Erika Hayasaki turns in an absorbing piece of journalism telling a tragic tale from America’s farm country

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Review by: KEN KORCZAK

This Kindle Single is an incredibly compelling piece of long-form journalism than reads like a gripping novel. It’s the agonizing true story of a tragedy that befalls three young people in America’s heartland, and the consequences that played out over the next three years.

In the summer of 2010, three young men, Will Piper, Alex “Paco” Pacas and Wyatt Whitebread took jobs working for a grain elevator complex in the small town of Mount Carroll, Illinois, deep in the heart of America’s Corn Belt.

In a case of egregiously poor judgment, lack of oversight and stunning disregard for federal safety regulations, the boys were directed to climb inside a large grain bin filled with tons of corn. Their job was to loosen up clots of kernels where they tended to stick along the sides of the metal bin so that the grain would auger smoothly out the bottom.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail and rob too much of the story for the reader, except to say that three young men went inside the bin, and only one came back out alive. The survivor, Will Piper, was nearly killed as well, but far worse, he was an up-close witness to the horrifying suffocation of his two friends. One of them was just 15 years old.

Journalist ERIKA HAYASAKI delivers a masterful piece of writing. She tells a sensational story without ever sensationalizing. She never falls prey to melodramatic hype or gratuitous sentimentalism. She maintains an uncanny discipline by writing within herself — and by that I mean that she renders this story as a “just-the-facts” journalist.

Hayasaki is the kind of writer who is savvy enough to recognize when the true details are enough in themselves to deliver a captivating drama. I must add: What’s truly magical is how Hayasaki manages to make the reader feel the emotional impacts, the sense of heartfelt tragedy and the numbing confusion about the unexpected random cruelty of life can dish out — and she does it all while staying in command of her professional objectivity as a reporter. It’s brilliant!

Erika

Erika Hayasaki

There is background theme to this work as well. Hayasaki has chosen to position this case against a troubling phenomenon — the ascendancy of the commodity of corn to a place where it has become extraordinarily pervasive in our lives.

The dominance of corn is a complex issue. It encompasses global food production, distribution and other fundamental choices about how we are managing what we eat and the environment — but also — corn has become a enormous factor in other areas of our economy. We dump corn into our gas tanks in the form of ethanol, we use it to make plastics, and an array of other non-food materials that reach deeply into our lives. Is it sustainable?

At first, I thought the author was taking a wrong turn in this regard; however, she ends up not letting this overarching issue consume too much of the primary narrative, and the corn factor ends up being tantalizing food for thought. (No pun intended).

This is the second Erika Hayasaki work I have read. The first, another Kindle Single titled “Dead or Alive,” (I review it here on Amazon), and that was an equally skillful and impressive piece of writing. so I would recommend you check out that one too.

It’s great stuff.

You can find this book online here: DROWNED BY CORN

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

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The Cicada Prophecy by new author J.R. McLeay is thought-provoking science fiction that entertains

81VebM11eoL._SL1500_Review by: KEN KORCZAK

The best science fiction is hard science fiction — and the best hard science fiction is that which takes real-life, complex and thorny issues of science, and injects them into a compelling story with an intriguing plot played out by likable, interesting characters.

This book, THE CICADA PROPHECY does all of that.

It’s not only a top-notch SF read, but it has a unique enough flavor and style that proves, once again, hard science fiction can still be made fresh while working within the confines of genre fiction.

The science at the center of this yarn is the biology of aging, sex and reproduction, and mankind’s eternal quest to cheat death by tampering with the rules of Mother Nature.

We are up against billions of years of biological evolution — and the question is, can our super science grapple with what nature has decreed? Can we boldly change the rule-set of the ancient game? Can we really make our biological bodies live forever? Can we cheat death? And if we do, will there be some kind of trade-off? Will there be a terrible price to pay for upending the “natural order of things?”

This premise is by far nothing new in science fiction, but author J.R. McLEAY pumps new life into into the situation by creating a world where the majority of the human population has opted to remain frozen in pre-adolescence.

That’s right. The entire human population are now fresh-faced 12-year-olds!

But they have the minds of adults because they are many decades old!

In The Cicada Prophecy, yet another science fictional Brave New World-like scenario — (or Frankenstein, or Heinlein’s Methuselah’s Children or Cordwainer Smith’s Instrumentality of Mankind) — the hubris of humanity is at it again.

This time meddlesome scientists have arrested the aging process by preventing sexual maturation, and they do that by clipping the pituitary gland in the brain. They replace the hormones once regulated by the pituitary with a skin patch that delivers the cocktail of hormones the body needs to stay a healthy adolescent.

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The 17-year cicada

The viewpoint character is the brilliant Dr. Richard Ross. Let me tell you — a more suave, charming, brave, kind and intelligent character has not bestrided the stage of science fiction for some time. What’s terrific is that Dr. Ross is both charismatic and likable while sustaining the demeanor of a coldly logical Mr. Spock.

It’s a tribute to this author’s considerable skill in that he created a character that is a walking wonk, a bio-medical technocrat who can spew forth incredible knowledge on everything from genetics to cell biology to botany, but who also wins us over with an ever-present warmth that is understated, yet his tender, graceful demeanor is felt by the reader.

The delightful Dr. Ross can even make a visit to a dreary graveyard seem like a grand celebration of the fame and folly of mankind marching across history!

However, Dr. Ross is balanced with an antagonist which, I must admit, is a tad too cookie cutter for me — the demented fundamentalist, hell-and-brimstone preacher Calvin James — who rails that the arrogance of science will bring on the certain retribution of God — in the case, the fire-breathing, vengeful Judeo-Christian God of the Old Testament.

The Calvin James character does the minimum needed to set up the ultimate central conflict needed for tension in the narrative, but the way the character is handled is, in my view, a missed opportunity to bring more depth to the overall theme of the book. The raving preacher is too simplistic — but again, I’ll just leave it there because I don’t think this does enough damage to tarnish the overall luster of the novel.

(Note: I could also take issue with some of the way Darwin is oversimplified with too much emphasis on the “survival of the fittest” subset element of his work, and the way the author rattles around inside the box of an age-old dilemma — the vexing issue of cause-and-effect that continues to haunt the eschatology of material science today — but again, I’ll beg off on that too).

All in all: No worries! This is a marvelously entertaining work of science fiction that one can kick back and enjoy while rooting for the heroes, hissing at the villains … and if a bit of education on cutting edge biology happens to seep osmosis-like into your brain along the way, well, all the better.

The Cicada Prophecy 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

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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 author 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.

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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

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Obscure French writer Patrick Modiano wins Nobel Prize for Literature

KEN KORCZAK:

An obscure French writer, all but unknown in the United States, has been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Literature.

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The choice to bestow the writing’s most prestigious honor to Patrick Modiano has some in the literary world scratching their heads, while others recognize this author as a unparalleled talent and deserving recipient.

Modiano writes and publishes in French. Although his books have been translated into more than 30 languages, few have been rendered into English. But even these titles have never caught fire with American, or any of the Anglo-English speaking nations.

One of his most successful, award-winning novels, Missing Persons, was issued in English translation in the United States in 2004. It sold a paltry 2,400 copies before vanishing from American bookstores forever.

Modiano is a prolific writer, having produced some 30 novels since 1968. He has also written screenplays and children’s books. Several of his works have been aadapted as feature films, all of them French-language films.

Sometimes compared to Marcel Proust, Modiano might also be compared to the likes of Philip K. Dick. That’s because a persistent theme in Modiano’s works are characters who are strangely unhinged from reality, and confused about reality.

His protagonists have problems with memory. They struggle to determine what is real and imagined, or perhaps only dreamed. They labor to come to grips with the meaning of their own lives. Memories and every-day events shift and flow without anchor in a solid foundation of reality. In a Modiano book, few people can be entirely certain about their own identities, or of anything, for that matter.

This is not science fiction, or fantasy, however. Some have described his works as “surreal detective novels.” What’s being investigated by the characters is the nature of their own reality as they try to figure out just who the hell they are, why they are here and, well, what on earth is life all about?

Prior to winning the Nobel, Modiano scored numerous other top literary awards, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca from the Institut de France, the rix Goncourt and the 2 Grand Prix du roman de l’Académie française.

Patrick Modiano is 69 years old and lives in Boulogne-Billancourt, a commune in the western suburbs of France. He is the 111th person to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

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

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

9780618224890_p0_v1_s260x420Review By KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Louis Auchincloss 1917 – 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review By KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

Frank_DeMarco

Frank DeMarco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, I digress.

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

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

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

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New Stonehenge theory by Robert John Langdon is intriguing

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

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

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

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

This made it possible for the massive stones of Stonehenge to be floated or boated to the sight, where mooring posts 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 it would have been more tenable 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 primarily a source of healing, and that this was the original purpose of Stonehenge. He says the blue stones were believed to interact with water to produce a medicinal effect. 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 subsequently 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. 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. Also, portions of the book features rather clumsy writing 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? That’s what Langdon asserts. He makes an interesting case.

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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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.

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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

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

robert-mossReview By KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Robert Moss

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William Blake

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

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

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

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


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

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It’s time to rethink everything you believe about Sasquatch

sasqtch

Review By KEN KORCZAK

If you ask me, it’s long past due that we all reevaluated everything we think we know about Bigfoot. Why not reconsider the whole confounding Sasquatch enigma from an all new paradigm and perspective?

Well, this book, The Psychic Sasquatch, is a good place to start.

Long-time anthropologist and Bigfoot researcher Jack “Kewaunee” Lasperitis says mainstream science has it all backwards. He says Bigfoot is not an animal, but a unique race of “people” who are far more intelligent than we are. If you think that’s a bold (our audacious) statement, just keep reading. Lapseritis has plenty more in store for you.

Based on his 40-plus years of research, Lapseritis has concluded:

* Bigfoot is an interdimensional entity that can pop in an out of our reality or dimension at will.

* The Bigfoot race of people were seeded here by a vastly ancient and superior race of ETs he calls the Starpeople.

* Bigfoot has powerful psychic abilities, can read our minds and send us telepathic messages when it wants to.

* Bigfoot is an expert astral traveler, extremely kind and loving, and blissfully in sync with Mother Nature.

* Bigfoot has been coming and going from planet earth, ferried by UFOs, for millions of years, and they consider us plodding homo sapiens to be the “missing links,” not themselves.

And so on.

Lapseritis says the proof of all his is not only his own direct psychic communications with Bigfoot, but that of at least 76 other witnesses and “experiencers” who have wholly independently reported much of the same phenomenon and information. He and 76 other people can’t all be having the same delusion, he says.

Interestingly, Native American lore would appear to largely support all of the above. It’s in the historic record of known American Indian tradition. The indigenous people of the America’s have long been proclaiming for thousands of years what Lapseritis says now about the true nature of their Sasquatch.

kwanee

Kewaunee Lasperitis

What do we make of it? Well, adopting a radical new paradigm is always difficult. Just think of how impossible it one seemed to believe that the earth was not flat, but round, and that the earth revolved around the sun, and not vice versa. Just stating this publicly could get you burned at the stake or imprisoned by authorities 500 years ago.

No doubt, many will symbolically do just that to Kewaunee Lapseritis in today’s court of public opinion. Caustic skeptics will have a field day gleefully heaping scorn on Lapseritis. They will laugh with derisive contempt upon his airy-fairy, New Agey, spacey theories, which they will say, are not only completely unscientific, but beyond any chance of future scientific verification.

But here’s the thing about Kewaunee Lapseritis — when you read his words, or even watch his interviews on YouTube — one can quickly conclude he is a normal guy. He’s obviously completely sane. He’s not a raving lunatic. He speaks in passionate, determined, yet tempered tones. He’s calm, kind and attentive to those asking questions.

He doesn’t fit the bill of a freaky charlatan who is out to make a buck spewing kaka for the gullible. He reminds me more of my Uncle Stanley, who was a farmer, or Steve, a burly guy who repairs my car in my small town.

Furthermore, Lapseritis comes off as even more sane than many other people — in that he expresses his frustration with the direction human civilization has taken — a path that is almost certainly leading to large scale environmental collapse of the earth’s ecosystem.

“Bigfoot is not the animal, we are,” Lapseritis says.

The proof of that is dozens of wars raging around the planet — people killing each other in city streets and shooting children in schools. We have polluted, over-fished oceans that are dying; large-scale destruction of forested lands is ongoing as is rampant greed for money and material possessions that we don’t need. Petro-chemical agriculture is infecting the soils with synthetic poisons, children are spending hours a day playing “cop-killing” video games as arsenals of nuclear weapons hide in dark silos, ever primed to unleash Armageddon across the globe at the whim of some paranoid government leader.

Lapseritis says the Bigfoot people are saddened and appalled by what the human animal is doing to the beautiful green home that belongs to all creatures of the earth — of the human variety — but also the,animal variety and transhuman.

Taken all together, and in looking at the big picture, Jack Kewaunee Lapseritis is not the one who appears to be insane. Most of the rest of humanity appears to be insane.

Think about that before you dismiss his theories about the true nature of Bigfoot.

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

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Aliens in the Forest a Fascinating read despite clunky prose

download (2)Review By KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Get your hard science fiction itch scratched with Cold Trap

Cold-Trap-by-Jon-Waskan-Cover-200x300Review By KEN KORCZAK

Among the most difficult feats in literature is to write hard science fiction that is also exciting and entertaining. I’m delighted to report that author JON WASKAN has pulled off that difficult deed here with his first novel. This is not only terrific sci-fi, but weaved within this tale of an international moon base is a murder mystery — it’s a who-done-it that will keep you guessing ‘till the end.

Best of all, COLD TRAP is driven by interesting characters who are vividly created and brought to life by fleshing out their life circumstances. When an author creates characters that we genuinely care about and then embroils them in a murderous plot against a background of high-stakes space exploration, well — what’s not to love?

But Cold Trap scores even more points by developing some intriguing subplots. One such situation involves the motivations of the major players pulling the power-political-money strings on a cutting-edge kind of mining operation on the moon.

Rather than giving us a simplistic supply-and-demand scenario featuring powerful nations scrambling to be the first to exploit rare metals embedded in moon ice, Waskan hatches a well-thought-out computer-model-game-theory situation to drive the motivation of the key players in his drama. They are desperate to prevent what they foresee as the disintegration of the world economy/culture into a dismal, chaotic dystopia.

If computer models and social engineering sounds like it might be dull — just the opposite is true in the hands of an inspired writer. Waskan finds a way to build a complex background rationale fueling an urgent impetus for the major players in his drama. Because the reader knows how high the stakes are, the tension of the narrative is all the more visceral and enjoyable.

BAnother subplot which adds juicy science fiction flavor involves mysterious alien life forms — I won’t tell you where they are from because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

So I came away from Cold Trap feeling like I had just enjoyed a meaty full-course science fiction meal complemented by a selection of fine wines followed by a rich desert, an aromatic after-dinner coffee, and even a mint to refresh the pallet at the end.

Is this a perfect book, or perhaps a SF masterpiece? Not quite. The author made a couple decisions that are baffling and which detract from an otherwise satisfying read. For example, it’s inexplicable that so many pages are spent fleshing out the background of the “Moochy” character only to let this character then spend the rest of the novel largely in the background, or as “supporting cast,” as best. (Moochy’s story is compelling, however).

The opening chapter focusing on “The Cube,” a new kind of super computer, is almost entirely incongruent with the rest of novel. There is also a lot of jumping around back and forth in time in the first half of the book, and this is perhaps not so skillfully handled.

However, these latter quibbles may be little more than the picayune ravings of a snobbish literary wonk, and others may not notice anything amiss — I eagerly recommend without reservation this book to anyone looking for a mind-expanding, thought-provoking, fun and ultimately satisfying top tier science fiction read.

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

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Freaksome Tales is Freakin’ Great

download (4)

Review By KEN KORCZAK

Here’s my theory about this book: The author sold his soul to the Devil in exchange for extraordinary literary talent. But he also had to agree to write like a person afflicted with a diseased mind. Finally, his satanic bargain allowed for a generous portion of humor, as long at that humor was black as pitch.

Not only are these short stories remarkably well-written, but the entire collection is packaged or couched in a meta-premise that is unrelentingly hilarious — the premise is that the author is a certain fictional fellow by the name of V.V. Swigferd Gloume, a sort of  British version of H.P. Lovecraft.

Like the real Lovecraft, the fictional Swiggy Gloume lives a dreary, dismal existence of self-absorbed alienation, bizarre neurotic fears, loathing of others, loathing in general and loneliness. He is obsessed with monsters, death, slimes and filth. His plight is a chronic inability to get his work consistently published in mainstream periodicals — only to achieve notoriety after his death.

And pity the poor saps that Gloume must elaborately bamboozle into publishing his work. Running a piece by Gloume is the kiss of death, either for the obscure publication or even the poor editor himself.

Author WILLIAM ROSENCRANS trots out this gag again and again — and it’s funny every time!

Rosencrans also has taken great pains to keep his parody running to the Nth degree. He provides fictional pictures of Gloume, his family and childhood home, and also an appendix which creates additional insight into the character of the nonexistent author through his correspondences, poetry and more.

But it’s the short stories themselves that make this book an astonishingly dark and demented delight.

If you are a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, then you’ll love these works; if you are not a fan of H.P Lovecraft, then you’re in luck — that’s because Rosencrans does Lovecraft while improving Lovecraft in all those ways he could and should have been improved — with more plots that are complete and resolve at the end, by adding humor, irony and charm (yes, charm), and by daring to stray beyond Lovecraftian style whenever a story needs its own flavor.

As I read, for example, I found myself thinking, “Wow, this story really has the seasoning of a G. K. Chesterton!” or “This one has a smack of Ray Bradbury!” or “This Rosencrans fellow writes like he’s the reincarnation of Horace Walpole!”

Best of all, William Rosencrans writes like William Rosencrans, obviously an author of singular and unique talent, even while he’s sending up Lovecraft or anyone else.

So FREAKSOME TALES is a marvelous book. It gets my top recommendation, and will easily land in the “Top 5” spot of my 100 Best Books of 2014, and I say that with confidence even though it’s only June.

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

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

download (3)Review By KEN KORCZAK

Artificial Absolutes is a book with a fairly intricate, well-developed story line buried under a gigantic mountain of cliché plot gimmicks that renders what might have been a decent book into a dreary mass of almost insufferable blandness.

The work often also devolves into mawkish dialogue so drippy with smarmy goo, it’s on par with a weepy love ballad written by, say, the Jonas Brothers, for tweenie fan girls.

To prove that I am not delusional or just being a mean reviewer, I will invite the reader to join me now by logging onto a favorite search engine and look up something like, “The 10 most common cliché movies scenes” — because many appear in this book.

The first cliché is one we all know and you probably won’t even have to Google it (although please feel free to do so) is that the best way to escape from the cops, or the bad guys, or anyone chasing you with guns is to squeeze into the ventilation duct work of a large building.

Time and again, movie heroes (and criminals) cleverly slip away from their pursuers by getting into the duct vents because they know that the clueless authorities or bad guys will be 100% perplexed and always fooled by this never-before-thought-of escape plan.

Artificial Absolutes includes this scene — and for good measure, it also presents the first cousin of the Great Air Duct Escape Plan — the dreaded — Escape Through the Opening at the Top of a Stalled Elevator Car Plan — and an oh-so-hackneyed climb up the cables of the elevator shaft to baffle one’s pursuers.

The next cliché plot gimmick that fills dozens of pages of this book is the:

“The bad guys can shoot at you all they want and they can never hit you, but the good guy can shoot back and score a hit on the bad guy almost at will.”

We have all seen it hundreds of times — Bruce Willis, Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris — they run around bristling with machine guns while being pursued by dozens of other guys with even more machine guns — but no one can hit the good guy! Yet, the hero can score a dead-middle-of-the-torso-shot while jumping, rolling and firing.

mary-fan-author-pic

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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Natalie Sudman’s “Application of Impossible Things” is a different kind of near death experience book

Review by KEN KORCZAK

After getting blown up by a roadside bomb in Iraq, civilian contract worker NATALIE SUDMAN “blinked” and found herself in another reality. It was a strange place indeed. Sudman discovered herself standing center stage in what she struggles to describe as perhaps a vast stadium filled with thousands of beings — but who or what kind of beings?

Souls? Personalities? Entities? Spirits? People?

None of the terms seemed quite adequate or accurate. Sudman realized that she was having a near death experience (NDE) after suffering severe trauma to her body. But this event didn’t have any of the classic attributes popularly associated with the NDE.

There was no tunnel of light, no greeting on “the other side” by dead relatives, no experience of a spirit detaching and flying away from her physical body. She just “blinked” and she was there. Once arrived, she felt instantly at home and did not want to go back.

She also became immediately aware of her first function in the afterlife: She acted as a kind of cosmic computer cache with the purpose of “downloading” all of her “stored” information to the waiting gathering of souls — who absorbed the information “with gratitude.”

NATALIE SUDMAN

By now you may be getting the idea that APPLICATION OF IMPOSSIBLE THINGS is yet another near death experience book, but one that makes a significant departure from what have become the conventions of the genre.

This is not airy fairy New Agey fare but more of a thinking man’s (in this case, a thinking woman’s) report on the afterlife. Sudman is at once a serious, sober observer of the extraordinary situation she encountered, but also an often funny and charming writer with something entirely different to say.

This is a book about the ultimate issues of all reality — What is life? Who are we? What are we? What is the meaning of life? What does it mean to be a conscious human being? Why are we here? — and Sudman has a truly remarkable ability to delve into these weighty questions while never talking down to us, and at the same time, challenging us to expand our way of thinking.

This is a slim volume at just over 100 pages, but it has the effect of reading a book of 200 or 300 pages. Each paragraph seems impregnated with richer meaning, as if there is information coming at you from the spaces in between the words and sentences. If you read it twice, don’t be surprised is if you get as much more even more out of it the second time around.

It’s perhaps important to note that Sudman was not a New Age type or any sort of formal spiritual seeker before she was encountered a roadside bomb on Nov. 24, 2007. She was an archaeologist by profession, and then had transitioned to working as a project engineer for a civilian contractor in the Basrah South Region Office in Iraq. She was managing the building of a health care center at Khor Az Aubair at the time of the incident that transformed her life.

She comes to the NDE subject as an outsider with a fresh perspective, and so perhaps without the baggage of those who spend their lives immersed in mystical esoterica — and yet, many can expect to have their old and calcified belief systems rattled by what Sudman suggests here.

Open-minded skeptics only need apply.


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

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Free history ebook takes you down a remarkable Ohio River journey

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Lyman C. Draper was a driven historian who was determined that certain events of American history should never be forgotten. The result of his lifetime’s work are a number of fascinating manuscripts like this one, Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90.

This account records the experiences of Maj. Samuel S. Forman who was a member of a large party that traveled the length of the Ohio River in crudely constructed barges. Included with the party were more than 100 black slaves.

Born in 1765, Forman was a young man in his early twenties at the time of his Ohio River adventure. His company navigated to the Mississippi where they sailed south to establish a plantation in Natchez. Natchez is located in the present-day state of Mississippi, which was still a holding of Spain at the time. Spain would relinquish the territory about a year later.

The source of the Ohio River is in Pennsylvania and flows westward through West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana before flowing into the Mississippi in Illinois.

At the time of Forman’s journey in 1789, the territories along the river were home to a marvelously rich collection of native American peoples, forts and the various scattered outposts of Europeans settlers. It was wild and dangerous country loaded abundant wildlife and colorful characters.

For the history buff this rare manuscript is a treasure, not just for its overall narrative, but for those incidental historic asides which jump out at you like nuggets washed from a stream. For example:

* We learn that the first First Lady, Martha Washington, was a chunky woman. Major Forman was lucky to be near at hand at the the second inauguration of George Washington and he notes that Mrs. Washington looked “pretty fleshy.”

* The city of Cincinnati owes it establishment to a love infatuation. A certain Ensign Francis Luce was charged with establishing a block house at a site called North Bend, but he caught site of a “beautiful black-eyed lady” who was the wife of a settler. The husband found it necessary to move from North Bend to remove his wife from the strenuous advances of Ensign Luce — and the location they moved to became Cincinnati.

Reading this evinces a tremendous sense of sadness for me. That’s because today the Ohio is the most polluted river in America. It was once a vital artery of life for the Native Americans. The river was the lifeblood of their rich and imaginative culture, as well as a source-mother for abundant wildlife.

The journey of Samuel Forman was the beginning of another kind of bleak journey — toward the devastation of the native population, and the toxic environmental degradation of what was once one of the most life-giving bodies of water in the world.

Not anymore.

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

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Spiritual Lucid Dreaming by Samira Nuriyeva is a well written introduction for the novice dream explorer

Review by KEN KORCZAK

This short manual introducing the concept of lucid dreaming to a new audience is well written in a clear and “lucid” style. It delivers a broad overview on how to lucid dream, while also thoroughly grounding the reader in a framework based on the Hindu tradition of Vedanta.

That’s no small accomplishment considering that this is just 60-some pages, but the author handles the task well. As a person who has been exploring lucid dreaming for some 30 years, I can find little fault with the approach taken here.

However, let me say that I don’t think lucid dreaming must necessarily be considered from the perspective of Vedanta only — if you want, you can achieve the lucid dream state, practice it and gain its insights without the baggage of any religious or philosophical system, including Vedanta.

This is not to imply that Vedanta is “baggage” in a negative way; I think anyone who chooses to immerse themselves in this ancient tradition would only benefit from doing so, and find great personal growth.

But take, for example, the purely secular and scientific approaches to lucid dreaming, such as that exemplified by the work of the psychophysiologist STEPHEN LABERGE PH.D. It was LaBerge who reintroduced the concept of lucid dreaming to a modern audience with his books LUCID DREAMING and EXPLORIING THE WORLD OF LUCID DREAMING.

LaBerge made lucid dreaming palatable to a western, rational-materialistic audience by scientifically proving the reality of the lucid dream state with innovative and repeatable experiments using EEG readouts and monitoring the eye movements of REM sleep — it established beyond a reasonable doubt that the fundamentals of what ancient adepts of Vedanta had been telling us for untold centuries is accurate.

The point is, millions of people learned to lucid dream and gain all of its benefits with LaBerge’s purely secular approach — on the other hand, adopting the methods grounded in Vedanta as explained in this short manual by SAMIRA NURIYEVA will be of equal benefit, and perhaps in many ways, will lead to an even richer understanding of what is implied by lucid dreaming.

So this brief, well-written introduction to lucid dreaming gets my best 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: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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Steps To Heaven by Wendy Cartmell is crime thriller novel a tad short on the thrills

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Sgt. Major Tom Crane is a British military cop with a big problem. Soldiers are turning up dead. Their throats are slit — and so are the jugulars of their wives and sons — the crime scenes are a horrid bloody mess.

The first case seems like a classic double murder suicide, maybe the result of a marriage gone bad, or perhaps a soldier suffering from PTSD. But Sgt. Crane smells a rat. When a second murder suicide turns up on another garrison, Crane becomes a human bloodhound, nose bent to a trail of clues that strangely point to a local church.

If this sounds like a terrific premise for a thrilling crime novel, well it is. Author WENDY CARTMELL has hatched a first rate plot and she does a credible job of laying it all out, holding it together and keeping us guessing to the end.

However, STEPS TO HEAVEN is not a great novel; it’s merely an average or perhaps a “just ok” offering to the crime fiction genre. There are several reasons why this novel fails to be all it could be.

Sgt. Crane’s methods are procedural, clerical and plodding. The majority of the action plays out far more like a bunch of bored cops sitting around for committee meetings to read reports and compare notes. They analyze computer data and comb through various records — and then they stay late to go over it all again.

Granted, this might be the way real police work is actually done, rather than the high-octane gun-play, car chases, knife fights and narrow escapes of movies or TV — but this is fiction and we don’t want paperwork and reports — we want our adrenaline to boil through every page.

Another significant drawback for me are characters that are flat. Everyone here is more or less a cliché — the prim, proper and a-bit-too-tightly wound Sgt. Kim Weston. Her well-starched uniform crackles as much as her obsessive efficiency.

Kim Weston is set off against Staff Sergeant Billy Williams — an easy going athletic type who feels more comfortable on a football field than in front of a computer. He’s cheerful, happy-go-lucky but sometimes does sloppy work — which draws the evil eye from the uptight Sgt. Williams.

But the most bland of all is Tina, the wife of our viewpoint character, Sgt. Major Crane.

Wendy Cartmell

The author makes a valiant effort to flesh out the character of Crane through scenes that show interaction with his wife when he’s off duty — but we get little traction there since Tina Crane is about as vibrant and interesting as a jar of mayonnaise.

Crane and his wife bicker tediously over her sloppy housekeeping when they aren’t mulling over having a baby — the discussion of which centers around projections of the family budget. Wow! They do everything but get out some spreadsheets to regale us action-hungry readers about how they might micromanage future income potentials which combine the pay of her boring job as bank teller vis-a-vis his military salary.

GAK! Poor Mrs. Crane! She might have to give up getting pedicure at the occasional spa outing, or sacrifice carefree jaunts with her gal pals if she has to stay home and wet nurse a freshly minted army brat!

It’s all pretty dull.

The author almost saves the day by providing some dramatics at the end — but the biggest story here is a tremendous case of missed literary opportunity, and let me explain:

For me, the final actions scenes are rendered problematic because of implausibility — and that implausibility centers around the fact that I don’t think the “Bad Guy” could have pulled off what he did in acting alone.

I’m trying hard to word this in a way without having to issue a spoiler alert by revealing too much about the ending — but when I say this is a titanic case of missed opportunity — I am talking about the idea that the “Bad Guy” guy should have had an accomplice — and that accomplice should have been Mrs. Morrison!

Let me repeat: If the author would have made Mrs. Morrison an accomplice in the horrible crimes played out in this narrative, it would have saved the day for me, and would have made schlepping through the rest of this novel much more worthwhile.

But, alas, it was not to be.

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

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Time travel book by Richard Bullivant is an intriguing collection of stories, highly entertaining

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

I became a fan of author Richard Bullivant after I read his book ANTIQUES DON’T BOUNCE the story of a young man working his way up through the ranks of large, multifaceted British firm that specialized in the handling of antiques.

In that book he made an ordinary slice of life seem extraordinary. So I was curious to see how this writer would handle a topic that’s extraordinary to begin with– time travel. I was not disappointed.

There’s some intriguing stories here that I’m sure even those who already eagerly follow time travel have never heard about before. For example, there’s a story about a man from a small town in the American Midwest who is astonished when he is spontaneously transported back to ancient Alexandria.

Perhaps even more fascinating is the complex, true story of a Victorian-era conspiracy-like plot by a famous British architect and a brilliant inventor living on the edge of poverty. This unlikely duo teams up to place a series of “teleportation devices” throughout a number of locations in London — which may have ended up transporting a mysterious wealthy widow and her spinster daughters through time!

Yes, a couple of the stories presented here will strain the credulity of even the most open-minded New Ager, but there’s also plenty of “red meat” for the dyed-in-the-wool skeptic — such as the ambitious attempts of respected American physicist Dr. Ronald Mallett to build a real time machine based on the known scientific principles of quantum physics.

This book is called “More” True Time Travel Stories because it follows up a previous short book, TRUE TIME TRAVEL STORIES.

A fun and fascinating read from front to back. Find the book here: TIME TRAVEL

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

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The Convoluted Universe by Dolores Cannon: Fantastic Flights of Astounding New Age Revelation Will Be a Challenge for Even the Most Open Minded

Review by KEN KORCZAK

If you’re a hard core rational-materialistic skeptic and you have accepted Carl Sagan as your personal savior you need not apply to THE CONVOLUTED UNIVERSE.

Author and hypnotherapist DOLORES CANNON doesn’t just throw out the scientific method playbook, she sends it through a paper shredder. That includes methods of hypnotism that wouldn’t remotely be considered legitimate by anyone in the mainstream psychological community.

But no matter! All is well!

Cannon herself makes no bones about her methodology and where her works stands in the greater context. She’s unfettered and free-wheeling, traveling the New Age universe as light as a butterfly flitting from one astonishing flower to the next.

Her method is to put her subjects into what she calls a “somnambulistic trance.” This allows her direct access to the subconscious — but even here Cannon parts ways with standard definitions. She says the kind of “subconscious” she is dealing with is not the same at that defined by modern psychology.

The result is direct communication with extraterrestrials, energy beings, spirit guides, astral entities of amazing variety — including the spirits of former residents of the the vanished super civilization of Atlantis.

If you are thinking by now that I am a typical skeptic who is hostile to Cannon’s brand of unbounded flights of fantastic New Age revelation — you would be wrong.

I see no harm in being an open minded skeptic and taking the work of Ms. Cannon at face value. After all, she lays all her cards on the table. She’s not trying to hoodwink anyone. She’s sincere. She’s just doing what she’s doing — she’s putting it all out there for the reader to decide what they want to believe — or not.

Her amazing 50 years of unstoppable, dedicated work at putting people into trance and recording their transcripts has produced reams of information. Cannon displays not an iota of selectivity for the type or quality of the information she records, choosing instead to dump everything into the pages of her massive books. The Convoluted Universe clocks in at well over 500 pages and is just the first in a series of several, but also builds on at least a half-dozen earlier works.

The problem with this all-in approach is that a lot of the information often tilts toward the 100% absurd, no matter how open-minded we choose to be. For example:

* The Loch Ness monster is real! It’s a vegetarian that lays its eggs in the mud, and it lives in a cave deep beneath the lake!

* Bigfoot is real, too! It likes to snack on butterflies and uses it’s powers of ESP to avoid contact with human beings!

Dolores Cannon

* The Bermuda Triangle? Well, of course, the strange phenomenon there is caused by some kind of giant cracked lens or crystaline super machine left over from the days of Atlantis. It’s sitting at the bottom of the Caribbean sea where it occasionally causes trouble by sending out cosmic rays that alter space and time, sending sundry hapless ships or airplanes careening off into an alternate universe! Darn!

But wait a minute — I will now say with complete absence of mockery or sarcasm — that I find a lot of the material here compelling. After all, even a blind squirrel sometimes finds a nut.

That is, some of Cannon’s hypnotized subjects are far more credible than others. Some of them channel esoteric information that smacks of legitimacy — such as the subjects who insistently contend that human beings are confused about the nature of physical reality.

The general belief is that first comes a biological lump called a brain, and from that springs consciousness. But the nonphysical entities Cannon’s subjects channel say just the opposite it true: That consciousness comes first and the brain is a receiving device that captures and interprets the information — but then biases and distortions creep into our interpretation of reality because of phony belief systems, phony fears and our phony ego-infected human personalities.

I think that’s right. Even the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung said: “Consciousness precedes being.” That’s not only the case, but it’s the situation to a much greater degree than any of us might imagine. To this end, some of Cannon’s subjects offer remarkably insightful metaphors that help us see ourselves as beings of nonphysical consciousness or beings, of pure energy-intelligence, rather than biologically programmed meat machines.

If we accept the premise that Consciousness — Consciousness with a Big C — does not originate from physical biological matter, then we have to consider that at least some of the information produced by Cannon has value. I think it does.

Don’t worry. You don’t have to believe everything you read. No one’s putting a gun to your head. Go ahead and give the book a read. Be a skeptic, but an open-minded skeptic. And always remember what the great biologist J.B.S. Haldane said:

The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

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

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“Life Erupted” by Mary Stanik: The Tale of a Minnesota Woman Looking For Love While Eating Her Way Through an Electra Complex

Review by KEN KORCZAK

We don’t have to make any pretense that LIFE ERUPTED is anything more the a light romantic comedy with a central premise pulled straight out of a daytime soap opera. Author MARY STANIK concedes as much when she puts these words into the mouth of her character, Jenn Bergquist, near the end of the book:

“It is all too unreal. It’s like a soap opera, or some sappy movie … this is all too crazy.”

That’s pretty much sums it up. Life Erupted is a not just Chick Lit Lite, it’s Chick Lit Ultra-Lite.

Even the main character is borrowed right off the ol’ tube. Again, the author makes no bones about this, saying her heroine was inspired by Mary Richards of the MARY TYLER MOORE show. I have always thought that Mary Richards was a wafer-thin reincarnation of Marlo Thomas as Ann Marie in THAT GIRL. And now we see that the transmigration of the soul is possible because TV characters can be reborn onto the printed page.

Like Mary Richards, Jenn Berquist lives in Minneapolis and works in the media business. She she also sports the same hairstyle of that slightly earlier TV queen, Ann Marie. Both have that 1960s funky bouffant flip with blunt bangs held up by killer eyelashes.

Mary Stanik

Like Mary and Ann Marie, Jenn Bergquist is witty, spunky and bright, but as yet unlucky in love despite being a charming thirty-something hottie. Not too worry — you know she’s going to hook up with a handsome hunk sooner or later.

Thus, if you’re looking for a fluffy-feel-good fun read about a woman who wants to “have it all” and who’s going to “make it after all” — then buy the book and enjoy.

Okay, now let’s have a discussion:

The great American writer JOYCE CAROL OATES suggested that all American women are obsessed by food and all American men are obsessed by money. Life Erupted is Exhibit A for this notion

The actual main character of Life Erupted is not Jenn Bergquist — but food — and to an astonishing degree.

Food is lovingly described, food is dwelled upon, food is a central aspect of the most important scenes. Even that which is tangentially related to food looms large in the background of the narrative, such as restaurants, menus, styles of food, traditions of food, kitchens and eating utensils. (I’m not making this up: In one scene a woman actually “holds onto her fork” for emotional support).

What’s truly remarkable is that in the central “plot payoff” scene of the book — wherein the main character is receiving a stunning life-altering revelation — the event takes a back seat to a stack of pancakes dripping with maple syrup, and not just any maple syrup, but maple syrup imported from Canada.

That Girl

Further yet — while Jenn Berquist is wolfing down her mountain of flapjacks, her mind is already wandering off to a delicious contemplation of homemade muffins — and then she ponders further the idea of taking some muffins home for a future nosh.

The exciting trip to Iceland to chase erupting volcanoes recedes into the background as an examination of Icelandic cuisine ensues — the famous salted cod is discussed, as is other ocean fair, wines, juices, drinks, desserts and side dishes. Says Jenn Bergquist:

“I actually did eat a fair amount of fish. You were totally right, you have not eaten salmon or cod until you have eaten the Icelandic variety. But not so much with the vegetables, they are pretty expensive there and so we didn’t have many, save for a few $15 side salads.”

Fifteen bucks for a side salad! Certainly that would necessarily limit one to “a few.”

Now let’s leave food behind to discuss this books other major underlying them — the latent but raging Electra Complex of Jenn Bergquist.

You have probably heard about Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, but from Neo-Freudian psychology with get the Electra complex. It was proposed by the great Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. An Electra Complex is a daughter’s psychosexual competition with her mother for possession of her father.

Mary Tyler Moore

The Electra Complex is also associated with a dwelling upon the defeat, displacement, death or pyscho-social death of the mother. In Life Erupted, in true Electra fashion, the author presents one mother as already dead and the “other mother” is slowly dying and then dutifully killed off before the tale ends.

At the same time, the only person who has a lot of exciting sex in this book is — you guessed it — Jenn’s aging father, the stoic and heavily repressed Olaf Bergquist.

In true Electra fashion, Jenn expends considerable psychic energy coming to grips with the burgeoning sex life of her father.

As for Jenn herself, she seems to have adopted that old maxim: If you can’t have sex, have chocolate — or pancakes, or lobster-stuffed ravioli, or salted cod, or muffins, or spicy pasta in marinara sauce, or angel food cake with blueberries, or Belgian chocolate dessert — or the “large slices of crusty, very tasty bread” — purchased for her by yet another father figure, her surrogate grandfather.

Electra

As for the woman — Caroline — who is providing sexual pleasure to Jenn’s father, she also dwells with powerful intensity on food even while she is angling for a night sex with Olaf during their first date at a restaurant.

Olaf Bergquist glumly looks across the table at the object of his sexual desire, the sizzling-sexy Caroline, only too observe that she:

“ … goes silent so as to scarf down a huge and steaming chocolate pudding cake …”

Then Olaf asks Caroline if she ever had a chance to meet Jenn’s dying mother, but he sees the dismal sight of Caroline:

“ … carefully scraping chocolate from her plate, looking genuinely unhappy that there was nothing left of her dessert … “

The only thing our plucky heroine Jenn gets, by the way, is a cold date in frigid Iceland with a gay man.

In light of all this, it would seem that the obsession with food throughout the narrative serves as a kind of displacement for the frustrated sexual desire of Jenn Bergquist — which might lead us to the conclusion that the seething, exploding volcanoes of Iceland serve as the ultimate metaphor of a desire for explosive, orgasmic sexual fulfillment — never realized, except when projected onto the father.

So, you know … well, this is a pretty interesting book when you think about it.

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

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Timelock by R.G. Knighton is Devilishly Clever Fun: Well Written Campy Blood and Gore Horror At Its Best

Review by KEN KORCZAK

I was trying to think of the last time I had as much fun as I did while reading TIMELOCK by R.G. Knighton, and then it hit me: The year was 1987.

I was at the movies with a friend. The film we were seeing was EVIL DEAD II, Sam Raimi’s campy-but-ingenious blood and gore classic. Evil Dead II is outrageously goofy but devilishly clever. It became an instant laugh-and-shock-a-minute classic. I still consider it to be among my personal “best movies of all time.”

Devilishly clever, nutty, bloody, gory, funny and fun would well describe TIMELOCK, which is actually a set of two novels.

The first book involves a group of twenty-something college students attending a second-tier, but upper crust British university. They began to dabble in occult practices and stumble into a way to open a portal into another time and dimension. Trouble ensues when malevolent spirits leap through the portal and attach themselves to the students.

Each student is now “infected” with evil forces from the distant past. A variety of nutty hijinks ensue. What’s worse, one of the evil spirits is that of an extremely powerful witch with the wacky name of “Toomak.” She has the power to bring about he return of the Antichrist — Satan would be unchained resulting in the destruction of everything that is good, decent and holy forever.

R.G. Knighton

While the first novel takes place in the 1980s, the second novel shifts the action to the ancient Mideast at the time of Jesus. In the end, the events of the first novel and the second converge in a climatic ending pitting a fierce battle between the forces of Good and Evil.

What really makes this a first rate novel is the author’s superior ability to create interesting characters — they are ordinary human beings with all the normal strengths and weaknesses of people we find in the real world.

Each character’s motivations are shaped by their circumstances and background — which the author inserts into the narrative with marvelous finesse and ease.

R.G. Knighton is a rare writer — I believe he is a natural talent. He commands a razor-edged wit and a wonderful sense of sardonic irony. His ability to place ordinary people into extraordinary situations is what gives this book a breezy kind of power that doesn’t pretend to be anything but sheer entertainment.

The humor of Timelock is dripping with cynicism. Yes, this is dark humor, but pleasant; it’s like a premium dark chocolate with a tad of bitterness but ultimately sweet.

Timelock gets my highest recommendation and will easily make my Top 10 List of best books I’ve read in 2013.

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer and has been successfully freelance writing for the past 25 years. He taught writing at the University of North Dakota. Ken in the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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The Vesuvius Isotope smolders occasionally but never erupts

Review by KEN KORCZAK

It’s inevitable that novels such as this one will be compared to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code” so let me get that out of the way right now — Brown practically single-handedly rejuvenated a genre of fiction which incorporates the elements of ancient history, religion, mythologies, conspiracies all mixed up with elements of modern science and politics — and THE VESUVIUS ISOTOPE is solidly in that realm.

I should mention that Brown’s Da Vinci Code was largely derivative of UMBERTO ECO’S masterful novel, FOUCAULT’S PENDULUM. But whatever the case, after Brown sold about a hundred ba-zillion copies of his low-brow version of Eco’s epic, it was no surprise that many new writers followed suit, and so that’s why I say it’s practically a new genre.

In The Vesuvius Isotope instead of a brilliant Harvard professor of symbology we have world-class Ph.D. biologist, Dr. Katrina Stone. Instead of a mystery involving the tangled ancient dealings of the Catholic Church dovetailing with arcane pagan belief systems, we have the multifaceted mysteries of ancient Egyptian religion.

The start of both novels are even similar. They both launch with the discovery of a dead body that is naked. In the case of the Da Vinci Code it is the curator of the Louvre. In the Vesuvius Isotope it is the husband of biologist Katrina Stone – her husband happened to be one of the world’s leading scientist.

So in both books a morbid naked discovery launches the characters on a journey of international intrigue. This entails a globe-trotting search across spectacular venues of the ancient world to solve a vexing mystery. In Brown’s book it’s cracking the so-called Da Vinci code. In this book it’s a search for an ancient remedy for cancer possibly developed by none other than Queen Cleopatra herself.

Unfortunately, and for the sake of full disclosure, I consider Brown’s Da Vinci Code to be among the worst novels ever written. I agree with Salmon Rushdie who said The Da Vinci Code is, “a novel so bad that it gives bad novels a bad name,” and Stephen King who said the Da Vinci Code is, “the intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”

But wait a minute — Is it even fair to make the comparison? After all, a visit to author KRISTEN ELISE’S WEB SITE reveals her day job is actually that of Ph.D. biologist and cancer drug research specialist, the same as her Katrina Stone heroine. Elise says it was her work with a certain isotopes that inspired the plot of this book.

And yet, I think anyone can see the similarities I point out between “Vesuvius” and “Da Vinci.”

Okay, with that caveat — and clearing the table to leave all comparisons behind — how does The Vesuvius Isotope stand on it’s own? In my view, not very well. This is a first-time novel definitely not ready for prime time. My reasons have nothing to do with unfortunate resemblances to The Da Vinci Code. For me The Vesuvius Isotope falters all by itself on many levels, including:

* The narrative does not sustain a consistent feeling of tension and urgency. That’s because the author frequently stops the action for detailed explanations (lectures) of historical facts, personalities and situations. The ancient history background is necessary to provide context for what is happening today — but it means a full-stop in unfolding the plot. A more skilled writer would be able to weave these elements together more seamlessly.

* Overuse of flashbacks, dream elements and introspective interludes inside the head of the main character. The author relies heavily on flashbacks to flesh out characters and provide background context — but she goes to the “flashback well” far, far too often, creating a choppy, disjointed feel to the narrative — which is also often confusing.

* Cliche elements: As just one example, The Dr. Jeffrey Wilson character seems plucked out of a Harlequin Romance novel. He’s amazingly handsome, a multimillionaire and brilliant. He won the Nobel Prize before the age of 40! He looks fantastic while naked with his “lean surfer’s body.” He not only has blue eyes, but “smoky blue eyes” (the vaunted ‘smokiness’ is mentioned no less than four times). His “sandy locks” fall seductively onto his forehead. Ladies, this delicious hunk is not only sweet, thoughtful, kind and romantic — he loves wine, museums, flowers, Paris and surprise gifts — he’s available!

Well, after all, this is fiction.

But there are other cliché gimmicks as well: Such as the old Hollywood ploy to bump somebody off via ye olde: “rigging the car brakes” and the hackneyed, “monkey around with the oxygen tanks of the scuba gear.”

One of the biggest drawback of the book for me is this: A murky enemy that only emerges toward the end. We eventually find out who the nefarious forces are — but the troublemakers are only revealed in the final scenes.

Why is this a problem? Because a really thrilling novel pits a frightening, twisted, evil and devious enemy against the heroic goodness of the protagonists. In order for us to be afraid for the heroes, we need a vivid picture of how loathsome the enemy is. We need to see them, fear them and hate them. The worse the enemy, and the more viscerally defined, the more we will be afraid for our heroes. We’ll also be satisfied when the creeps are defeated in a big show down at the end.

But in this novel, we only get hints of shadowy figures involved in some conspiratorial operation are scheming to trip up the do-gooders. For some reason, they don’t want a miracle cure for cancer to be found, but we don’t know why. (Certainly it must be the pharmaceutical giants, right? No, you would be wrong!) When the “big reveal” does finally come, it has all the climactic punch of a friendly game of darts.

Certainly other readers may disagree entirely with my take on The Vesuvius Isotope. Without guile I say that I hope a lot of other readers would buy this book, read it, and then come back here and tell me if my take is spot on — or if I’m nuts.

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

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Pherick Morton: A Life and Beyond Begins With Great Promise But Quickly Devolves Into a Swamp of Preachy, Pretentious Irrelevancy

Review by KEN KORCZAK

About once a year among the more than 100 books I read per year there is always one that vividly stands out to receive “Ken’s Crash and Burn Award.” This is for books which start out with extreme promise, but then veer disastrously off course, never to recover.

In the case of PHERICK MORTON: A LIFE AND BEYOND, author PETER MESSMORE was cruising toward a rave review through the first third of the book, but then the narrative gets utterly lost, and the reader is confronted with one downright absurdity after another.

The author does a terrific job of creating unique, believable and nuanced characters who are instantly interesting. He embeds them in themes that promise to be rich in possibilities — the conflict of fundamentalist religious beliefs confronting the world of hard rational science devoid of spirit — in this case, super-advanced robotics.

To add even more flavor we have a background clash of a tough-as-nails international union boss striving to organize “the working class” set against the lofty world of corporate and scientific elites.

But then it all devolves into a miasma of soporific detail. The author attempts to leverage what is essentially a biography of a fictional character to drive the narrative, which is no substitute for an actual plot. There is an attempt to keep us interested by killing off a major character every 40 pages, or so, and the author adds a couple of soap-opera-like twists, but it all falls flat.

There is scene after scene that ends up having no bearing on the ultimately vague conclusion the author has in store.

For example, we get niggling and inexplicable diversions wherein the character obsesses about a marketing logo for his robotics company. There is a pointless detailing the kind of domestic cleaning robots he plans to build (you know, like the Roomba, which has already been around for more than 10 years, though this is the year 2030). Then there is the agonizing description of the fancy, pretentious house Pherick is building; the details of this clog the narrative like so much flotsam washed up to lay dead on the page.

Pherick Morton himself is a creepy character in many ways. For example, he is obsessed with genetic purity. There is a scene where he and his wife are consulting with a genetic specialist in their quest to birth a perfect child via a surrogate mother. It’s like something out of a ghoulish eugenics training manual.

It would be kind to describe Pherick as a morally ambiguous character. An unkind reviewer might peg him as a self-absorbed ego maniac who easily rationalizes his use of illicitly-gained wealth — as in when Pherick’s father supplies him with smuggled blood diamonds, some of which Pherick promptly fashions into a necklace to hang at the throat of his beloved wife. He also has one cut to serve as her engagement ring.

Blood diamonds are called so because they fund weapons procurement for brutal war lords in Africa. The results is the violent deaths of countless innocent people, including women and children. They are often obtained via child slave labor — since Pherick is supposed to be a genius, he should know this — he knows how his father obtained the booty — yet he chooses to use these diamonds as his ultimate symbol of love.

He also trades illicit diamonds to pay for his brother’s brain surgery — rather than paying medical bills the way the rest of us do — through hard work, our own resources, or with a legitimate appeal to society. But not Pherick. He rationalizes by promising to give an amount equal to his dirty gains to charity at some later time — you know, after all his own needs and material goals have been taken care of first.

Pherick’s conception of spirituality is fantastically bland.

Even though he receives visitations from no one less that Jesus himself while meditating in a cave in Israel, these visions do little to alter his ambitions to make gobs of money — he buys houses, cars and the sundry material creature comforts the “real Jesus” would have found anathema.

Toward the end of the book, Pherick has earned a half-billion dollars, enabling him to retire in luxurious ease. Thus he is able to focus on his spiritual quest. He endeavors to formulate an enlightened philosophy — but what we are eventually presented with is a warmed over interpretation of Gnosticism which anyone could glean from Wikipedia.

Pherick also establishes what is portrayed as a cutting-edge, new kind of religion free of dogma and hierarchical structure, which has nothing on the Unitarian Universalist model (and many others) that have already been around for centuries.

Most of the action is set in the future about 20 years hence, but the author has no feel for creating a world that feels any different from our own. Except for the occasional appearance of a smartphone, the action here could just as easily take place in the 1950s as the year 2030.

The final scene depicts Pherick in the afterlife, a realm depicted in a way that is amazingly mundane, clumsy and absurd. It’s ridiculous, including a part where Pherick meets his old dead professor. This man reports he has been having sit-down meetings with Yeshua. (While alive, the professor had always maintained “Yeshua” was the true “Jesus.”)

The professor tells Pherick lamely: “(Yeshua) has interacted with professors before — but not many.”

Say what? The great Yeshua is fussy about which guy with tenure and Ph.D he’ll talk to? Hmmmm. Doesn’t seem to be too much of an equal opportunity Savior of All Mankind. Maybe Yeshua favors the rabble from lower society, you know, like undergraduate English majors? I don’t know, but I digress.

There are many other problems with this book as well, not the least of which is the peculiar woody way dialogue is handled — the characters speak to each other like robots — but I think you all get the gist of my view by now.

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

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TAL: A Conversation with an Alien is a fictionalized scenario in which a man engages in a lucid discussion of what is known today about quantum theory

TAL Anonymous

TAL

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The author of TAL has opted for a bit of melodrama, perhaps to spice things up initially and pique the curiosity of readers. To this end the book is mysteriously published as “Anonymous” and it’s billed as a “conversation with an alien.” But what we have here is a straightforward and lucid conversation of quantum physics theory, presented in classic dialectic form.

Only at the end does the author identify this book as a work of “pure fiction.” The fictional element is extremely slight — it’s used only to set a stage for an average guy to encounter another individual of extreme intelligence. The two sit down for a conversation in which the alien relates his insights into the implications of the quantum mechanical universe.

“TAL” claims to be an alien being who was somehow stranded on our earth 100,000 years ago. He has spent his time observing the human species. He is eager to illuminate his friend about the details, meanings and implications of the quantum model.

He does a marvelous job. If you have read other books intended for a mainstream audience explaining quantum mechanics, this will be a worthy addition to your collection. It will enhance your understanding of an always slippery topic. If you’re like me, a person who has long been fascinated quantum models of the universe, this book will give you yet another way to approach concepts that are thorny and vexing.

That’s because much of what is implied by quantum mechanics is so challenging to the way we psychologically model our physical world. Despite all of our progress in physics, most of us are still grounded in a Newtonian world in terms of our daily view. We are comfortable with rather simple cause and effect, a linear notion of time, and common sense laws of motion, mass, location and dimension. Even though most people acknowledge relativity, uncertainty and the like, they still don’t “think like Einstein“; most people still “think like Newton.”

Many of us have read about the double slit experiment which shows the seeming dual nature of a particle. A particle appears to act like both a singular “hard” object as well as a “wave”. Even if we can grasp the implications of the double slit experiment intellectually, it still confounds us psychologically. This author gives us yet another look at the issue. It helps to periodically return to the double slit results and think about it from new angles.

The author also does a terrific job selling the MANY-WORLDS INTERPRETATION originally proposed by physicist Hugh Everett III back in the 1950s. Perhaps few other theories have produced so much resistance — and just plain downright loathing — as the idea that every time a human being makes a decision one way or another, a new universe is created to accommodate that decision.

One of the ways our friend TAL makes Many-Worlds easier to swallow is by couching it in terms of the infinite. By grasping the mega-beyond-enormity of what infinity truly is, we can at least “feel comfortable” that Many-Worlds has “room” to exist and expand without limit forever.

There’s lots more, too. For example, the author does a wonderful job of shedding light on the Schrödinger probability equations. I also really like the way we are invited to reexamine the way we think about dimensions of existence, and how we perceive our relationship with time.

Perhaps best of all is a clever thought experiment which shows vividly the limits of a reductionist approach to science in terms of explaining what we can or cannot experience. For example, even if you develop the perfect mathematical equation to capture the essence of a lobster dinner, and have the best semantic description of the meal based on the reviews of others — you’ll still never truly “know” what that lobster tastes like until you actually bite into it and experience it directly with your own consciousness.

So this is a delightful read which illuminates and explains. No matter how well you think you understand quantum theory, I suspect you will gain at least a few insights, and increase your level of comfort with the implications of quantum theory. TAL will help you push your understanding to a deeper level.

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

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Sky Hunter by Chris Reher is space opera that breaks no molds but is expertly crafted and well written

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

Hey if you are going to read space opera it might as well be really good space opera, and SKY HUNTER is some pretty darned good space opera.

It has all the elements you expect from the genre:

* Space ships, star fighters, alien planets, aliens, space stations, cool gadgets.

* Well-handled actions scenes.

* A crisp writing pace that moves smoothly through an expertly-crafted plot.

* Believable characters you will care about and whom you will cheer on.

* A deftly created background featuring planetary systems flung across the vast reaches of interstellar space.

I also give author CHRIS REHER vast credit for inserting a couple of plot twists I never expected. When you read as much space opera as I have over the past 40 years, that’s not easy to do. Furthermore, some of these turns make this book relevant to issues we are concerned about today. That adds immediacy and relevancy to the narrative.

One of the unexpected departures relates directly to a certain terrible situation which is an ongoing in our U.S. Military today (although the author is Canadian) – but I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

So Sky Hunter gets my top recommendation. I encourage all science fiction fans to jump on the entire series. It’s a well-written, professionally edited yarn more than worth your dime and time.

Now let’s have a discussion. Come on, folks, pull up a chair and let’s talk.

Sky Hunter is terrific space opera, but it breaks no molds. Even though it’s all put together well, the “parts” writer Chris Reher leverages are the standard “pre-packaged, off-the-shelf, one-size-fit-all” modules of science fiction.

What do I mean?

Well, there is almost no cutting-edge invention here. There is not a single prop in this book we haven’t seen before, and many times over. The main character, Nova Whiteside, is almost indistinguishable from, say, Kara Thrace (call-sign Starbuck) of Battlestar Galactica. Both are tough-as-nails female fighter pilots who grew up as army brats and are making a go of it in a testosterone-soaked man’s world.

The starfighting “Kites” that Whiteside flies are indistinguishable from the crafts used by Luke Skywalker or the crew of Battlestar Galactica, or any one of dozens of other books, movies or TV shows.

Chris Reher

There are space stations and “star gates” or interstellar “jump gates” that have been used over and over again in Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate and other venues. On the surface of a dusty desert-like planet folks get around in “skimmers.” (Sounds familiar, right?)

The background features a federation of planets, just like the federation of Star Trek. There are rebels fighting the intergalactic empires that be. The aliens are barely alien at all and when they are, they’re like those you already know. For example, Reher’s “Caspians” are tall, fur-covered people with big feet – again, sound familiar? About the only thing that seems to separate the Centaurians from Earth humans is that they have remarkable blue eyes.

I mean, so what I’m saying here: This is genre space opera and it is really, really couched safely within the field. It doesn’t boldly go where a lot of other science fictions writers have gone before.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing wrong with that!

This is the kind of science fiction I cut my teeth on when I was a teenager, and it lead me to a life-long love of the art. Later on the SF acolyte will discover works of amazing innovation and depth – such as a “Gateway” by Frederick Pohl or “Dune” by Frank Herbert or the 4-book-series “Planet of Adventure” by the mighty Jack Vance. (For my money the latter is the best space opera series of all time).

Sky Hunter continues a tradition of Top Gun space adventure that will bring new readers into the joys of the genre.

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

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The Secret of Metaphysical Science by Andrea Scarsi is genuine and accurate, but perhaps not a destined to be a classic in the field of transcendent literature

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The immediate challenge in reading a book on metaphysics is judging the authenticity of the information. That’s a difficult task, but there are certain clues and road maps that can help us out.

One of the best ways is to compare new books to those powerful works that have withstood the test of time. I’m thinking of spiritual classics such as “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda, “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” by Shunryu Suzuki, “The Awakening of Intelligence” by Jiddu Krishnamurti “The Spectrum of Consciousness,” by Ken Wilber and more recently, “How the World Can Be The Way It Is,” by Steve Hagen – to name just a few.

So how does THE SECRET OF METAPHYSICAL SCIENCE by DR. ANDREA SCARSI hold up in this esteemed company? Well, for me, it comes off as “transcendent literature lite.” While this is by no means a terrible book, it comes nowhere near the level of the masterful titles I list above.

I’m satisfied that Dr. Scarsi is an authentic individual and that his claims of numerous and spectacular experiences of enlightenment are genuine. But achieving “cosmic consciousness” does not automatically translate to “stellar author.”

This book reads more like a New Age instruction manual. It’s often bland and plodding. The consciousness-shattering event of achieving Ultimate Realization has been rendered mundane in these 90 pages.

Andrea Scarsi

But wait a minute – does the subject of attaining enlightenment necessarily have to be ponderous, intellectual, serious and weighed down with gravitas? No! Some of the best books on the topic are quirky and funny, beguiling and playful. Perhaps the best example is THE LAZY MAN’S GUIDE TO ENLIGHTENMENT by Thaddeus Golas. You can find it free online. This is a small document of power-packed pages so profound, all-encompassing and just so downright delightfully loopy – I often say it’s everything you need to know about reality and enlightenment in 80 pages. And it’s fun!

Even though The Secret of Metaphysical Science is also a short manuscript, Dr. Scarsi pads it in the end with brief reviews of some of his favorite books which cover a variety of related topics, such as Reiki, wisdom gleaned via extraterrestrial alien contact, and the typical gewgaw about “attracting wealth.” Very unfortunately, Dr. Scarsi endorses THE SOURCE FIELD INVESTIGATIONS by David Wilcock, a vastly inferior work featuring endless pages of the most muddled quantum claptrap on the market today.

Even so – I give The Secret of Metaphysical Science a mild endorsement because the information is thorough, complete and nominally accurate, if uneven across the length of document. For those less familiar with the topic or who are approaching it for the first time, this book is not a bad place to start in finding clues and guideposts for that Ultimate Journey.

Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Your reviewer, Ken Korczak, is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

I was not disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author, Jennifer Vogel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow @KenKorczak