Tag Archives: Ken Korczak

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

51Jav0RzvPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_
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.

51fcdPEq15L._UX250_

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

51db7lopd2L._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_
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.

41LtnkA8F7L._UX250_

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

51s5ks9fwAL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_

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.

maxresdefault

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

41cpZdKlEWL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_
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.

headshot

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

download
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.

jv_cat_dog

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

A small heartfelt gem that tells of life-after-death communication

Peters

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This small book brought a tear to my eye, and also gave me goose bumps more than once.

It’s an honest, sincere accounting of a man’s experience of not just dealing with the death of his parents, but his real-life experience of establishing afterdeath communication with them..

Even better, it offers tantalizing evidence that when the physical body dies, the person does not. Call it what you want – the soul, spirit, energy body, higher self, mind – there is a huge body of scientific (yes, scientific) evidence that physical death is not the end.

Not only is there life after death, but we can communicate with the loved ones we have lost. They’re still there for us, they can communicate with us, and we can talk back to them. You just have to be willing to open your mind and reshape your belief system to accept that it is possible.

The incidents of afterdeath communication author Alexander Peters demonstrates in these pages proves to me that his story is authentic. I say this based on dozens of other books I have read by some of the world’s most elite doctors and scientists who have written about the specific nature of afterdeath communications.

These include: Dr. Gary Schwartz, Dr. Michael Newton, Dr. Pim van Lommel, Dr. Eben Alexander, Dr, Raymond Moody, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross Dr. Brian Weiss, Julia Assante Ph.D., Dr. Larry Dossey and that’s just to name a few.

What all of these luminaries agree upon is that afterdeath messages from our loved ones often take the form of not just direct thoughts and actual words that are heard – but seemingly coincidental symbolisms which cannot be mistaken for anything else but a message from the departed.

As this book demonstrates, these symbolic communications can be things like a special song with lyrics containing just the message you need to hear – and that song unexpectedly begins playing on your radio just as you are thinking about your loved one.

Peters tells of amazing confluences involving his cell phone and Blackberry, the appearance of a special bird, the surprise appearance of gifts – and much more.

He packs a lot into this short book. This is obviously not a slick book written by a professional writer, but rather is an honest, readable account penned by an ordinary middle-class guy from a small town in England.

It’s a significant contribution to the ever-growing body of literature by scientists and ordinary folks alike who have come to realize — beyond a reasonable doubt — that life goes on after death. The fact is, our loved ones never leave our sides. Even after death, they’re still right there for us, and close by.

To find this book online, go here: MY MUMMY AND DADDY

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

The ghost of Ernest Hemingway: Still eloquent in the Afterlife

51fl3+IFDmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_KEN KORCZAK:

This is the second FRANK DeMARCO book I’ve read. The first was “A Place To Stand,” and I think anyone who reads both of the above will be sufficiently impressed that here is a guy who not merely another frivolous New Age writer raving from the fringe, or some person seeking to capitalize on the name of Hemingway merely to sell a book.

This is an intelligent book of substance that should intrigue long-time Hemingway fans, and give us pause to consider the implications of what it might really be like to have a one-on-one chat with an American literary giant.

There is ample historic president for these kinds of books, in particular, Jane Robert’s (author of Seth Speaks), “channeling” of the American philosopher William James. That book came out in 1977; James died in 1910.

Another famous example: Emily Grant Hutchings and a medium using an Ouija board took “dictation” from the spirit of Mark Twain to produce an entirely new novel, “Jap Herron.” It was published in 1916, six years after Twain’s death.

In 1869, a medium “downloaded” a fresh novel written by the deceased Emily Brontë; It’s presented in a book called “Strange Visitors” edited by an esteemed legal scholar, Henry J. Horn.

So DeMarco is backed by solid tradition, and the precedent of others who have written amazingly high quality books in this way.

Beginning in 2004, DeMarco, using the time-honored, method of automatic writing, made psychic contact Hemingway and engaged in a vigorous post-death conversation with Hemingway. The dialogue resulted in this book.

In it, Hemingway clears the deck on dozens of misconceptions he says numerous biographers and academics have besmirched upon his life, work and legacy over the years.

Not that he’s particularly angry or blames living biographers who, after all, only gave it their best shot. It’s just that, Hemingway says the game is rigged. Writing a truly accurate biography is fundamentally impossible. The deceased Hemingway tells DeMarco:

“To write a true biography you would need to do impossible things, such as:

* See and feel and think and react as the subject would have done.

* Contain within yourself all the subject’s background, including people, places, books he’s read, the news of the day (day by day), the daydream he had, the talents and aversions and every aspect of his personality.

* Know everything that had ever happened to him and some that happened only around him, and from multiple points of view.

* Know every strand that operated within him, and in what proportion and in what circumstances, including the tremendous amount he didn’t realize himself.

*Know at least something of why he came into life (or, you might say, what the potential or that particular mixture of elements was) and see how one thing could express only at the expense of others, and hence what tensions set up.”

That all makes sense, when you think about it. Certainly, the dead Hemingway has a knack for bringing an unclouded, common-sense kind of wisdom to vexing questions and thorny issues.

b17955fdbb290ad8986c83.L._V177547328_SX200_

Frank DeMarco

Another example: DeMarco asks Hemingway to explain something controversial the macho-man writer once said, that he would “rather beat someone up than read a good book.” (This in light of Hemingway’s well-known love of boxing and barroom brawling).

Hemingway, from his perch in the Afterlife, defends his statement this way:

“All right … who are you talking to? In this case I mean, what age Hemingway? The answer you’d get from a 20-year-old isn’t what you’d get ten years later, or thirty, or after-the-fact entirely … the whole point of living is not to be the same year by year, but to change — I didn’t prefer beating somebody up to reading a good book. Just count the number of people I beat up and the number of books I read!”

Still eloquent in death, Hemingway scores again!

DeMarco’s book is loaded with gems like these. Hemingway’s quips zero in like sharpened darts, hitting dead-on rhetorical bullseyes time and again.

If this is not the actual spirit of Hemingway speaking through DeMarco, then DeMarco himself is one clever wordsmith.

But wait a minute — DeMarco cautions us that just who is actually communicating here is a tad more complicated than you might think. Here is the way DeMarco struggles to define his trans-death connection with the deceased writer:

“I think you mean to say that Hemingway 1899-1961 and DeMarco 1946-20-whatever do not touch, and that I have been thinking that DeMarco-46 was touching the spirit of Hemingway-99, but it may be more accurate to say that the larger being of which DeMarco-46 is a part is communicating with the larger being of which Hemingway-99 is a part, and the two time-bound parts are having a sort of virtual conversation.”

In other words, most people assume that when you contact the spirit of a dead person, you are speaking to the exact person/ego-construct/personality of that same person when he or she was alive.

ErnestHemingway

Papa

But there is not a Person A = Person A situation vis-a-vis the live version of a person and the afterlife version of that same person.

After we pass over to the other side, we apparently expand our consciousnesses to embody the “whole self,” or perhaps “soul self.” We become aligned with the so-called Oversoul.

For the dead, the ego-self recedes into the background because the ego is actually an elaborate, artificial coping/defense construct designed to function in the environment of our earth-bound, physical matter reality. The ego is too often shaped by fears and desires, and is a reactor rather than an actor within a material system. Yet, after death, we can still operate from an ego-based platform if we want to …

What I really like about Afterdeath Conversations With Hemingway is that it reads not like the typical spooky and/or smarmy medium-channeled stuff, but as an insightful, intelligent and piercing series of observations by a savvy writer, who just happens to be positioned in the non-physical realm.

DeMarco’s book makes the extraordinary situation of speaking with the dead seem as commonplace as chatting with your Uncle Ned via Skype.

With dogged attention to detail, DeMarco combs through the issues that were the passions of Hemingway’s vigorous life — World War I, the Spanish Civil War, the American psyche, the artistic culture of Europe, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, writing and literature. Hemingway discusses what it meant to be an American, an emerging modern man in a nation straining to become the next superpower.

What about his suicide? Hemingway is actually rather blasé and dismissive of the whole issue. He called suicide “the family exit.” Hemingway’s father committed suicide, as did his brother, Leicester, and sister, Ursula. The dead Hemingway says of his suicide:

“When I left the body — when I blew myself out of that situation — I knew what I was doing, and why. I wasn’t emotionally distraught, I wasn’t out of my mind, and I wasn’t even depressed — once I figured out how to get out … the bad effects of suicide have a lot more to do with attitudes that with the given act.”

After his death, Hemingway tells DeMarco that he now manifests himself in the spirit world as a 30-something-year-old.

“I went back to being in my mid-thirties,” Hemingway said. “I was happy then. I’d taken my lumps and I’d already left Hadley, (first wife Hadley Richardson) which was a stupid thing to do but there you are, and I was in the prime of life.”

The bottom line: This is a marvelous read, well worthy of five stars, and gets my top recommendation.

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

Real Santa is an old fashioned, feel good Christmas tale with a modern edge

9781938467943_FC1Review By KEN KORCZAK

In a society that has grown deeply cynical, lost faith in its old crumbling traditions, and where belief systems change as fast as Internet trends, perhaps only extreme measures can recapture the magic of innocence lost.

That’s what prompts freshly unemployed engineer George Kronenfeldt to hatch a thoroughly lunatic plan designed to do nothing less than prove that Santa Clause is real.

Specifically, he wants his nine-year-old daughter (who is beginning to doubt) to believe just a little bit longer.

Unfortunately, bringing back a bit of faith to a cold-blooded, materialistic world could cost Mr. Kronenfeldt everything — his house, his marriage, his career, his reputation — he may end up financially ruined for life.

If the book I’m describing sounds a bit heavy, think again. This latest offering by Chicago-based writer William Elliot Hazelgrove is hilarious, light-hearted sugar plum fun. Real Santa is an over-the-top Christmas fantasy — but which requires a heavy dose of willing suspension of disbelief by the reader. That’s because the central plot premise is pretty outrageous.

But think of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” — it juxtaposes the dreary life of George Bailey and his battle with greed, depression and alienation with a Christmas angel and the magical promise of a mythological Christmas spirit.

attic

William Elliot Hazelgrove

In fact, the book references Hollywood Christmas movie classics throughout the narrative and plays on their themes. Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, White Christmas, Elf — Hazelgrove has leveraged the central feeling and heart of these classics and penned an updated tale couched in today’s world of YouTube, smartphones, video cameras, greed, capitalism and materialism.

However, there is also a certain vibe from another kind of Christmas movie — “Bad Santa.” In that movie, Billy Bob Thornton played a foul-mouthed boozed-up burnout mall Santa who is actually a criminal.

I say “a certain vibe” because there’s an element of gritty edginess here in Real Santa that includes a lot of references to reindeer defecating and urinating, Santa figures smoking cigarettes as they curse and moan about nagging wives and busted marriages — there’s at least a couple references to the “stimulated” male body part — for good measure, Old Saint Nick makes an obscene gesture via dropping his pants — oh, and did I mention that our novel’s hero is not above getting into a physical assault dust up with a white-haired old school teacher, and he also takes a butcher knife to inflict criminal property damage on his neighbor’s tasteless Christmas decorations?

Yes, for the most part, the gooey sentimentality and sticky, smarmy Christmas magic schlock is laid on thick, but this story takes place in Chicago, the Murder Capital of the Midwest, not A Christmas Story’s Hohman, Indiana, and the writer is William Hazelgrove, not Jean Shepherd.

And so, there is a certain irony: A delightful book such as Real Santa suggests that while you might be able to recapture that old Christmas magic with extraordinary effort, you can never really go home to quite the same Christmas magic again.

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak

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

All NEW: KEN’S BOOK REVIEW SITE ON FACEBOOK: REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING

Follow @KenKorczak