Tag Archives: science fiction

Retro Review: French Writer Maurice Renard’s Campy, Derivative B-Novel Is Hilarious And Horrifying

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

I’m not giving anything away by telling you that the premise of this book centers around a mad scientist who is slicing open the skulls of people and animals so he can interchange their brains. The subsequent results are macabre and horrifying.

Original of New Bodies for Old: Le Docteur Lerne (1908)

But the real news flash is that this author has produced his own kind of horrific miracle. He manages to slice open the plot of an A-List classic novel and implant it with his own B-List pulp yarn. The result is an unholy, hybrid specimen of literature.

French writer MAURICE RENARD makes no bones about this being a derivative work inspired by his slavish – almost slobbering – admiration of H.G. Wells. New Bodies for Old is a kind of homage to the great British author’s 1896 masterpiece, The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Renard includes a dedication in which he speaks directly to Wells. He offers up his book to him like a ghoulish sacrifice from a man who eagerly wants to be his No. 1 toady.

Okay! So, Monsieur Renard is an unapologetic fanboy! There’s nothing wrong with that. His hero is the great H.G. Wells, after all. It’s also something of a miracle that a Frenchman can display humble admiration for an Englishman. If we had more of that in the 14th Century, maybe the 100 Years’ War could have been avoided.

Anyway …

Maurice Renard (1875-1939)

I don’t mind reading an unabashed B-Novel if the author can pull it off with decent-enough writing, some of his own innovation, a few clever twists of plot – and whatever else he can bring to the game.

I’m happy to report that M. Renard was equal to the challenge. This is a surprisingly entertaining piece of second-tier literature. It overcomes a fundamental lack of originality with a snappy narrative laid out in clever fashion through the eyes of its viewpoint character, a young Frenchman by the name of Nicolas Vermont.

From the very start, Renard keeps us off balance with an unrelenting series of oddities.

For example, the book begins with a group of young Parisian rakes attending a “house unwarming” party. On a whim, they decide to hold a séance using what was a popular occult fad in early 20th Century Europe – table tipping. This is a method in which hands are placed around a small table to invoke a spirit of the undead. The deceased then taps out messages based on verbally called-out letters of the alphabet.

That’s how this tale came to be written. It was dictated by a member of the undead.

And so …

Nicolas Vermont receives a mysterious invitation to visit his uncle. He lives several hours outside of Paris in a secluded chateau nestled against a narrow alcove naturally carved out from a rocky mountainside. The surrounding area is wild and wooded. Vermont spent his childhood there but has not been back for years. His uncle is a renowned physiologist and surgeon – Dr. Frédéric Lerne — who gained wide fame as a life-saving doctor.

But now Dr. Lerne has retreated to the remote chateau which is called Fonval. Here the doctor no longer receives patients. Rather, he’s involved in some manner of super-secret medical research. Vermont has not seen his uncle in years. When he arrives at the chateau, he finds a drastically changed man, far different from the graceful and brilliant professor of physiology Vermont once knew.

Dr. Lerne is now a dangerous weirdo. He’s overtly cruel, paranoid and neurotic. Bizarrely, he speaks French with a heavy German accent. He seems caught off guard by his nephew’s visit, even though he had issued him an invitation. Whatever the doctor is working on, it’s obviously pure evil. But what is it? The plot plays out with the attempts of Nicolas Vermont to discover the dark and sinister machinations lurking behind the many locked doors of the sprawling Fonval complex.

Despite the fact that Maurice Renard leans on scenes of gratuitous gore and regales us with fantastically absurd spectacle – such as when a man’s brain is transplanted into a cow – I give him great credit for springing upon the reader some marvelously clever twists of plot. I didn’t see them coming. I bet you won’t either.

NEW BODIES FOR OLD Was originally published in 1908 with the title, Le Docteur Lerne – Sous-Dieu. (Dr. Lerne – Undergod). I read the English translation published in 1923. Translator unknown.

Edgar Allan Poe

I’ve probably given the impression that Maurice Renard was a pulp artist who cranked out florid prose for fast bucks and cheap thrills. However, and to be fair, one must consider that the translation I read was extremely poorly handled.

Thus, I hasten to add that, in his day, Renard was highly admired and respected, even within elite literary circles. He is sometimes compared to Edgar Allen Poe. Renard himself was a devoted fan of the American genius of Gothic horror. It was reading Poe that inspired Renard to take up a career in writing.

In his Encylopédie de l’utopie, des voyages extraordinaires, et de la science fiction, French critic Pierre Versins called Renard, “the best French science fiction writer of the years 1900-1930.” And Jean-Jacques Bridenne called the short stories of Renard, “the most gripping in French literature.”

Furthermore, Maurice Renard, who died in 1939, left a significant legacy of lasting influence. Just one example is the fact that his 1920 novel, The Hands of Orloc, has been adapted to film three times. A 1935 version starred the great Peter Lorre. A 1960 British adaptation of The Hands of Orlac is a cult classic and stars Mel Ferrer and Christopher Lee.

Another of his works, A Man Amongst the Microbes: Scherzo, (1928) inspired Richard Matheson’s novel, The Shrinking Man. This, in turn, led to the SF classic film, The Incredible Shrinking Man. Maurice Renard is also credited with innovating one of the most intriguing SF concepts of all time – “slow glass.” This was a type of glass that absorbed light in such a way as to condense time. Bob Shaw wrote a groundbreaking short story based on the slow glass concept. This was the Hugo-nominated Light of Other Days. He later reworked the story into the novel, Other Days, Other Eyes. (1972)

The slow glass conception is becoming a reality today. In 2005, IBM introduced a chip, called the photonic silicon waveguide, which can slow down the speed of light.

You can download a free e-book copy of New Bodies For Old at Project Gutenberg HERE.

PLEASE CHECK OUT MY REVIEWS OF OTHER CLASSIC BOOKS, LINKED BELOW:

PHARAOH By Boleslaw Prus

SAURUS By Eden Phillpotts

HOLOGRAM DREAMS by R.G. Knighton



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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Eden Phillpotts Wrote 300 Books, Including ‘Saurus’ — A Hyperintellectual Lizard Visiting Earth From Outer Space


Review by: KEN KORCZAK

A large nut-shaped metallic object comes crashing to earth and buries itself on impact into the bucolic pastures of the East Devonshire countryside.

A distinguished and semi-retired biologist who lives nearby investigates. He digs out the object and is stunned to discover it’s not a natural meteorite, but obviously something hollow and of intelligent design.

But the real surprise comes when his team of workmen finally manage to open the space capsule. Inside they find three small boxes. One contains an egg, the next contains a cache of seeds and the third a mysterious tin containing what appears to be some sort of jelly.

Of course, they have to hatch that egg. Out of it emerges a rather humanoid-like iguana. This iguana has no tail. It also sports a large, bulbous head and large, luminous eyes that gleam with intelligence from Day 1. The seeds are also planted. The result is a rapid-growing plant that produces a fruit resembling a tomato. It turns out the tin of jelly is “baby food” for the newly hatched reptoid — apparently sustenance until the space tomatoes are ready to eat. And so “Saurus” is born — an extraterrestrial envoy from some mysterious source in outer space.

Prolific British author EDEN PHILLPOTTS leveraged this science fictiony premise as a vehicle that would enable him to present a series of essays and commentaries on the state of human affairs, from geopolitical and theological, to historical and philosophical.

So this is not a thrilling science fiction yarn with a well-developed plot, and not the brand of space opera action that was thriving in 1938 when this book was published. Saurus matures to adulthood in just weeks, learns to read and write quickly — and then he learns to type. That’s his only method of communication since he cannot not speak. Fortunately, he commands a blazing fast word-per-minute proficiency.

After a deep read of world history, a thorough survey of philosophy, math, theology and sundry other topics he begins to spill forth with his assessment of earth’s collective humanity and our current level of psycho-social development. Of course, these are the views of Eden Phillpotts.

It’s interesting to note this book came out in 1938, a dire time for Great Britain. The nation still bore the scars of the first Great War. Everyone knew that a second World War was certainly right around the corner. Also, the rising menace of the Russian communists and the gigantic figure of Joseph Stalin rumbled menacingly on the Eastern horizon.

Marker denoting “Eltham” the home of Phillpotts in Torquay, Devon, England.

One would think that simmering atmosphere would have informed and influence the many opinions Phillpotts espouses through the fictional vehicle of his intellectual lizard — and yet I detect scant sense of fear or anxiety within these pages. In fact, Saurus is the very personification of staid English tact and aplomb. The qualities of politeness and a certain pragmatic chivalry infuse the fundamentals of his discourse.

I’ll also say that Phillpotts does not come off as radical in his politics, nor does he display the agitation of a social malcontent who is deeply critical or pessimistic about the fate of mankind. His views on the achievements of his own culture are measured.  That Great Britain spread a common law grounded in the fundamental liberty of the individual throughout its empire is what Phillpotts considers his country’s greatest contribution to the world. Yes, he acknowledges that Britain committed its share of atrocities in its forays around the globe, but he says these sins are ultimately mitigated when the basic principles of English law and culture take hold after the dust settles. As Saurus writes, the British find “hating” to be “very fatiguing.”

On the other hand, Phillpotts’ central notion is that mankind is ultimately unable to live up to its own highest ideals. For example, Saurus identified the GOLDEN RULE as perhaps the most enlightened concept ever idealized. Unfortunately, no one is able to adhere to the Golden Rule for long, be it an individual or a nation. So Phillpotts says that while people understand what to do — they ultimately fail to do it — and the reason for that is that we fall prey to our passions, emotions and latent animal instincts.

Adelaide Phillpotts as a child,

And there’s so much more. For example, Phillpotts upholds the first American President George Washington as one of the greatest men in history and that England should have learned more from his example — but I’ll leave it there.

Unfortunately, one can never consider any of the hundreds of popular books Phillpotts wrote without also noting his infamous, years-long incestuous relationship with his daughter, ADELAIDE PHILLPOTTS ROSS. She revealed the incestuous nature of her relationship with her father in a 1976 interview. It started when she was a girl and may have continued until she was 55 when she married an American bookseller, Nicholas Ross — which Eden Phillpotts objected to strenuously. Upon her marriage, he never spoke to her again. He died in 1960 at age 98.

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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

Analog Science Fiction Tale by Bill Johnson About Time Travelers to Ancient Ski Lodge Will Challenge Readers, But Entertain Those Who Can Bring Something To The Table


Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Just a few paragraphs into the lead-off science fiction story in the Nov-Dec 2017 issue of ANALOG, I began to feel a strange swoon – it was borne of a certain brand of déjà vu that I’ll call … um? … synchronistic familiarity?

Let me explain:

The story is titled HYBRID, BLUE, BY FIRELIGHT. The setting is a ski-lodge sort of facility with a fine restaurant, rooms and other creature comforts for travelers – except this place is positioned in the year 42,967 BCE in a remote Arctic-like region — and the “guests” are time travelers from a variety of future timelines.

As it happens, I have been to this place many times. For real.

I call it The Restaurant on the Edge of Time (The RET for short) – and the way I get there is through the practice of lucid dreaming.

Years ago (somewhere in the 1990s) I perfected the practice of lucid dreaming after reading Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming written by Stanford University psychophysiologist STEPHEN LABERGE – even though I was a spontaneous lucid dreamer years before confronting LaBerge’s ground-breaking work.

Rather than retell everything here, I will now refer you to the first article I published on my visit to The RET – the earliest publication of this story (that I can find) appeared on one of my blogs in 2006 – but for right now I suggest you pause before you read the rest of my review of Bill Johnson’s science fiction story, read about my dream adventure at The RET which I have re-posted here:

THE RESTAURANT ON THE EDGE OF TIME

Okay! Welcome back! I hope you enjoyed the trip to The RET!

So now let’s talk about this novella, Hybrid, Blue, by Firelight. It’s a challenging piece of fiction, to be sure, which is often the case with hard science fiction crafted in the best tradition of the genre. The author is BILL JOHNSON. He won science fiction’s top honor, the HUGO AWARD, in 1998.

I like science fiction that make you think – even sweat a few bullets out of your forehead – if you are going to understand what is happening in the story. Grapple you must with solid, meaty scientific theory based on … you know … real science. ‘Hybrid’ is that kind of story.

A short synopsis: This tale involves two brokers of genetic goods – one is a man (a homo sapiens sapiens) by the name of Martin. His partner is a kind of omnipresent  AI figure, appropriately named “Artie.”

An artists conception of a Red Deer Cave individual.

Martin and Artie ply their trade at the Stone Eagle, a luxury ski-lodge hotel positioned some 40 thousand years in the past. Time travelers of multiple species of man – NEANDERTHALS, DENISOVANS, RED DEER CAVERS and others – all meet at this exotic nexus to wheel and deal on what they need to manage the future timelines of their races.

Accouterments of trade include things like human female ova, resistance to diseases, whole intact species of animal, such as dogs, and so forth.

But the set-up is unstable, in that, maintaining the Stone Eagle is subject to problems, such as time quakes and wobbly reality shifts that quaver amid an array of future timelines … this precarious footing adds tension and sense of urgency to the narrative.

It’s an ambitious premise and difficult to pull off.

Author Bill Johnson is counting on his readers to be intelligent and informed about the latest theories concerning the origin of the human species – but I also believe Johnson expects his reader to contribute mightily in another way toward making the story a coherent whole.

Alexei Panshin

I could be wrong, but I believe the writing technique Johnson is using is what science fiction literary critic ALEXEI PANSHIN described as: “… a provocative vagueness deliberately introduced in order to prevent … readers from understanding too clearly and exactly what was happening and thereby losing their sense of mystery.”

Panshin ascribes the genesis of this writing technique to the legendary science fiction master A. E. VAN VOGT. The great man himself confirmed Panshin’s theory, saying:

A.E. van Vogt, Golden Age science fiction author who left subliminal gaps in his prose which he expected his readers to fill in.

“Each paragraph – sometimes each sentence – of my brand of science fiction has a gap in it, an unreality condition. In order to make it real, he reader must add the missing parts. He cannot do this out of his past associations. There are no past associations. So he must fill in the gap from the creative parts of his brain.”

When this technique works, it can create fiction that is rich, compelling and delicious beyond belief. Unfortunately, leaving subliminal gaps within a narrative tends to leave many readers baffled – such is the nature of their personal thought processes that subliminal promptings invoke no response for them – and the effect is only confusion. Some readers can “auto-fill,” some can’t.

On the other hand, there are some aspects of Hybrid, Blue, by Firelight that are problematic for less exotic reasons. For example, there is a scene where the characters come upon some dead bodies, and these are covered in buzzing flies – and yet, they are in a cold climate. Our characters are wearing animal skins and fur, there is snow on the ground, they’re traveling by dog sled – so how can there be carrion-eating flies under these frigid conditions?


There can’t be flies, and so this makes no sense. It’s a small detail, but jarring enough to sow uncomfortable confusion in the mind of the reader, who then begins to question the fundamental integrity of the overall scenario.

As for me, though, I enjoyed the story. My subconscious mind was auto-filling like mad. I felt I was treated to a vivid, sensual and luxurious science fiction feast. Also, I was delighted to confront an intelligent fictional scenario that so closely matched a beloved location so near and dear to my own dreams — literally.




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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Hologram Dreams by British author R.G. Knighton is about as much fun as you can have reading science fiction

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This is the second novel I have read by indie British indie writer R.G. Knighton, and it just happens to be his second book.

After being outrageously entertained by his debut offering, TIMELOCK, I was eager to get my hands on Knighton’s follow-up effort, HOLOGRAM DREAMS. I am delighted to report the second is even better than the first.

In this novel Knighton gravitates away from horror and toward science fiction, but the result is the same – bloody, but energetic and wacky fun featuring wonderfully conceived characters embroiled in a well-designed plot. There’s also surprisingly rich descriptions of scenery, action and background.

I have no idea how hard this author works, or how much he sweats over writing and rewriting, but the final effect is prose that flows so effortlessly that all you have to do is sit back and just enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it is!

The premise is a setting 50 years in the future. Think of a massive multinational corporation like Disney, except the Hologram Dream Corporation provides more than mere theme park escapism. Technology has advanced to allow full-immersion experiences in virtual reality scenarios generated by a massive computer-generated infrastructure that can create any “dream” anyone might want to experience as if it were real.

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R.G. Knighton

The holograms are supported by brick-and-mortar Hollywood set building – the result is that the filthy rich (drug lords and movie stars) can be transported to a thrilling adventure in ancient Egypt, a big-game hunting safari, a bloody gladiator match in a Roman amphitheater – anything.

But where there are greedy and powerful corporate creeps, and hedonistic millionaires willing to pay unlimited cash to have their deepest desires brought to life, you’ll find the wretched folly of human nature — people who will stop at nothing to live out the darkest lusts lurking in the basements of their diseased psyches.

The tone oscillates between dark humor and light-hearted wit. Knighton’s bent is often wry, dry, and biting, perhaps almost cynical. He’s a writer who does not flinch from brutality and violence –- blood and gore, described in sweaty detail –- and he pulls no punches in creating characters of absolute lowest-common-denominator morality.

But Knighton also gives us pure-of-heart heroes who display enormous courage, along with an immense capacity for self-sacrifice to help others.

Yes, it’s basic pure and sweet good guys versus scummy bad guys – and for that matter – the entire premise is not strikingly original, having been explored by many authors over the years (and decades old movies, such as West World, and TV shows, such as Star Trek’s “Holodeck”).

However, what matters is the execution. On this count, R.G. Knighton really delivers. I said it in my review of his first book and I’ll say it again, Mr. Knighton is a writer of natural talent.

He takes standard science fiction conventions, breathes new life into it all, innovates a little, adds a few new “plot gimmick attachments” — and comes away with a book that does not pretend to be anything but fantastic entertainment.




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

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Web-based movie series “Milgram & The Fastwalkers” Out-Xs the X-Files

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Think of a soap opera, but not the kind with impossibly handsome doctors and lawyers tangled in sleazy love affairs with achingly gorgeous women — no, instead imagine a soap opera that has UFOs and alien abduction as its central premise.

Well, that’s what you get with the first season of MILGRAM & THE FASTWALKERS, a micro-budget but heroic attempt to take ufology to the streets serial-TV style … well, Internet-platform style, that is.

But wait a minute — I want to jump right ahead and say that while Season 1 of ‘Fastwalker’ was indeed rather soapy, Season 2 quickly evolves into something much more sensational, and by sensational, I mean sensationally good.

Milgrim & The Fastwalkers easily out-Xs The X Files, in my opinion, and I loved the X Files.

But this is better. Read on.

Here’s the premise: Brilliant psychiatrist Richard Milgram (Richard Cutting) has his career in high gear having just won the prestigious “Pullman Prize” for penning a brilliant book, while his practice has a mile-long waiting list of people who desperately need one of the world’s best shrinks.

In the meantime, a young, career-climbing lawyer has developed a real problem. She’s the lovely Sally Lemm (Walker Hays), beautiful as a summer day — but tough, cold and hard-bitten as the worse kind of A-hole lawyer you ever want to meet

Her career is crumbling because she is being taken up, up and up into the frightening interior of a UFO operating room where nasty aliens are giving impregnating her with alien hybrid seeds, only to terminate her pregnancies whenever they see fit. And then they do it all over again.

Ms. Lemm eventually finds her way to Dr. Milgram, who is skeptical at first, but gets pulled toward where the science is taking him — to the astounding realization that this whole alien abduction thing just might be real.

Dr. Milgram is certainly based on the real, world-famous and late Harvard psychiatrist DR. JOHN MACK. Like Milgram, Mack had won the Pulitzer Prize for a brilliant book, and was among the most eminent psychiatric doctors in the world. Like Milgram, Mack was drawn into the endlessly bizarre world of ufology when he dared conclude that his many patients complaining of alien abduction were not crazy — that what was happening to them was probably real.

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Dr. John Mack, Photo by Stuart Conway

Mack’s distinguished career was rocked to the core. Harvard elites formed a kangaroo court and tried to revoke his tenure and spit him out like a bad oyster — but Mack was saved thanks mostly to the efforts of attorney Daniel Sheehan (of the Pentagon Papers case), who pulled his fat out of the academic-witch-hunt fire.

Portraying Dr. Milgram in the image of John Mack is just one thing that this intelligently written series gets right. Finally, here is a serial dramatic production channeling the UFO phenomenon which goes beyond all the surface cliches of ufology. It gets at the truly mind-bending, far reaching implications of what is most likely the most important sociological/scientific/spiritual issue of our times.

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Yes, ufology is hopelessly infected with the lunatic fringe, but at the same time, has captured serious attention of some the most brilliant minds in the world, including the aforementioned John Mack, but also others, such as Jacques Vallee, Carl Jung, J. Alan Hynek, Horace Drew, Gordon Cooper, Laurance Rockefeller, Edgar Mitchell — and many other movers and shakers in science and industry.

Two other things that make Milgram & the Fastwalkers a superior production:

Character driven plots: The creators do not rely on the sensational aspect of the UFO phenomenon to carry the entire narrative. This saga is deeply character driven, and there are a lot of them! Milgram and Sally Lemm are the major players, but they are surrounded by well-fleshed out characters with all the normal problems of everyday life — from Milgram’s boozy, sex-starved wife, Evelyn (Kate Revelle), to Fred Robinette (John C. Bailey), Migram’s fellow psychiatrist with an addiction to gambling, to Lisa Hill (Danielle Davy), a repulsively seedy, scruples-free journalist hell bent on digging dirt to further her own career.

Punchy Script: The screenplay often sores to delightful levels with crackling, cut-to-the-bone dialogue that will spin the mind of the viewer like an alien brain implant. A prime example is a sizzling (and darkly humorous) scene in Episode 3 of Season 2 when hapless mechanic Kevin (Joe Hansard), a frequent UFO abductee, is confronted by the wonderfully freakish Claire Tighlman ( Victoria Guthrie) — who is almost certainly some kind of alien (probably a “reptilian” disguised as a human) — who badgers and bullies Kevin while simultaneously dishing out an awful kind of tough love.

I want to make mention of another scene that lifts this series to a higher level of authenticity. It’s in Season 2, Episode 6 in which Sally Lemm is paid a visit by a MIB (Josh Davidson), one of ufology’s infamous “Men In Black.”

I use the word “authenticity” because the scene captures the real flavor or the incredible weirdness of the MIB phenomenon, and while an element of wry humor is involved, it doesn’t present the MIB event as a shallow Hollywood joke as did those silly the Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones movies.

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It seems clear that the scene leverages two of the most famous real MIB events, the first as reported by Jacques Vallee in his book, Confrontations. The incident occurred in 1976 near a small lumber town in California called Happy Camp. After numerous UFO sightings and confrontation with aliens, a local restaurant in the small town received a strange customer one day. Vallee describes it this way:

“… a stranger who had never been seen in town happened to stroll into Lois’s Cafe … all conversation stopped when the man came in. He ordered a steak dinner but proved unable to use a knife and fork, and eventually left without paying … he had pale skin and ‘oriental’ eyes. He wore a bizarre sort of shirt and no coat, although it was the middle of winter. He smiled constantly at people in a strange, forced grimace. Among the peculiar things he did during his extraordinary dinner was a brave attempt to drink Jell-O out of a glass.”

The other MIB event the scene takes a cue from is from the book, CAPTURED! by Kathleen Marden, the niece of famous UFO abductee Betty Hill. In this book, Marden describes a frightening MIB visit to a medical doctor who had hypnotically regressed a young man who had experienced an abduction event. Part of the doctor’s bizarre conversation with the MIB involved the MIB asking the doctor to hold a coin in his hand. Marden writes:

“(The MIB) told the him to hold (the coin) in his outstretched hand. he told him to watch the coin, not him. He did this and saw the penny change to a silver color, then to a blue color, become hazy, indistinct, and vanish .. the MIB said no one on this plane would ever see that coin again.”

The MIB then tells the doctor that Barney Hill (Betty’s husband) “knew too much” and that his heart had been taken in just the same way the coin had been made to vanish. This very same scene is played out with Sally Lemm and her MIB visitor, except he vanishes her ring instead of a coin.

The point is, the star and writer of this UFO show, Richard Cutting, has clearly done his homework and is delivering to his audience a script that is inspired directly from the pages of some of the best books on the subject. It imbues this drama with a depth and intelligence rare in shows about the UFO issue.

Again, I want to emphasize that Milgram & The Fastwalkers really hits its stride and becomes something special in Season 2, but I recommend you watch from the beginning, starting with Season 1, which is composed of 12 short episodes of just seven to 20 minutes each.

Let’s hope there is a Season 3.


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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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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“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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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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Cool indie writer website of the week: Science fiction writer Chris Reher and the Targon Tales

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KEN KORCZAK;

The smartest, hardest-working indie writers bolster their book-selling efforts with a kick-ass website, and this week we select the site of Canadian science fiction writer CHRIS REHER.

It’s a clean and attractive design which displays the covers of Reher’s books. The book covers themselves do a lot of the heavy lifting in making the overall site look good because they’re professionally done, exciting and attractive. Terrific cover art.

Navigation around the webpage is easy. The personality of the site evinces a feeling of: “Hey, science fiction is fun and exciting” while doing the basic legwork of promoting and marketing the author’s selection of titles.

We also notice that Reher is offering the first book in her series for free, and you can get it here: SKY HUNTER FREE.

Note: I read and reviewed Sky Hunter and liked it quite a bit. See my review HERE.

You can visit Chris Reher’s site here: GO TO WEBSITE

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @KenKorczak and please consider giving a “Like” to REMOTE BOOK REVIEWING on Facebook!

Free e-book of the week: Daimones by Massimo Marino

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KEN KORCZAK:

This week’s free ebook of the week is the first of an ambitious triology of novels by physicist and computer scientist MASSIMO MARINO.

Dr. Marino’s impressive résumé includes the likes of CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) and Apple Computer, and much more.

His books tell of a bleak dystopian future world in which most of the human race has been “exterminated.”

A brief description goes this way:

Could Dan Amenta be the last man alive on the planet? Death has swept away the lives of billions of people, but Dan and his family were spared. By whom, and why?

Surviving, to give meaning to their lives, and looking for other survivors lead Dan to discover the truth about the extermination of the human race.

The encounter with Laura, a young and sexy girl of Italian origin, raises ethical and moral questions that had never touched the Amentas family before.

Other survivors force Dan to confront his past to find answers to the many questions.

You can get your free copy of Volume One of the DAIMONES TRIOLOGY by clicking here: Daimones: Daimones Trilogy

And now consider clicking here to help a butterfly: POLLINATORS

Free Kindle Book of the Week

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Your free Kindle Book of Week is THE ENEMY OF AN ENEMY by VINCENT TRIGILI. It’s science fiction/fantasy and Book 1 of a series the author calls “Lost Tales of Power.”

The premise of the book is described this way on Amazon:

Vydor is riding a wave of success, but now his ship, the Dragon Claw, is being sent to investigate a mysterious event deep within the Empire’s space. A secret research colony has fallen silent and the forces sent to investigate were never heard from again.

A new enemy has come to the Empire bringing with it dark powers that were abandoned long before the Empire was born. Powers that were thought to be legends and myths.

It’s up to Vydor to keep this force at bay and protect the Empire, but it may come at the cost of his faith and shake the foundations of the Empire itself.

Get your free Kindle download of this book here: ENEMY

For more book news and other news, see: LOTS OF STUFF

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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