstarter) and socially alienated. After she gets super powers, she becomes something even worse. Still angst ridden, alienated and troubled in love – even though all on a different level and for different reasons now.

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John Patrick Kennedy

Despite the fact that he’s dying, Pax starts out as a hopeful, even positive young man with a meaningful goal – the study of the astral realms — but after he obtains super powers, he becomes a typical sullen teen with an endless stream of things to aggravate him and complain about.

A long bout of losing his virginity (having sex seven times in one session) only results in complicated “girlfriend” problems.

His dialogue devolves into a series of grunted monosyllabic phrases liberally seasoned with the “F word.”

His own inept actions (such as accidentally killing a street protestor) infuses him with existential angst.

His rocky relationship with his mother deteriorates to an even lower order.

Speaking of mom, Pax’s mother, Dr. Julia Black, is revealed to have a level of humanity barely above that of the infamous Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele – and she becomes the focal point of an almost inexplicable series of scenes wherein she interacts with some AI robots – which is at best, tangential to the entire narrative and, at worst, borders on not making much sense.

However, for me, what is truly dejecting and saddening about this book is that the mass of humanity is treated as so much insignificant cannon fodder – uncounted thousands of people are killed, maimed, burned, crushed, eaten, hacked up, stabbed, flung through the air, smashed against walls, mashed into pulpy lumps of flesh – it’s all part of the collateral damage resulting from the wacky adventures of two teen super heroes fighting to save humanity.

I found myself wishing that a book that centers on an epic battle to save humanity would display an overall greater sense or empathy for that humanity.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Author Steve Anderson enthralls with poignant stories of ordinary people in small-town Ohio

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

There exists in America a special place where you’ll find a transition zone between two distinct cultures.

It’s a mixture of the staid, straightforward practically of Midwesterners with the wild, mysterious blend of the Deep South as shaped by the edge of the Appalachian wilderness. That location is southeast Ohio.

If a writer could capture the flavor of that unique mixture of Americana by telling the stories of ordinary people with a collection of short stories – anyone reading it would gain a certain deeper understanding of the American experience.

It would also be incredibly entertaining!

I’m delighted to report that Ohio author and film-maker STEVE ANDERSON has accomplished this subtle task with this collection of short stories titled: 1979.

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Steve Anderson

On the outside these tales would seem to be a series of coming of age “booze and boobs” vignettes featuring hormone-driven pre-adolescents and teenagers who are just waking up into a world where temptations abound – cheap wine, beer, sexy young girls, (and a few lusty older women), fast junky cars, cheap dope and the delicious discovery of that first kiss coupled with a daring grope of breast.

However, by design or accident, these stories deliver more than just surface-level entertainment. Let’s face it; each offering here is a little work of art. The writing often transcends the quality of being merely entertaining yarns to delivering that sense of:

“There is something real here that strikes a chord. I’m not sure what it is, but I can feel it.”

I can’t decide if Steve Anderson is one of those natural writer who is able to make stories like these just flow off his fingertips, or if he is one of those dogged writers, rewriters and revisers – but who cares? He writes extremely well.

Reader will quickly forget that some guy is trying to enthrall them with words because we’re swept away by each of these stories right from the first sentences, and before you know it, the story is done. Then you realize you have just forgotten that you were sitting in an uncomfortable chair squinting at words on a page because you were magically transported 35 years into the past to a small town in Ohio– it’s as if you lived a few visceral hours through the eyes and feelings of the characters.

I like writers who understand that if you just tell a story, everything else will take care of itself – and also comprehend the importance of character. Anderson’s characters pop off the page, alive, fresh and vivid, almost certainly because he based his creations on real people he knew while growing up in the 1970s.

I don’t want you to think what you’re going to get here is a lot of bland “Happy Days” nostalgia ala an idealized version of what life might have been like in 70s-era small town America. Anderson shows that, like the mean streets of Detroit, the tough hoods of New York or the gang infested barrios of Los Angeles – small towns can incubate their own festering brand of mean street cruelty.

With the cool gaze of an unflinching observer, Anderson regales us with sweat-inducing scenes, such as a man getting brutally whip-beaten with a metal car antenna; a tornado breaking the back of cow; wild-eyed southern boys pulling off the pants of a young boy in an alley and then meting out a tooth-knocking thrashing before they nearly cut off his testicles with a dirty pocket knife.

Yes, you’ll find sweetness and sentiment here, good times and laughs, but there’s also loneliness and boredom, betrayal and alienation, lust and violence – all part of an unvarnished look at the basic reality of life — delivered to your doorstep courtesy the pen of one … savvy … wordsmith!




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Jack Pine: A murder mystery set in Minnesota that few real Minnesotans would recognize

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is not so much a book using Minnesota as a backdrop, but a novel that creates a kind mythological Minnesota that does not exist in reality – unfortunately, the mythical Minnesota elements are largely gleaned from Hollywood movie clichés and bland, surface-level stereotypes.

Yes, this is fiction so anything goes and I believe in granting any writer all the poetic license they want to make up a story in an imaginary world – but for me, this novel comes off as a clumsy mish-mash of standard fictional props, well-worn plot gimmicks and jarring inconsistencies.

The setting is present-day Minnesota where people carry smartphones, yet there are beads-and-sandals wearing hippies that seem to have time-traveled from 1960s California to reappear as “tree huggers” in the Boundary Waters; there’s a Minnesota cop who is essentially a Clint Eastwood cowboy from a 1970s spaghetti western; there are Native Americans who are still using bows and arrows and painting their faces (that’s right) and journalists, doctors, loggers and country attorneys who never seem to have progressed out of the 1940s.

It’s also breathtaking how much the author gets wrong about Minnesota – I kept asking myself throughout this book: “Where was this guy’s editor?”

For example, take this sentence:

“The ice melted and filled the thousand lakes of Minnesota and then the trees grew on top of the rock.”

Say what? A thousand lakes? Or course, Minnesota is the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” It’s on our license plates. Technically, Minnesota has 11,842 lakes if you want to Google it.

Or this sentence:

“Diane had the frankness that comes from watching a father die of black lung disease and going to work full time when she was just sixteen.”

There is no black lung disease found in Minnesota miners. We have taconite mines and black lung disease is not associated with taconite mining, but rather, coal mining. Black lung disease is something you find in West Virginia or Kentucky – true, Minnesota miners have higher incidence of lung disease, but this is associated with asbestos and/or silica dust in mines. This produces a condition called mesothelioma, a disease of the outer lining of the lungs. To invoke black lung disease in a Minnesota story is simply culturally and scientifically ridiculous.

Or this sentence:

“Thought maybe it was the girl who was in the shed, but she didn’t sound like she was from the lower forty-eight.”

Again I have to ask in utter perplexity: Say what? I mean: “The lower forty-eight”?

What on earth is he talking about? Again and again, the characters use the term “lower forty-eight” to refer to anyone from outside of Minnesota – except that Minnesota IS ONE OF THE LOWER FORTY-EIGHT!

No one that I know of here my home state of Minnesota refers to outsiders as being from the lower forty-eight, and why should we? We are among the lower forty-eight, we all know we are among the lower forty-eight, and so why refer to someone from, say, Illinois, as being from the lower forty-eight?

It’s just inexplicable! Again, where was this guy’s editor?

Speaking of bad editing, the books is loaded with clumsy sentences, downright grammatically incorrect constructions and confusing elements of time. As an example of a bad sentence, try this one:

“Tom Jorde stabbed a computer resembling a large egg in a green T-shirt of white lettering—SAVE THE SPOTTED OWL FROM EXTINCTION.”

Did the author really mean to suggest that an egg-shaped computer was wearing a t-shirt?

Throughout reading this novel, I found myself literally gasping and searching with frustration for the best superlatives to describe what I was reading: absurd, ridiculous, painfully wrong … even though this is merely fiction. But even when writing fiction, there should be some adherence to plausible reality unless you’re writing out-and-out fantasy, not a mainstream novel.

Much of my exasperation is with the way the author tries to handle “Minnesota Speak,” – his effort is clumsy and just beyond absurd (there’s that word again.) I mean, whether the character is a doctor from Minneapolis, a lawyer, a redneck logger, a Native American or resort owner – they all talk like 100% Norsky-hillbilly hicks who just fell off the boat from Norway, smelling of pickled herring and lutefisk.

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William Hazelgrove

Oh ya, you betcha, everyone talks like this here, you know … ya, oh ya, fer sure, that’s right there then what do yer think of that there here?

Even Minnesota’s Native Americans are portrayed to speak this way – and if you grew up with and have known Minnesota Natives for your entire life like I have – then you would understand how just exasperatingly ludicrous it is to make a Minnesota Indian sound like Sven Swenson from the old country, even in a work of fiction.

Take it from me. I was born in Roseau, a small hockey-power town where the snowmobile was invented, and where the Polaris factory is still the primary employer. I also have worked as a newspaper reporter and Minnesota state government official – I have lived in a remote corner of Minnesota all my life — but I have traveled all 87 counties of our state interviewing thousands of Minnesotans while writing about Main Street Minnesota over the past 30 years.

So you can believe it when I say the only place in Minnesota where people speak like Ole and Lena is in Hollywood movies – such as Fargo — and the occasional sketch on Minnesota icon Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio show.

It’s not that I am insulted by the way Mr. Hazelgrove or any fictional media like to play up the mythical Norsky-Hillbilly Minnesota speak – far from it – I think it’s fun. I love it. I was delighted by the movie Fargo (one scene was filmed practically right in my back yard) – I loved police chief Marge Gunderson and auto dealer Jerry Lundegaard – and the way Frances McDormand and William H. Macy mastered and really nailed the faux-Minnesota accent – except this movie was CLEARLY PLAYING IT FOR LAUGHS.

In JACK PINE, a serious murder mystery, we are expected to believe that regular, everyday Minnesotans from all professions and all walks of life, young and old, all talk like Ole Olson – he was a guy from my home town of Greenbush. Ole owned a Swedish potato sausage business in the 40s, 50s and 60s, died at the age of 97, born in 1905 – so yes, sure, he had that distinctive Scandinavian sing-song gate to his speech – but his generation are largely gone from our state and culture now.

To be clear: My low rating of this novel goes well beyond my problems with the portrayal of the language – the writing is frequently muddy and unclear, the time sequencing of key events is confusing to say the least, the characters are cookie-cutter cliché props borrowed from Hollywood movies, the metaphors are strained, the descriptions of the Minnesota wilderness misfire … and on and on.

All this and I’m a big WILLIAM HAZELGROVE fan – this is the fourth of his novels I have read, and I have reviewed all here and given all my top rating. Hazelgrove is a fiercely talented novelist who is one our finest modern American novelists working today – but nobody is perfect – and Jack Pine is a certified bust.

As penance for penning this disaster, I hereby sentence William Hazelgrove to read five JON HASSLER novels, two Sinclair Lewis novels, say three Hail Marys, strive to amend his life, and go in peace.

IMPORTANT FINAL NOTE:

Despite filling every page with characters aping the Hollywood faux-Minnesota Speak, the author fails to use even once the most genuine, ingrained and ubiquitous Minnesota idiom of them all, the one word that all Minnesotans actually and truly do use: UFF DA!

That’s right – not once! Minnesota! Home of the uff da taco! (A taco made with lefse for a wrap).

Not one use of uff da! within a 300-page novel set in the culture of Minnesota.

That is absolutely ridiculous.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Just crowdsource it all with Mindsharing: Lior Zoref’s vision for a future of mankind as a hive species

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

The author of this book is rightfully exuberant about the wonders of the crowdsourcing phenomenon, and his new spin on it, for which he has coined a fresh term: MINDSHARING.

I fully acknowledge the many positive aspects of the revolution he is talking about – the incredible power of the crowdsourcing phenomenon and the new and innovative ways all of us can leverage social media platforms to advance our lives.

For the most part, it’s a terrific book, I recommend you buy it. But what concerns me about the book is author LIOR ZOREF‘s failure to fully acknowledge the dark side of crowdsourcing and what he calls Mindsharing — and have no doubt, there is a dark side.

In any revolution, there are always winners and losers. Let’s just acknowledge that.

For example, take such long-time professionals as journalists, freelance writer, photographers and graphic artists. One of my close associates, who is a talented graphic artist, described the situation this way:

“Imagine if someone needed a plumber. In the “old days,” he would have gone to the Yellow Pages, hired a professional, contracted for the work and the plumber would have been paid for the services he or she rendered.

“But now imagine if a person could instead put out a call to get 20 plumbers to come to his house, fix his leaky pipes, and then only one of them got paid. The rest had to work for free. And the one plumber who did get paid earned 90% less than he previously did.

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Lior Zoref

“That’s crowdsourcing – good for the guy who needed the plumber, but bad for all plumbers.”

My friend’s plumber analogy is basically what has happened to tens of thousands of graphic artists, he said.

Today, if someone needs a new logo, there is little need to hire or pay a professional graphic artist to do the work. All you have to do is go to a crowdsourcing site, select from among thousands of logos that have been professionally designed and loaded onto a website.

Because each artists’ logo will be one of thousands, the most he or she can get for his work is many $1 to $10 – but it’s much more likely they will almost never sell a piece of commercial art. The crowd is just too massive. There’s too much competition – and everyone is working for free. Selling something you designed is more akin to playing the lottery.

In fact, this is the way Mr. Zoref arrived at the final the cover design for this book. To his credit, he at least acknowledges the downside. He writes:

“There are some who say that Web sites such as 99designs make designers work without getting paid (unless their design is chosen), while others see it as a disruptive force offering cheap alternative to expensive designers. Without a doubt, it gives designers a chance to develop their portfolio and bid on jobs they might never had access to without the platform.”

But this is a bland statement. It fails to acknowledge that every time a designer puts her work out there for free, she is undercutting herself and everyone in her profession. The fact is, untold thousands of designers are flooding dozens and dozens of online sites like 99designs with unlimited “free stuff” – so why should anyone hire and pay a graphic designer ever again?

There are many other similar examples of the same phenomenon happening across an array of other professions – but I’ll leave off here because I don’t want to drone on for pages — but I wish Mr. Zoref would have paid more attention to the tens of thousands of people who have found lifelong careers become suddenly irrelevant (unless they are willing to work for free as slaves).

There are other aspects of Mindsharing and crowdsourcing that also bring out my “Inner Contrarian” and yes, I’ll admit, my “Latent Luddite.”

I mean, how eagerly do we really want to go down this road? Do we want to start outsourcing every aspect of our lives, minds and personalities – even our personal, intimate love lives?

Mr. Zoref seems to think so – have a problem finding love or with dating? Easy! Mindshare it! If you’re socially inept, don’t worry. Zoref says the hive mind behind your smartphone or tablet will tell you what to do, how to act and how to be. The “hive mind” is ever ready to choose for you who you will date, and even how to speak and act on that date.

You may be a social cripple — but no problem — the ubiquitous Mindsharing hive will carry you along with the rest of the ants.

I’m only getting started here – but it’s far past time to pull the plug. I’ll just leave you with some homework to do. Here’s your assignment:

Go to Google and look up a mysterious figure by the name of Jar’Edo Wens.

When you find out who Jar’Edo Wens, ask yourself: Do we really want to crowdsource encyclopedias, or as Mr. Zoref suggest — crowdsource “everything?”




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Retro Review: Jack Vance and the Demon Princes: “The Killing Machine”

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Think of all the great names of science fiction from the previous century – Heinlein, Asimov, Bradbury, Silverberg, Dick, Pohl, Cordwainer Smith, Sheckley, Van Vogt, de Camp, Harrison (insert your own) …

Well, there was one man who was a greater writer than all of the above.

It was Jack Vance.

I won’t belabor the point here anymore – if you read enough of his books, I’m certain you’ll come to agree with me. This book, The Killing Machine, one of the five-part “Demon Prices” series, is one Vance’s best.

Briefly, the scenario is this:

On a faraway planet at some time in the far-flung future, a young man by the name of Kirth Gersen witnesses to the horrible spectacle of his family being murdered in a raid on his village. The killers are the Demon Princes. They’re not demons, per se, but intergalactic mobsters/crime bosses who wreak havoc across the galaxy.

They do whatever they like: raid, steal, plummet, kill, rape and massacre. They’re extremely powerful, highly secretive and their desire for wealth and power cannot be quenched.

Gersen grows to manhood and dedicates his life to tracking down the Demon Prices. His goal is to assassinate them one at a time, seeking justice and to avenge his slaughtered family.

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Jack Vance, 1916-2013

With great self discipline and constant training, Gersen develops into a powerful man. He may be the only man in the entire galaxy who is even more lethal and dangerous than the Demon Princes themselves.

Gersen makes James Bond look like a rank amateur – his expertise with manual fighting techniques, personal weaponry and private eye investigative skills is unequaled – although he does have flaws; just a chink or two in his armor to make things interesting. He’s a gloomy man, fiercely intelligent and driven — a monomaniac.

His target in this book is the mysterious Kokor Hekkus, one of the Demon Prices. The name Kokor Hekkus literally means “The Killing Machine” in the language of the locals of the planet Thamber, where Hekkus is believed to live – although no one is certain.

In fact, many believe that the planet Thamber may not exist at all. Is it a mythical world? — A realm of castles, magic and dragons? Or perhaps there really is a Thamber, somehow lost or forgotten from the star charts of the known galaxy.

The Killing Machine is a book of almost unimaginable science fiction fun.

Expertly plotted, tightly written, it is inventive to a wonderful degree. Vance has an ability like no other writer to create a tone that is serious, but at the same time, impregnated with a pervasive, understated sense of humor. Vance’s humor is dry, wry and deeply ironic.

There is one scene in the book that is my favorite perhaps in all of science fiction, and I must mention it here:

It’s a situation in which the characters build a gigantic fighting vehicle that looks like a giant centipede. This “rolling fortress of death” travels on rows of flexible magnetic-metallic whip-like legs. It shoots deadly bolts of searing laser rays and bristles with an array of other weapon options – and the drivers operate it by sitting comfortably inside on plush captain’s chairs, much as if they were tooling around in a luxury RV.

It’s just great! You’ll know it when you read it!

Although each of the five Demon Princes novels are Class A, 5-star reads, The Killing Machine has always been my favorite of the series. It’s the second of the bunch, and you probably don’t need to read the first to jump right into the narrative.

This is a book that is magical and fantastical, while also staying true to those principles of hard science fiction, employing plausible inventions of futuristic technology, gadgetry and science.

In my almost 50 years of reading thousands of science fiction novels and short stories – The Killing Machine is among my Top 5 of all time. It’s just that good.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Dava Sobel delivers intriguing insights into the life of Copernicus, but one aspect of the book falters

downloadReview by: KEN KORCZAK

If would be fair to say that Nicolaus Copernicus was the Albert Einstein of his time. In fact, what Copernicus was asking the world to accept was even more radical than what Einstein proposed with his theory of relativity.

Shortly after Einstein’s relativity went public, the New York Times pounced. An editorial said Einstein’s theory was: “Certainly a fiction.” But he got off easy compared to Copernicus.

More than 500 years ago when the intellectual world got wind of Copernicus’s heliocentric model featuring an earth that was not only spinning, but hurling through space — it simply defied common sense!

Arguments like these were made: “Would not birds get lost after they flew off their nests? If the earth spun away from under them while they were in the air, how would they find their way back?”

It seemed the most fundamental notion of common observation: The earth was solid underfoot, did not appear to be moving, no motion could be felt or observed – a spinning, orbiting earth? Ridiculous!

And what about the sacred scripture of the Bible!

This is what makes the Copernican Revolution still so incredibly breathtaking to this day. It was a monumental leap – a major paradigm shattering event – against seemingly impossible odds.

Imagine the man, the fabulous, disciplined mind, that could make such a thing happen! It was Copernicus!

For me, the stunning nature of what Copernicus achieved — the feeling of it — is not captured or conveyed in this book. DAVA SOBEL has given us a lot of interesting facts, but failed to impart a sense of wonder.

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Dava Sobel

I must also say: I agree with other critics who have taken Sobel harshly to task for including her three act play to fill the middle third of this book – a disastrous decision both on her part, and that of her editors. The latter should have talked her out of it. The play is a drag. I think it fails to capture the spirit of the man, and the texture of the times.

That’s why this book cannot earn a top rating from me.

Even so, this is otherwise a fascinating book from which I learned things about Copernicus that I did not know before – and I have admired Copernicus and read about him since I became an obsessive amateur astronomer almost 50 years ago.

I became a die-hard fan of DAVA SOBEL after I read her GALILEO’S DAUGHTER one of the best books I have read in 10 years. When I saw Sobel had turned her brilliant historian’s eye on the mighty Copernicus, I couldn’t wait to buy a copy and read.

The first third and the last third are indeed absorbing and fascinating. I give Sobel enormous credit for crafting an often intimate narrative of the life of Copernicus, considering what must be an agonizing lack of available historical documentation. So much of what we might know about Copernicus has been lost – especially the biography written by Copernicus’s only student, the brilliant but tragic Georg Joachim Rheticus.

I live for the day – if it might ever happen – that some discovery is made of Rheticus’s biography of his master in some ancient back room, museum or library.

But Sobel could have done so much more with what was one of the most amazing, tumultuous times in history. Consider that Copernicus was about 19 or 20 years old when Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492, and the shock waves this sent across Europe. It’s not mentioned in this book. It was also Copernican science that drove the final stake into the heart of feudalism – sure, feudalism was all but dead by 1500, but the Copernican universe made sure it would stay dead. (Many scholars have also offered that it was The Copernican system that provided the fuel to end feudalism of Japan! No mention of that either).

Then there’s the overarching societal effects of calendar reform, the death blow it delivered to the Dark Ages in general, the amazing confluence of the Protestant Revolution — all of this gets short shrift – in favor of pages padded with a bland theatrical play that just had to discuss the homosexual predilections of Rheticus and Copernicus’s relationship with his concubine.

Again, the first third and last third of this book are a tantalizing and absorbing peek into the life of one of the most consequential men ever to live – and makes this book worth the price. I recommend you buy it.

But, as it stands, A MORE PERFECT HEAVEN represents a missed opportunity to provide the reader with a more comprehensive look at a time when the entire spiritual and psychological universe of humankind changed in a fundamental way – and what it still means to all of us today.




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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Maximus Freeman delves into his own psyche seeking the answers to spiritual growth

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This book has an intriguing title, and it is aptly chosen because the author is attempting to dig into his own psyche, striving to uncover the greater meaning of what makes himself tick. He is on a courageous mission to find spiritual growth, but also to relieve the fundamental suffering that all human beings feel – what the Buddha called “the dukkha.”

The dukkha is the agony of the self. It’s that all-pervasive, undefinable pain and misery we feel that seems to come from everywhere and nowhere. It can be depression, it can be anxiety, it can be alienation, it can be a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, it can be loneliness, it can be persistent anger and contempt for others.

Many people today attack this suffering by reading the reams of self-help books on the market today. There’s never a shortage. Suffering is a universal phenomenon and wherever you find a universal problem, you’ll find hundreds of people offering a solution.

Like many people, the author has spent years in the New Age candy store, devouring the endless tomes of self-help gurus from all walks of life. He acknowledges the drawback of this approach. In the Prelude, he writes:

“Many books are informative and helpful, but usually within a week or two, I have forgotten most of what I have read and have resorted back to my old comfortable ways of being.”

His goal is to make this book different – more practical, effective, useful and leaving the reader with genuine tools that will get the job done – the relief of suffering and the discovery of greater spiritual meaning.

Does he succeed? Yes, in part, I think he does. His approach is at times brutally honest and sincere. His effort to penetrate to the fundamental elements of what makes us unhappy – and provide solid solutions — is downright heroic. MAXIMUS FREEMAN is clearly an author who deeply cares about his readers. He honestly wants to help you by showing how he tried to help himself.

He gets the job done partially with a lot of heavy leveraging of other self-help luminaries who are giants of the field – he quotes liberally from Gary Zukav and Dr. David R. Hawkins, for example. But he also dabbles in a bit of light channeling, connecting with a source he calls “The Universe,” from which we get insights in a question and answer format.

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Maximus Freeman

Mr. Freeman also serves up some of his own advice, some of which comes off as perhaps a tad “corporate speak” in flavor, as when he offers his “Mechanisms of Transformation” which he describes as a “six-step spiritual maturation process.”

I don’t give this book my tip top rating only because I set the bar very high in this genre. As we all know, entire forests have been cleared to accommodate the truck loads of self-help books published year after year, decade after decades.

Consciousness Archaeology, although a fine book, is not destined to become a classic of the field. The structure of the book is a tad disjointed and uneven. I also found more than a few points I might quibble with, which I won’t air here – but when a book is just a 100 pages, it should have that power-packed “this is a home run” feeling or “this is a small gem” aura, which it just doesn’t have for me.

For example, “The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment” by Thaddeus Golas is about 80 pages, and after reading it you think: “All my problems are solved! Everything is so crystal clear now! I’ll never have to read another book again!” Other classics come close this feeling, such as “As a Man Thinketh,” by James Allen or “Acres of Diamonds” by Russell Conwell – and these latter three masterpieces are available for free across the Internet.

Let me just say, however, that I would recommend anyone buy and read Consciousness Archaeology. The way it work for people who are seeking answers through reading a lot of books is this: You never know when you’ll find that one book that really clicks for you; something that just happens to resonate with you in just the right way at the right time.

Consciousness Archaeology may be the book you need right now that has that certain something you need to hear at this moment in your life – you never know.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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A gruesome look at reality: Gang rape in India

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

The news cycle today is brutal: Shocking reports of monstrous beheadings, people burned alive in cages, entire African villages murdered by militarized thugs.

Well, prepare to have a tad more of your hope for humanity wrung out (if you have any left). This compelling Kindle Single, 13 MEN, written by SONIA FALEIRO, is a riveting, unflinching piece of long-form journalism looking at the dark and hope-sapping phenomena of gang rape in India.

Faleiro takes apart the complex case of a charming, hardworking, but perhaps headstrong young woman recently returned to live in her remote village in West Bengal, India. She dared to flout centuries old local tribal customs – but paid for it with an even greater corruption of those same traditional moral codes.

The topic is timely, to be sure, noting the recent controversial decision by the government of India to ban a BBC documentary about the gang rape of a New Delhi woman. Debate about this censorship is raging across the Internet and world media.

Gang rapes by roving packs of men has long been a huge problem in India, but the country seems determined to bring this deeply taboo subject out of the darkness into the light of greater public consciousness – a painful process as India’s multifaceted, complex and ancient culture lurches into modern times.

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Author Sonia Faleiro

Faleiro’s 13 Men should serve as a significant contribution to the discussion. With the withering gaze of a journalist determined to get all the facts and capture the complexity of a single case, the author demonstrates how enormously difficult and vexing finding truth and justice can be.

What’s involved is not just a clash of cultures, but economic injustice, greedy capitalists, corrupt and/or inept public officials, competing interpretations of laws and customs, illiteracy, alcohol abuse and just the plain-old lack of moral character by certain drifting, good-for-nothing men – and perhaps the women who enable them.

Navigating all this territory and churning it back out into a piece of writing that is clear and concise is no easy task, and I give Fareiro enormous credit for bringing clarity to an almost impossibly muddy issue.

If you have the stomach to confront more of the tragedy, cruelty and heartache of our troubled world, pick up a copy of 13 Men – it’s a marvelous piece of journalism on a timely subject that brings much-needed light to a deeply dark issue.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Talking to the dead: Medium Suzanne Giesemann insists on real evidence

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is a fascinating book because it is anchored by a story that seems almost too sensational to be true, yet the evidence would seem to indicate that it is true.

Author and professional medium Suzanne Giesemann also brings an added aura of credibility — her former career as a high-ranking U.S. Naval officer provides a sense of grounding – here seems to be a no-nonsense person we can trust to be level-headed, honest and highly responsible.

Before taking on the life of a professional speaker-to-the-dead, Giesemann spent 20-years in military service, retiring with the rank of Commander. She served at the highest levels; she was Aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Anyone not knowing her background, and upon reading this book, might peg her as among the most airy-fairy of New Agers. This book, Wolf’s Message, has it all – all the (seeming) New Age fluff it can muster, and more.

There’s channeling of the dead, communication with advanced collective beings, angels, psychic phenomena, trance states – and so many of the common accouterments of New Agers – power crystals, dream catchers, runes for casting, angelic clouds, mandalas, sacred geometry, Hemi-Sync CDs – it’s almost as if the author used went into one of those New Age trinket shops in a place like Sedona, Arizona, and bought `one of each,’ then worked them all into her narrative.

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Suzanne Giesemann

But the real foundation of this book is the astounding details surrounding the death of a young Plymouth, Massachusetts, man by the name of Mike Pasakarnis, who went by the nickname “Wolf.” He was struck dead by a freak lightning bolt.

Remarkably, this is the same way the step-daughter of the author died. Giesemann’s step-daughter was a sergeant in the U.S. Marines at the time. But that’s just one of the eye-popping confluence in this story.

The details of Wolf’s death, his prediction of his own death, the seemingly incontrovertible evidence of that, his after-death communication – it will all blow your mind.

I don’t want to give away too many details and ruin this read for anyone, but the circumstances of Wolf’s death, and Giesemann’s subsequent afterdeath communications with him, are intriguing, to say the least.

Note that Giesemann calls herself an “evidential medium.” That means she’s all about getting the hard facts – solid, undeniable proof that the voices she hears in her psychic head must be and truly are the spirit of the dearly departed.

It is important to note that this book goes well beyond the scope of merely communicating with a deceased person and passing on that information to his grieving parents – Giesemann uses the overall scenario as a platform to deliver up much wider, deeper and more penetrating spiritual lesson for her readers.

If you ask me, her prose is a bit over-the-top. Her style comes off as super-sticky-sugary New Agey schlock. Here enthusiasm is almost tiring – practically on every other page Giesemann reports being “stunned!” “astounded!” “awestruck!” “weeping with gratitude!” “blown away!” “blissful!” – the superlatives just keep gushing forth, as if a dam holding back a lake of Holy Water has breached.

But you know what? That’s okay. Suzanne Giesemann is clearly all heart. She’s a sincere-to-the-bone explorer of transcendent realms. She is driven to bring us a message of unstoppable, monumental cosmic hope. Why hold back?

I encourage everyone to get this book and be prepared to be “awestruck!”

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Paul Elder joins a pantheon of famous out-of-body travelers with semi-autobiographical book

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

So here I am reviewing another book by a man with ties to the MONROE INSTITUTE, the consciousness research and training facility in Faber, Virginia.

Like so many others, PAUL ELDER, a Canadian and former TV broadcast personality, was inspired by reading “Journeys Out Of Body” by Robert Monroe, the namesake of the Institute.

But Elder said he all-but forgot about the book after reading it years ago. Then he unexpectedly encountered his own spontaneous out-of-body experience. Suddenly, that strange but somewhat unbelievable book didn’t seem so unbelievable anymore.

Elder went back to the library and re-read all of Monroe’s books – and so began his own personal journey into the “astral realms” and beyond.

Here you will find many of the same experiences reported by other famous Monroe Institute alums – the experience of the soul (or energy body, or second body, or choose your term) leaving the physical body behind to hover around the bedroom, float through walls and go soaring through the local earth-like environment.

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Paul Elder

Eventually, the explorer graduates from mere “fooling around” inside his own home or the immediate environment to penetrate more exotic realms – higher plains of existence, upper levels of spiritual dwelling, cosmic libraries and the abodes of other earthlings who have passed on.

Angelic beings and entities that defy categorization are also encountered.

If you are familiar with other Monroe-associated writers — such as Monroe himself, William Buhlman, Rosalind McKnight, Bruce Moen – Paul Elders book might seem like “more of the same.”

Still, the author brings enough of his unique personality, personal history, story and background to make this a more than a worthwhile, inspiring read. There is no doubting Elder’s passion for his subject, his sincerity, and I believe, the authenticity of experience.

In addition to his OBE experiments, Elder tells of three harrowing brushes with death which resulted in near death experiences (NDEs) — a drowning, a car accident and a heart attack.

He survived all!

Elder’s NDE elements add dimension to the big issues conjured by altered states of consciousness sought out in a proactive way.

One last thing: The writing itself is clear and straightforward, but Elder occasionally rises to higher literary heights with descriptions of the mysterious astral realms. At times, his words shimmer and scintillate across the page – it’s no small challenge to relate the exotic experience of the OBE, describe strange environments, and explain trans-psychological processes. I give high marks to this author for rising to the challenge when he needs to.

If you are like me, and can’t get enough of these kinds of books, then you must have this volume in your collection.

See book details here: EYES OF AND ANGEL

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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50 year later, The Rector of Justin stands as ‘Great American’ novel

9780618224890_p0_v1_s260x420Review By KEN KORCZAK

Only four fiction books achieved the No. 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List in 1964. “The Group,” by Mary McCarthy, “The Spy Who Came In From The Cold,” by John le Carré, “Herzog,” by Saul Bellow and this book — “The Rector of Justin,” by Louise Auchincloss.

Auchincloss wrote more than 60 books, and ‘Rector’ was his only to score the exalted status of No. 1 NYT best seller.

It’s a fantastic book and still a marvelous read today. I think it should be on one of those 100 Best Book of the Century lists. I’m somewhat prejudiced because, A) I’ve long been a huge Auchincloss fan, and B) the setting of the book is one of those elite, selective and super-snobby East Coast private prep schools for boys — in this case, inspired by the real Groton School of Massachusetts.

Ever since I read “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles way back in high school, I’ve loved books of the elite-prep-school genre, if it can be considered a genre. Auchincloss himself was an alumni of Groton. He went on to Yale where he earned his law degree and became a highly successful Wall Street lawyer.

In his spare time, Auchincloss cranked out novel after novel, as well as numerous short stories and essays. His books plumbed the lives of American aristocratic elites. The Auchincloss family itself was among this exclusive class; Louis Auchincloss was a distant cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (also a graduate of Groton)

So — The Rector of Justin follows the career of the fictional Rev. Francis Prescott who founded Justin Martyr, a school obviously modeled on Groton. Most people naturally assumed that the Prescott character was inspired by the man who founded Groton, the Rev. Endicott Peabody, who served as it headmaster for an incredible 54 years!

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Louis Auchincloss 1917 – 2010

But Auchincloss revealed later in interviews that this was not the case. The real subject for his fictional profile was none other than the U.S. Judge and brilliant legal scholar, Billings Learned Hand. Auchincloss hero-worshiped Judge Hand, and looked up to him as a mentor.

Whatever the case — on the outside you might think this book is as exclusive, stuffy and snotty as its subject matter, but it’s anything but. Auchincloss has a marvelous literary touch; his writing is infused with subtle humor, but more so, gobs of insight into the interior psyche and human motivation.

Some critics considered Auchincloss a bit too “glib” and lacking a certain level of gravitas that would have made him a true literary giant in the ranks of, say, Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, or Faulkner — but these critics are wrong.

Auchincloss may have been the genuine article — an Old Money, connected, East Coast Elite and brilliant literary talent — but his writing style is that of a man who effortlessly aligned himself with the common rabble. (All of us.)

Auchincloss’ razor-sharp wit and penetrating powers of observation bring the filthy rich down to size. He exposes their moral weaknesses when necessary, and shows how having gobs of cash and connections rarely translates to happiness.

I’m tempted to go off on other tangents about the considerable powers of Louis Auchincloss, (he received the National Medal of Arts in 2005) but I’ll stop here and urge any and all to grab this book and enjoy a highly accessible read. The Rector of Justin is easily among the best of adult fiction books written in the past fifty or sixty years.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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A “Marco Polo” of consciousness exploration takes us along on far journeys

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Review By KEN KORCZAK

While I was reading his book I was thinking of documentary I was watching about how animals might evolve into new forms in the future. There was footage of an octopus near the shore of the ocean. It was struggling to make its way along some rocks among the shallow water — the octopus was half in and half out of the water, grappling to navigate an environment that was somewhat familiar, but also vastly different.

FRANK DEMARCO is that kind of explorer. He is daring to send his mind into those exotic areas that straddle our normal mode of mentally framing reality with more exotic ways of determining what’s going on. He’s attempting to expand the way we make sense of reality — and maybe even to find a different way to be a human being.

This book documents 10 sessions DeMarco conducted at the MONROE INSTITUTE of Faber, Virginia. The facility is named after its founder, Robert Monroe, who wrote three best-selling books about out-of-body travel. It was Monroe who really blew the lid off the OBE, a centuries old phenomenon that had long been relegated to mysticism and arcane eastern religious sects. Monroe brought if forward in a way that more Western, scientific minds could deal with it using a modern scientific approach.

Equally as important to this book is the man who facilitated the sessions with DeMarco, none other than FRED “SKIP” ATWATER. Atwater is a former U.S. Army intelligence officer who was the founder of Army’s top secret remote viewing unit. He was among an elite corp of men who were the Founding Fathers of so-called “psychic spying.” After retiring from the military, Atwater became the science director and later president of the Monroe Institute.

So in these sessions, DeMarco is resting in a kind of isolation chamber. He’s reclined in a waterbed, and he wears headphones through which he is fed a variety of sound frequencies containing something called binaural beats. I won’t go into details about what these are, except to say they have been shown to induce altered states of consciousness.

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Frank DeMarco

As DeMarco is sent into an altered state of consciousness, but he also holds onto a portion of his waking mind so that he can chat with and report back to Atwater via a microphone. Atwater sits in another room where he controls the tones and frequencies DeMarco hears. DeMarco is also wired with fingertip sensors which monitor things like his galvanic skin responses, body temperature and more.

DeMarco then sends his perceptions into other realms of consciousness and reports his perceptions. He finds two contacts from two other eras of time: An ancient Egyptian and a Medieval monk. He feels he is deeply involved in some kind of mutual project of consciousness manipulation with these two — this is not a simplistic reincarnational kind of situation in which DeMarco “trades notes” about past lives, or stuff life that.

DeMarco also interacts with a more advanced set of entities he simply calls “The Guides” or “Guidance,” and sometimes just “the guys.” To facilitate a greater connection with him, these higher entities encase DeMarco (or cause him to become) what he perceives as a crystalline structure. In this state he is able to receive a variety of novel concepts, expand his psychology, gain insights, and so on.

DeMarco then “debriefs” in an informal discussion with Atwater. Both the sessions and the debrief sessions were tape recorded, and DeMarco fills the pages of this book by basically giving us the raw transcripts of all that was said.

For me, this was a five-star read because it provides a fascinating “fly-on-the-wall” view of how people on the cutting edge of consciousness exploration are endeavoring to probe uncharted territories of the mind. They go places for which no road maps exist. The explorers are pushing the edges of perception, have no idea what to expect, and don’t even have a good way to recognize “things” when they encounter them.

But wait –I should backtrack that statement a little. There may actually be a few road maps: Over the years, Monroe Institute researchers have worked out a series of auditory frequencies which seem to match certain mental states which in turn correspond with certain kinds of nonphysical locations. They call them Focus 10, Focus 12, Focus 15, Focus 27, etc. Each of these states, identified by specific frequencies and brain states, would seem to match up with specific territories “out there.”

When people become immersed in Focus 27, for example, they will find themselves in a specific afterlife kind of location — a place where dead people gather after leaving their bodies. Here they create a kind of resting place, perhaps a peaceful cabin in a wooded area, where they can simply rest and get used to the idea that they no longer have a physical body. They can come to grips with the fact that they are physically dead, and now can contemplate their next stage in consciousness development.

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Focus 27 is a place of pure mind — that is, a cabin in the woods is not made up of physical lumber and nails — but a construct of the mind. Think of the way you might have a dream about a visit to a cabin in the mountains. While you are in the dream, the cabin would seem as real and solid as anything else. When you wake up, you would tell yourself: “Well, that wasn’t a real cabin. It was all being created by my dream mind!” The structures of Focus 27 apparently are a kind of group-mind creations of structures — buildings, parks, gathering places — which are collective construct by those who have passed on.

Anyway, I digress.

I should say that for some readers this book might be something less than a five-star read — you won’t get the exciting New Age, out-of-body wonder type of fireworks provided by such folks as Robert Monroe, Richard Buhlman or others who have written popular books about OBE adventures involving lively interactions with strange beings, exotic otherworldly locales, although there is a certain element of that here.

A PLACE TO STAND is more sober and less sensational. It doggedly plods along. DeMarco also displays healthy levels of skepticism and self doubt about his own perceptions, which adds to our feeling that he is an authentic guy who is endeavoring to bring back reliable information from strange places, rather than hyping it all up to make for an exiting New Age book.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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New Stonehenge theory by Robert John Langdon is intriguing

$(KGrHqJ,!roFGVQ!fDHnBRnP-WmccQ~~60_35Review By KEN KORCZAK

Although I have long patience for the kind of alternative archaeology theories that give mainstream scientists spasms of outrage, I fully expected this latest Stonehenge re-boot to be so ridiculous that even I would balk.

However, after reading through Robert John Langdon’s total thesis, I have to say I am more than intrigued by his bold suggestions. By the time I got to the end of the book, his theories started to sound more like logical common sense than the ravings of another fringe New Ager.

In short, Langdon argues that Stonehenge was originally constructed in the Neolithic around 8,500 B.C. instead of the widely accepted mainstream archaeology dating of about 2,400 B.C,, in the Bronze Age. But his more amazing assertion is that the monument was located on a peninsula, closely surrounded on three sides by water at a time when Britain was mostly covered by the seas left over from the melting of the glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age about 10,000 years ago.

This made it possible for the massive stones of Stonehenge to be easily floated or boated to the sight, were mooring posts also made it relatively easy to leverage the gigantic sarsen and smaller blue stones into position. A Britain covered with water — and populated by a water-faring culture well-adapted to living in such an environment — also explains how easy it would have been to bring the blue stones to the Salisbury plains from Wales. By way of the water, the journey would have been just 82 miles, Langdon says, and the stones could have been just sailed into place.

About those blue stones — Langdon proposes that they were the primary source of healing, and this was the original primary purpose of Stonehenge. He says the blue stones were believed to interact with water to produce a medicinal effect, and that the ancients soaked in pools infused with blue stone flakes to induce healing.

Langdon’s scenario makes a lot of other odd things fall into place — such as the strange bend in the “processional avenue” that leads from Stonehenge to the River Avon. If the ancients wanted to make a walkway between Stonehenge and the Avon, why not a direct route? Why does the Stonehenge Avenue go north-northwest for about 1 km, then swing abruptly and turn sharply west? The answer, Langdon says, is that the bend and the latter part of the path originally led to a shoreline, and was later altered when it needed to keep going to get to water — the River Avon.

I won’t go into the many other details and particulars of Langdon’s full thesis, only to say that it’s almost beautiful in its simplicity. Albert Einstein said, the “best theories are simple — but not too simple.” Langdon’s theory is simple, but not too simple. It relies on a painstaking analysis of the hydrogeological data of the past 10,000 years — and this is presented in the first part of the book which might make a lot of people yawn and give up before they reach the more juicy stuff later in the book.

So I give The Stonehenge Enigma five stars — but I must add — I would be well justified in knocking off at least two stars because of the truly reprehensible editing of this document, and portions of the book where the writing is clumsy, and seems to have been rushed. Typos, grammar snafus and glitches abound. It’s an absolute shame that an author who put so much time and effort into his research should allow a version of his book released when it appears to be not just unedited, but not even proofread.

(Certainly Langdon means that Greek culture was at its height in 400 B.C. not 4,000 B.C.!)

That said, I’ll say that Langdon’s vision of an ancient British culture who were masters of the sea and thrived with complex technologies adapted to a warm, watery world (was it the real Atlantis, as Langdon asserts) is not a bad theory, not a bad theory at all.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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The Boy Who Died and Came Back by Robert Moss is a rich, extraordinary journey through the multiverse

robert-mossReview By KEN KORCZAK

The title of this book may lead some to believe that it’s mostly about the NDE, or near death experience. But the author’s experience with “dying and coming back” at age nine seems a brief anecdote against a backdrop of an entire lifetime of extraordinary experiences.

This is a book far more about dreaming than the NDE, and using the dreaming experience as a launching pad for an intense exploration of the universe, or more accurately, the transphsyical universe and “multiverse.” The subtitle says this book is also about a tantalizing something called “dream archaeology.”

Not to say that the author’s NDE account isn’t fascinating. It’s one of the most unique you will read about even if you have already read hundreds of others, like I have. I suspect that ROBERT MOSS is a guy who can’t be defined by a single event, or just one kind of experience, no matter how mind blowing.

Moss could aptly be described a 21st Century shaman — in a way that combines the most ancient definition of the term with that of a modern man and scholar who is a lifetime student of history, ethnography and mythology.

A former history professor and journalist, Robert Moss began his literary career writing international spy thriller novels. His first big success, “Moscow Rules” landed on the New York Times Best Seller list, stayed there for weeks, making Moss wealthy and a hot commodity among publishers.

He could have continued to rake in the big cash as a Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth kind of writer — but he soon succumbed to his true nature, that of a shamanic dreamer and explorer of consciousness.

He went over to writing books that were either about dreaming or dovetailed with dreaming, such as his historical novel, The Firekeeper, which he wrote after experiencing a kind of psychic and/or dream contact with Sir William Johnson, a major figure in the French and Indian War of 1754-1763.

Moss combined direct dream contact and a psychic connection with intensive field research to create a powerful historic novel which was praised by the likes of literary giant James A. Michener.

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Robert Moss

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William Blake

This book, THE BOY WHO DIED AND CAME BACK TO LIFE,  is somewhat autobiographical in that Moss makes use of key events in his life, beginning with his NDE at age 9, to describe how turning one’s mind away from mere material perceptions and toward the wider spectrum of consciousness can result in marvelous, breath-taking adventures.

Moss uses the term “dream archaeology” to describe a method researching our past that involves accessing ancient times and the actual minds and souls of long-dead people so that we an learn from them directly — it’s a way to go beyond mere historical facts to uncover the broad, psycho-social, spiritual and — well, I guess the larger cosmic context of historic events.

It’s an amazing book. It’s too rich in scope and detail for one short review to encompass here, so I won’t try. I’ll just say that this work gets my top recommendation — it’s a rich feast providing not only food for thought, but a veritable banquet for thought. Moss is an elegant writer who commands a silky flowing prose which often borders on poetic, yet remains clear and accessible for any reader.

One last thing: My theory is that Robert Moss is the reincarnation of the 18th Century English painter, poet and print maker William Blake. If you don’t believe me, read up on Blake, study his work and visions, and also Google a picture of Blake. Compare Blake’s images side to side with that of Robert Moss. They even look alike.

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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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Aliens in the Forest a Fascinating read despite clunky prose

download (2)Review By KEN KORCZAK

If you are a true student of Ufology, this book will be a fascinating addition to your collection. I give the authors great credit for not only reintroducing to the public a sensational case of UFO/alien encounter, but setting the record straight about a story that has been much maligned and misreported over the years.

Even UFO-lit legends such as John Keel (The Mothman Prophesies) botched the story, as did other high-profile UFO investigation groups, according to the authors.

The authors also claim to be the first to identify the key experiencer in what is certainly among the most amazing UFO confrontations in history. California man, Donald Shrum, has not only come forward to tell his tale, but also provides photos and sketches of an event that forever changed his life.

The events took place in 1964 in a remote area of the Sierra Nevada mountains when Shrum was 26 years old. He was 73 when he sat down with the authors to tell his story. It’s a frightening saga indeed! Is the story authentic and true? For what it’s worth, I’m satisfied that it is.

Another terrific aspect of the book is the engaging artwork of illustrator Neil Riebe, from the beautifully imagined front cover to the pen-and-ink drawings inside which gave me a kind of nostalgic remembrance of the kind of UFO art one used to see in mainstream magazines from the `60s — such as SAGA, TRUE, REAL, ARGOSY and MAN’S WORLD.

The books fails to get a five-star rating from me, however, because the writing is clumsy, at best. The rendering of the information is repetitive in a way that makes it seem like Noe Torres and Ruben Uriarte realized they didn’t have enough information for a full book-length manuscript, and so they padded wherever they could.

In fact, the meat of the book ends a little over halfway through the document. The rest is appendix material and bibliography, and these latter materials don’t add a great deal.

The authors could create a much more powerful effect if they reissued this book perhaps as a Kindle Single, lowered the price and tightened up the writing, including editing out a lot of obvious wordy dross. I bet they’d sell even more copies and create a much more vibrant, punchy document that would be a thoroughly satisfying read.

Still, all in all, this is an important addition to the record of American Ufology.

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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Borrowed plot gimmicks straight out of the boob tube sink this SF novel

download (3)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 so) 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.

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Mary Fan

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:

“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, “The 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 to them all (er … cough, cough … Travan Float is a thin re-imagining of Mos Eisley of Star Wars … ) without making for too lengthy of 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 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 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: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

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