Review of Murder As A Fine Art by David Morrell

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Murder As A Fine Art
by David Morrell
2013, Little, Brown, & Co. hc
ISBN: 978-0-316-21679-1
Introduction, Afterword, Postscript, 358pp

A Review by Gene Stewart

Yes, the title echoes the book by Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater, first sensationalist, transgressive, and participatory journalism of its kind. Wilkie Collins was decades in the future when De Quincey rose to notoriety.

Another De Quincey piece was “On Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts”, an ironic, satirical essay about the infamous Ratcliffe Highway Murders, in which businessmen and family members, including a baby in a cradle, were butchered in a set of crimes that seemed to have no sense to them.
The crimes terrified all of England, being the first of that depraved, mass sort in memory. Worse, newspapers were just coming into their own in 1811, along with mail coaches connecting towns, villages, and hamlets to London, where it happened, so news spread faster at that time than ever before. So did fear.

The Ratcliffe Highway Murders happened 77 years before Jack the Ripper tore his bloody swath. De Quincey’s light-hearted, deadpan sarcasm about them stirred more ire than knowing nods. Taken literally, his writing made him seem depraved, lurid, and irresponsible.

When Morrell’s atmospheric, beautifully-researched novel opens, it is 1854, when new murders seem to be using De Quincey’s essay as blueprint. The old man falls under suspicion and, with his plucky daughter, who takes care of him, heads out to clear his name. Turns out he’s old but not frail. Spry and mentally agile, observant beyond his compatriots, De Quincey is quickly immersed in layered patterns of crime, destitution, and desperate measures. Some of the connections only he knows; are they due to his severe opium addiction?

Helping him is a young policeman hoping to make detective rank, who has seen more than his superiors perhaps want him to have seen. With a genius murderer bent on making art of death, this hapless trio is always caught between the authorities and a dark presence who seems society’s nemesis, a killer of astounding evil.

Morrell’s brilliant conception for this novel is revealed in the web woven among strands from the highest British aristocrats to its lowest, most-detested denizens of poverty’s lowest hell. We see vivid depictions from all levels of Victorian society.

The novel includes much wonderful detail. It spans references to the wars and vicious repression that kept the Raj strong, and delves into the opium trade, of which De Quincey is by no means the only victim. Powerful interests want to keep the status quo, even as a killer and an addict pursue revelations that may threaten Victorian society itself.

Along the way, we learn fascinating things about the prison systems back then, the opium trade’s trade-offs, London’s parks, London’s sewers, and how everyday life was lived, among much else.

The pacing is thriller all the way, layered with classic mystery elements and dashing facets from a modern perspective. The people are real, the situations gritty, grim, and intense, and the atmosphere of the book is fog-bound, shadowy, and eerie, befitting a tale of blood-splashing murder and near-miss chases.

Altogether satisfying and huge fun to read, Murder As A Fine Art is David Morrell at the top of his considerable skills.

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Interested readers may wish to note, too, Lloyd Shepherd’s 2012 novel, The English Monster, which is a fictional treatment of the Ratcliffe Murders, out currently in a British edition from Simon & Schuster UK. I found a copy at Half Priced Books in trade pb.

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Review of The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter

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The Third Bullet
by Stephen Hunter
Simon & Schuster, 2013, hc
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4020-5
485pp, map on endpapers

A Review by Gene Stewart

This is a Bob Lee Swagger novel. That’s the lead character. He smacks of Mary Sue, along the lines of Tom Clancy’s notorious Jack Ryan, for example, but trades competence and knowledge for hubris and unfulfilled ambitions.

Ex-Marine Swagger is pulled into investigating the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, of all things. It’s not something he wants to do. It’s nothing that much interests him and he can’t stand all the conspiracy theories and elaborate curlicue plots and counterplots cited in all those lucrative, breathless books and documentaries.

It’s a cottage industry he’d gladly torch, but a promise is a promise, and the lead, slender as it is, entices. Can such a sliver of potential evidence lead to cracking the case wide open?

Swagger sticks with what Hunter knows, which is guns. Ballistics. Bullets. Why did the third bullet explode? Shouldn’t have. Was that a hint? How could that have been arranged? Any evidence for it?

Going to Dallas, Swagger looks over the killing ground and does analysis from a ballistics view. He walks routes and paces out distances and figures trajectories. He’s also put into contact with an expert in JFK assassination theory, so he can cross-check things.

This book is detailed and precise. It reads as much like a documentary as a novel dares, spelling out research done, facts discovered, and conclusions reached always reluctantly. Swagger’s search leads him to many places, including Russia. There are ambushes, daring moves, narrow escapes, and plenty of action for several movies. All of this is written vividly and concisely.

Intelligent prose is Hunter’s hallmark. He’s a savvy guy with interesting thoughts. Swagger, his heroic alter ego, can handle the action. As the book progresses an old, retired CIA agent from the JFK days shows his hand, and complexities resolve into a simple fact: Someone is trying to kill Swagger before he can get to the heart of the matter. This means they’d better look out.

Central to this novel is a solution to the problem of the third bullet. Everyone focuses on the so-called Magic Bullet but it’s the third one, the one that exploded, that should be our focus, says Swagger. He shows us why in a fascinating ballistics learning curve. We come away from this novel educated on guns.

You don’t have to be a gunman to enjoy the book, though. Intrigue, espionage, danger, and intense action punctuate the book like the rattle of machine gun bullets. Hunter packs enough action, information, and suspense into The Third Bullet for any three novels, any five movies. It’s a gift to smart readers, entertaining and genuinely intriguing when it addresses the MacGuffin mystery.

As Swagger says, what’s really interesting isn’t so much who shot JFK, as how it was done.

Learn what convinced him in this excellent thriller.

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Review of I, Ripper by Stephen Hunter

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I, Ripper
by Stephen Hunter
Simon & Schuster, 2015
1st ed. hc, inc. 4pp bibliography
ISBN: 978-1-4767-6485-6

A Review
by Gene Stewart

A novel about Jack the Ripper, researched in detail and presented in the voices of 1888 contemporaries, from Stephen Hunter, known for his sharp-eyed hard-nosed approach to keeping it real, promised to be at least an interesting reading experience. It proved to be compelling, an exciting tour through the grimy dark of Victorian Whitechapel and parts of the Raj.

This is written as Diary and as Memoir entries, allowing two distinct voices to overlap in a Venn diagram seeking truth as much as suspense. As he entertains with engaging people in tense situations Hunter is also tracking down his own answer to the perennial question: Who was Jack the Ripper?

Action scenes are handled with typical aplomb. Surprising details about era, epoch, and specific locales keep one’s eyebrows raised even as shoulders hunch in the grip of stretched nerves.

We meet a journalist, who tells the bulk of the tale. No more about him, other than he is garrulous as a raconteur with the gift of gab. His intricate presentation does not lag. He recounts the Ripper days vividly and with salty cynicism and an insider’s knowing wink now and then. We learn much about the press back then, at the dawn of media frenzy and serial killer front pages.

We also meet a diarist who openly gloats about his crimes. His first words, the very first in the book, are, “When I cut the woman’s throat…” and yet we wonder throughout, in a kind of agony of logic as we pit our detective skills against Hunter’s, who is this psychopathic killer with the cavalier attitude and businesslike experience slicing and gutting? Of course there are clues, and some are red herrings; wouldn’t be fun without them.

To say the killer’s bluntness clashes with the journalist’s wit and sharply-observed analyses perhaps edges too close to coy wordplay but even that is present in this surprise treat from Hunter, from whom we are perhaps more used to more modern prose.

Not that I, Ripper is dense, far from it. Not that it is overly-intricate. Remarkable tone control allows him leeway in both narrative direction and storytelling patterns. It’s a bravura performance by an old pro.

The journalist follows new leads, and is led by a set of assumptions about the crimes rarely broached in Ripperology circles.

Best of all, for those Ripperologists out there, Hunter knows his stuff cold as a body on a slab and presents it without bending any rules. An afterword discusses the very few liberties taken, and why they don’t ultimately matter, while his bibliography provides a top-drawer reading list for anyone still catching up on one of the literary world’s main indoor sports.

Cat and mouse played with men and tigers might characterize this book, with the big game yet to be brought to ground. A tantalizing tease at the end of Hunter’s notes offers a hint that perhaps a nonfiction book is coming, one addressing Hunter’s solution to the Jack the Ripper identity problem. Should be well worth the wait but I wish he’d hurry up.

Meanwhile, read I, Ripper and immerse yourself in a new angle, a new set to the theory’s jaw, and a new way of diving into historical crimes, the thought-experiment combined with immersive experience. Hunter excels at keeping things real, solid, and tactile. You can feel it all, even as you are free to set the book aside now and then.

If you can.

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Stranded Off Earth

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Exactly: 100 words

“Shivers That Linger”

When you’re ten you don’t think you might die.

Life is eternal, like midwest summer, and everything’s interesting.

So my friend and I found a Masterlock, layers of metal, no key.

“We can smash it open. Get a sledge hammer.”

We put it on the anvil and I took first swing. Only swing.

Came down hard. Bang, like a bullet it shot at me, parting my hair.

I dizzied, swayed.

Later told my parents.

“What’s wrong with you? Have you no brains?”

An inch or so lower and I wouldn’t have.

Talk about a shiver that lingers.

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Droodish Memories

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Being more detailed, complicated, and serious than necessary for a thriller, The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl is a work of scholarly obsession.  How much fiction is flensed in he carefully details in the end notes and the clever interview between himself and his lead character appended to the book.

It concerns the scramble among American publishers in Boston and NYC to pirate from the only legitimate publisher Dickens’s final novel, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, (MED).  They’re all in a scrum to find the ending; the book was half-finished when Dickens died.

Many “completions” have been done since, of course.  Dickens left no notes or hints, so no one knows how he planned to work out all the complications set up by what he’d written.  It may be he did write an ending first, too, in the way of the new mystery stories then just beginning to become popular, but if so, no sign of it has surfaced.

It could be also that he based MED on a true mystery, a disappearance and subsequent gruesome discovery local to Rochester, where he lived at Gad’s Hill Place and where he wrote MED.  Turns out, across from his estate an inn was operated by a family by the name of Trood.  That family had the misfortune of losing track of a rather wild son, whose remains were discovered decades later walled up and skeletal.  It’s a tantalizing hint of what Dickens likely knew and the parallel of the names is certainly beyond coincidence.

Dickens’s friend Wilkie Collins had already established two kinds of mysteries.  In his The Lady In White he created the first great sensation novel, a thriller in other words.  In The Moonstone he created the first detective novel.

In letters and other communiqués, Dickens had promised his publishers and friends something new in MED.  This is provocative; solving a real-life mystery in a novel would break new ground.  It would be consonant with Dickens’s methods, too; he routinely did portraits of real people all the time and interpolated actual events into his storylines.

Meanwhile, solving the mystery posed in the novel is a cottage industry today, perhaps rivaling the solutions to the Jack the Ripper crimes in popularity, at least among Dickensians.

The central problem in MED is that young Edwin Drood has vanished.  Foul play is feasible from several quarters.  Whether he’s alive or dead, even perhaps lurking in disguise, is left an open question.  Of a planned dozen chapters, Dickens completed only six.

Unless he wrote the last six first, as some speculate. Evidence for this exists.  He’d met Edgar Allan Poe during his first visit to America and had discussed mystery stories with him, particularly that Poe wrote the endings first, so the solution was known from the start.  It is known via correspondence that Wilkie Collins discussed the same approach with Dickens.  Remember, this was the dawn of the story of sensation and of detecting:  Mystery novels were a fresh new thing.  Dickens, in The Mystery of Edwin Drood, dived straight into both, perhaps all three.  Sensation there is, mystery there is, and there may even be a detective lurking…

There is marriage, inheritance, and reputation at stake, with a good deal of strong personal clashes mixed in.  While not a locked room mystery, it is claustrophobic because the town is so small.  In fact, although the setting is obviously Rochester, Dickens calls it Cloisterham in the fiction.  That is a telling detail, as cloisters are closed and full of guarded secrets.

It is often a funny novel, too, sometimes using vicious, blunt satire, and occasionally references are introduced that may hint at solutions.  He’s teasing the reader mercilessly and having Hitchcockian fun while doing it.

It goes without saying that MED is well-written but it’s also modern in feel.  This could easily be a contemporary literary thriller mystery.  That alone is remarkable.  Remember, Dickens died on 8 June 1870.

Pearl’s book focuses on James R. Osgood, publisher at the firm once known as Tichnor & Fields in Boston.  This was the sole official, approved, and contracted publisher of the works of Charles Dickens.  When the latest packet of manuscript from England goes astray, stolen by bookaneers, a group of scurrilous if highly-literate thieves who work for pirate publishers such as Osgood’s arch rivals, the Harper brothers, Osgood is hot on the trail.  (Note:  Pearl has written another novel focused on the bookaneers, a fascinating rag-tag group of scallywags.)

Osgood goes to England, first to consult with Dickens’s British publishers, Chapman & Hall, then to seek a solution to the fictional mystery posed by the first six chapters.  If Fields & Co. can publish that, it will sweep away the pirate editions in triumph.  Naturally, thing become instantly nefarious.

This would make a wonderful movie in the hands of the right director, and would appeal even to steampunk fans, although every detail in Pearl’s narrative is carefully researched and accurate to history and biography.

Along the way we learn the history of publishing is clotted with dark, vile, and underhanded crimes.  We think publishing is vile and exploitative now, but in the days when books were actually in demand, each hot commodity such as a new Dickens novel was about profit only and to hell with ethics.  We see a dirty business of contrasts; ideals clashing with vermin, criminals subverting honorable deals, contracts broken to thwart lofty goals, plagiarism and pirating common, and so on.  Murder is not an obstacle if it means acquiring a lucrative property.

Harper’s was founded by brothers.  The Mayor, who was the NYC mayor to set up the first police, basically his private army to do is bidding, further his agenda, and fix things, usually by breaking heads, akin to Bloomberg’s in later years.  Mayor Harper ran things thuggishly but efficiently.  He was just prior to Tammany Hall, incidentally, and may have made that cess-pool look swimmable.

The General, the Colonel, and the Major were not as congenial, nor as restrained, it seems.  Bullies, thugs, and martinets, all, concerned only with books as sales units and profit points.  They pumped out cheap editions on bad paper full of crap plagiarism trumpeted as the real thing.  Sound familiar?

By contrast Fields & Co. were a quaint Boston firm, genteel and aiming at elevating its readers by offering only the best, the most refined, published beautifully.  Think of a specialty small press for collectors, these days.

Osgood the Bostonian idealist published Tennyson, Emerson, and Thoreau.  And Dickens, officially.  Hugely and even crazily popular and profitable in his time, Dickens was a name whose work was coveted like gold by the less-ethical rivals.

So we’ve forgotten or never knew how vicious publishing was in the Victorian age but we should perhaps have realized, as we scan the dregs today.  Anywhere there is money we find corruption and crime.

As to Dickens, he was the equivalent then of a rock star today.  Crowds surrounded him, people tore at his hair and clothes, his personal effects were stolen, (his pillow from a hotel, while he was still in residence, for example), his hotels broken into, his luggage rifled, his papers grabbed.  He was celebrated and condemned; those graced by his attention or presence were charmed.  He had an astounding charisma.  Those who felt snubbed when he could not visit their town wrote scathing editorials, lying as viciously as any GOP candidate today.

Reading The Mystery of Edwin Drood is recommended.  It is literate fun and masterful fiction for intelligent readers.  It is sharply observed and full of surprises.  Reading Matthew Pearl’s book The Last Dickens is recommended, too, both for its boisterous, rollicking adventure and perhaps even more for its clear glimpses into both the Victorian reality and the life and times of Charles Dickens.  In Pearl’s book we see Dickens on his second American tour and through to his death at Gad’s Hill, his estate, not long after.

Details are wonderful.  We learn that Dickens saw flooding in central New York state and had to be transported to Utica by steamboat.  He watched houses, barns, and even a railroad train float by, its cattle cars full of screaming, drowning beasts.  This so moved him that Dickens demanded they save the animals.  He vowed not a single one would die, and led the rescue efforts in icy weather, risking life and health to release the animals from the train cars, guiding them to dry land, and even insisting he would not leave until they’d been fed.  All this came to pass, and only then did Dickens consent to complete his journey to his next reading.

We see, too, his growing shadow of fear and doubt about travel, stemming from the near-fatal train crash he’d survived at Staplehurst, in England, when his private car ended up dangling over a ravine and river.  He saved many people that day and acquitted himself well, leaping and climbing at age 54 like a much younger man.

Keep in mind he died four years later at age 58 of a stroke, suffered literally as he wrote the line, “He fell to with an appetite,” and went in from his miniature Swiss chalet where he often worked, to have dinner at Gad’s Hill.  He lingered on the sofa brought down to accommodate him, but died without revealing MED’s ending.

He’d offered to tell Queen Victoria the ending, by the way, but she declined, saying she’d rather read it with everyone else and be surprised.

We are not amused.

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RAT STEW: TV, and HistorLatelyy – What’s Been In My Head

Never HappenedA few days ago in Omaha, near where I live, a man was killed by gunfire at a park. He was driving and tried to escape the bullets by going cross-country, breaking through a split-rail fence onto a grassy field. He died of his wounds.

Police immediately arrested two young men, one 16 and one 15 years of age. They at once announced a search for a third boy,12 years old. He showed up today, extradited from Wisconsin, where he’d somehow gone, perhaps helped by relatives. He is charged with first degree murder, having been part of what appears to have been an ambush. The dead man was lured to the park and into a kill zone.

Little kids killing. We barely blink these days.

This numbed lack of reaction was not always the case, not even in America. Only a few days before this latest Omaha homicide I finished reading the 1985 true-crime account, Death of Innocence by Peter Meyer. ISBN: 0-425-09080-9, 327pp, the Berkley 1986 mass market pb edition.

In Essex Junction, VT two 12 year-old girls cut through a wooded strip of land, taking a well-worn path used by most of the kids. They’d come out of the school late due to one having to stay to present a music teacher with a test. Her friend waited.

In the trees they were grabbed from behind and dragged through underbrush to a clearing where two young men, one 16 and one 15 years of age, stripped, raped, then strangled, shot with bb pellets, and finally stabbed both girls. They left them for dead under two abandoned mattresses.

No one found them.

One, however, regained consciousness and, horrifically wounded, got to her feet and managed to walk out of the woods to a railroad where workmen spotted her. They radioed what they saw and told dispatch to call the police. The girl was naked and covered in blood. She was immediately carried by a concerned man to a place where the ambulance could reach her.

“What about my friend?” she asked.

This began the backtrack into the woods, starting where she’d emerged. The clearing was found and someone spotted a sad little hand barely visible under one edge. That girl was dead.

Meanwhile the surviving victim, even as doctors worked frantically on her, managed, in breathy whispers, to describe the attackers to an outraged, unbelieving police detective. She proved both brave and mentally sharp, offering enough to start an investigation that quickly spread statewide.

As this unfolded the boys who’d done it continued with their lives as if nothing had happened until the newspapers began circulating composite pictures developed with the surviving girl’s help. Their families and friends began to know who was responsible, and one of the boys even told friends they’d done it.

This senseless crime shattered the small Vermont town’s image of itself as a peaceful haven from the violence, especially among youth, then beginning to ravage the nation’s big cities. It made people begin to lock their doors, escort their children to and from school, and show up at public events in droves to protect their kids from possible harm.

This set of crimes also set up a public debate over juvenile law that continues to this day. Prevention or punishment? Engagement or control? Lenient or harsh?

Everything was blamed, from parents, teachers, and society to TV, sugar, and music. What remained undeniable was the steep decline in restraint, perspective, and control demonstrated by each succeeding generation. Where once there might have been an exchange of harsh words, shoving matches gave way to fist fights, ambushes, and knife-fights. Guns were never far behind in such confrontations, almost all stolen from home, where they’d been kept for home safety.

Peter Meyer’s meticulous, impeccably researched account leads us through the crimes and its ripples with neither melodrama nor sentimentality. He analyzes as he goes, digging deeper than a mere recital of events, seeking context and clarity where none is likely to be found. His work illuminates our perennial dilemma: Is it age or crime that determines society’s response?

Along the way we learn many absurdities arrived at by what began as good intentions. Kids of 17 were not considered capable of crime, only of delinquency. That means everything from shoplifting a pack of gum to murder counted not as crime but only as a kind of lapse of socialization. Frowning adults talking to them was the only result. Pleading with them. These kids were lumped into state institutions not equipped to deal with them, timid thieves along with hardened, brutal punks in the same places, places not legally permitted to hold them against their will. The worst of them simply walked away, knowing their age granted impunity.

Magically, at age 18, delinquency became crime and the full weight of the legal and penal systems crushed down upon them.

In response, some states lowered the age at which criminals would be handled as if adults as low as ten, while in other places more was spent on remedial or palliative measures.

Despite its age, Death of Innocence remains a seminal work well worth reading. As the murder in Omaha last weekend shows, we have not progressed much if at all. Any intelligent analysis of juvenile crime and what to do with it would benefit from including this book.

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Ghost shows that over-dramatize are failures. Presenting factual accounts by real people, then dramatizing their stories in a plain way, is much more effective.

Many disagree, preferring fiction, or fictional tone. That’s okay, room for everyone in the unseen realms.

Plain accounts carry more impact and interest. They are easier to relate to our own experiences. For most of us, straightforward accounts offer at least a chance of useful insights and helpful attitudes. Those others, the over-heated histrionic kinds, seek only to provoke terror and horror. Entertainment is their goal, while unadorned anecdotes give us communal voices around the fire.

UFO shows often go wrong, too, in the re-enactments. How many times have we seen the Lonnie Zamora case performed? It’s been acted out for so many shows they all blur, yet each is different. While this matters little, perhaps, it does offer imprecise impressions of something that really did happen to a real person, a New Mexico deputy sheriff no less. Skepdicks can then use these unfocused and conflicting skits and bad SFX as reasons to sneer away the core story and its implications. The punters also end up with warped views.

FIRE IN THE SKY, the movie made from the Travis Walton abduction case, is a good example of what happens. His account told bluntly what happened, and his claims checked out when investigated, but Hollywood producers said the Greys, which he also reported, “had been done” and insisted on adding scenes of surreal mothership horror, pure fiction, to soup up their film. They lied to pander, hoping for a bigger profit by appealing to the suckers.

This is fine. It’s how the entertainment game is played, sure. It also destroys any chance of plain accounts making it to the public. Whether in movies or on TV, paranormal is a genre, not an investigation. No ghost, UFO, or other paranormal event is handled with respect for fact or participant. The result is mindless nonsense bandied about as if it means anything more than a slight pay-day for cynical rich narcissists.

I’ve noticed Canadian productions tend to be calmer, clearer, and sharper in focus. Far less production, far more content. Location shooting, testimony from those involved, and sensible commentary prevail in Canadian fringe shows. Perhaps it’s due to a healthy immunity from America’s madness.

Independent documentaries often lack slickness but make up for that with gems of new information. When Michael Moore’s superb film-making skills earned him Academy Award notice, naysayers desperate to discredit him used that very skill to accuse him of manipulating audiences and facts. Had his work been crude they would have used the crudeness against him, of course, but we see how this works now.

It works to keep minds closed on either side of the paranormal debate. Each advocate skews reality to sustain a chosen, cherished illusion.

From this we see anti-intellectualism moving just under the surface, along with the delusional, anti-reality policies and actions of America’s right wing these days.

Yes, from ghosts and UFOs to sociopolitical analysis of propaganda and keeping a duped populace stupid and thus easily herded.

Josh Gates, who has helmed two excellent shows thus far, DESTINATION: TRUTH on the lamentably-named SyFy Channel and EXPENDITION UNKNOWN on Travel Channel, goes to see for himself, a good approach. He is sane, good-humored, and grounded in rationality. A member of the Explorer’s Club, he deals more often with Ripley’s Belive It Or Not reality rather than the paranormal but he has co-hosted or guested on a few GHOST HUNTERS shows with a sense of humor intact.

Troubled wrecks like Ryan Buell of PARANORMAL STATE on A&E Channel, fare worse. They tend to lock into a single view, usually fearful. Buell, for example, always seemed to end up confronting demons in his paranormal investigations. It was all about him and his darkness. Turned out he was closeted gay and had a severe cancer to deal with, and his personal demons quite obviously affected the show’s approach, interpretations, and overall morose tone.

Yes, misfits can play paranormal too. On the other side, though, we find the likes of Zak, Aaron, and Nick on GHOST ADVENTURES. Curious and lively, seeking to explore further the paranormal after being freaked out during a lark in an empty hotel years ago, these guys offer constant surprises. While the evidence they come up with may underwhelm much of the time, they know how to produce an entertaining, engaging, and varied set of shows. Their choices of places to investigate are interesting in themselves, and they present history clearly and with some wit and charm.

In ANCIENT ALIENS, everyone’s favorite hair, along with its owner/ operator Giorgio Tsoukalos, maintains interest mostly by showing to great effect the many spectacular places visited or referenced during the discussion of a forgotten global civilization and the interpretation of myth and legend in extraterrestrial contact terms. What makes many angry are the pointed questions aimed at mainstream consensus realty, the answers to which no one can seem to cite.

Anti-intellectual America is the morbidly-obese part of the Bell Curve and the outliers are almost pushed off the chart these days, when they’re not shrieking in Congress or voting to curtail reality in favor of their cherished delusions.

It’s sad to watch the empire decline, idiocy dominating as fascist capitalism becomes oligarchy and a new dark ages looms to swallow even hope of long-term, maybe short-term, survival of our species.

Of most species.

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I live in the middle of the eastern edge of Nebraska, near Omaha. The other day we could smell British Columbia and Saskatchewan burning. Our air was hazy. Air-hazard alerts were issued twice in Omaha, so dense was this forest fire smoke. The sun stayed red all day, like a blood spot in an egg yoke.

Our world is so fragile and so much smaller than we allow ourselves to realize. Our children kill now, our air kills, water is nearly gone, food is broken and often toxic, our bodies are beyond health-care’s reach and edging into palliative desperation.

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Started reading a new anthology, Shrieks and Shivers from the Horror Zine, edited by Jeani Rector. This may be her last, she says. It is going out on top, it seems. 293pp, 31 stories, an article, and a forward, all brief, is what this book contains. Majority of stories are probably under 2000 words, most about 1200 – 1500. Even your attention span won’t be strained much, noddy.

The first story, “Tapeworm” by Martin Rose, is gruesome, human, and accurate, providing a well-observed desperation anyone who wants to lose weight will recognize.

Old pro William F. Nolan, some of whose fiction was dramatized on TWILIGHT ZONE, is up next with a zinger, after which Joe McKinney gets us inside what really happened when Cronenberg filmed THE THING, especially those chilling scenes with the dogs…

There are 30 stories here, too many to cover individually, but let it be known this is unabashed, good-old rip-snorting horror, the kind you grew up reading. Choose your duds carefully, most of these are live rounds already chambered and pointed at your guts.

Too often we see semi-clever ideas fleshed out just enough to slip past harried editors needing coherent material for deadline-haunted pages they can’t pay much to fill. Magazines are scarce and the anthologies tend to be rote, based on silly themes. We hope each we buy will contain just enough to sustain our interest. We settle. Good enough is good enough.

Since when? That’s what Jeani Rector yelled, and stood against. Seeing her go is a loss to all horror readers.

Remember, a magazine or anthology has only the editor’s taste, and sometime a theme, tying otherwise disparate stories together. Well, those and the genre’s milieu, I suppose. Mostly it’s the editor’s taste, though. It had better overlap yours enough in the Venn diagram of art and commerce, or you’ll move on.

Good taste, yes. That’s what I said. We know how rare good taste is. You can find ice-cream that makes you thin a lot easier.

Brava, by the way, to Rachel Coles, for her “Nails In Your Coffin”, which is downright Poe-esque.

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Lincoln became myth because so many wrote about him. His pivotal role and time, his character and actions, the effects of all these and more make him mythic in the way of the Caesars.

He once got challenged to a duel so, as the challenged with the right of choice, he chose swords in a small clearing with a center line that could not be crossed. His longer reach gave him advantage. At the last minute an older man intervened and stopped the duel, but he would have savaged his opponent. Think about that.

Oh, duels were illegal, too, and as a lawyer, he knew it.

As a younger man, his cruel, quick wit won him advantages over many a ridiculed political or legal opponent, but it earned him many enemies too. He later went from low- to high-road tactics, which led him to being considered a great statesman.

His anti-slavery stance came from his outrage that some gained from the hard, hot work of others. His own childhood taught him how difficult and draining physical labor was. Further, he may have equated slave owners with his father, a determined dirt farmer who drove himself and his family hard.

Lincoln rose above a hard, harsh childhood and sketchy education by reading. His early career was typical personal ambition; he was driven by a wish to escape his impoverished circumstances. Only later did he drop the greed to become thoughtful and philosophical. he was, remember, a lawyer. Adversarial law teaches wit, cruelty, and a lack of empathy that allows a kill-shot instinct.

He became thoughtful during his five years away from politics, from ages 40 to 45. Anti-slavery speeches brought him back into politics during the Kansas-Nebraska act debates. His famous speech about a house divided against itself cannot long stand was delivered during this return to political activity.

He had chronic depression, familial, and took Blue Mass, essentially pills of mercury, even early in his Presidency. He saw their effect on himself and stopped using them, to much improvement. This ability to observe, think, learn from, and change behavior let him rise into greatness, being a rare trait, especially among narcissistic politicians.

Frederick Douglas was a frequent visitor to Lincoln’s White House and taught Lincoln to grow away from ingrained bigotry, using Lincoln’s detestation of injustice as the main leverage.

He loathed injustice of any kind, another legacy, it is thought, from his overbearing father.

Lincoln’s final speech, three days before Booth shot him, endorsed black suffrage. This incensed John Wilkes Booth; was the conspiracy to kidnap and ransom Lincoln galvanized toward murder by this speech?

JFK spoke of the Gnomes of Zurich, international banksters, just before being pink-clouded, remember. Certainly speeches often signal changes many do not accept and cannot tolerate. Look how the right wing loses the dregs of what passes as its collective mind each time President Obama makes a speech.

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Enough literary, historical, and other nattering.

Be soon and write well.

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Random Notes of Passing Interest

Gimlet Eye II

Father’s Day this year falls on Litha.

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SOM 1-01, Special Operations Manual, is the one dealing with retrieving downed UFO’s and crew. It was mailed on film to UFO and aviation writer Don Berliner in 1994 after he’d attended an air show in Phoenix, AZ. It may well date back to just after the Rosewell Incident in 1947 and indicates many retrievals, otherwise why need a protocol? Later supposed crashes follow the specified protocol precisely and all efforts to debunk SOM 1-01 have failed. It passes all scrutiny so far.

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Robert Bigelow, billionaire, bought all of MUFON’s UFO documents, over 70,000 & growing. He also cut a deal with the USAF so all UFO reports are routed to his MUFON group. It’s his number now one is directed to.

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Mycroft stays in the Diogenes Club to keep from being swamped by the world. Sensory overload is kept at bay to let him focus on running the UK. Holmes is out-and-about, thus has a manic-depressive cycle from being either overloaded or understimulated. It’s why he uses drugs. In both cases we have portraits of people so observant and aware as to be nearly crippled by ordinary life.

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Did they show Tesla’s nephew the wrong room when he responded to news that his uncle had died on the 33rd Floor of the New Yorker Hotel in NYC? That would have been the easiest way for them to sort, pack, and steal Tesla’s notebooks and other papers, as well as shipping the body to the morgue after examining it. Maybe after making it.

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Tesla died at 87. He held over 700 patents. Why was he destitute? Punishment by the oligarchs and robber barons.

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Einstein and Tesla were born at a time known as the Opening of the Gates of Wisdom in the Jewish Zohar mystical tradition.

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Tesla reported experiencing intense flashes of light followed by a flood of ideas and a spurt of creativity during which he would not eat, sleep, or do anything but work. Parallels PKD, who reported bright pink light imparting information from what he called VALIS, Vast Active Living Information System. Tesla said we’re receivers. Said electric energy and information is all around us, permeates us. All we need do is tap into it. He cited energy, vibration, and frequency as the three-part key to the universe. Resonance. Sound energy, which some say was used to move the megaliths in ancient times.

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Tesla’s Nobel Prize was skotched by a cabal of enemies including scientists and industrialists. He kept having democratic ideas to benefit everyone free, and they wanted to sell, market, profit. Tesla anticipated Einstein, Bohr, and Rutherfurd but was and is ignored as one of the great minds of all time, except among us fringers. Many feel this was due to his pursuit of and talk of ETI. He calculated the ET presence was millenia old and ongoing. He thought it likely ETIs influence us even now, which is enemies seized upon and called madness.

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In 1931, Tesla converted a Pierce-Arrow to electric and demonstrated it for the press, achieving speeds over 90mph. We are only now being allowed access to such technology and if you doubt it’s permission, find and watch the documentary WHO KILLED THE ELECTRIC CAR.

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Tesla slept as little as two hours a night. Was an extreme germophobe, preferred working in almost complete darkness, and was obsessed with the number three. He would circle a building three times before entering, further evidence of OCD. He lived at the Hotel New Yorker from 1934 – 1943, when he died. He constantly talked of the sequence 3 – 6 – 9 as a power spiral. “If you knew the magnificence of 3 – 6 – 9, you would have the keys to the universe,” he wrote.

If we had the keys to the universe we’d misplace them and someone would steal the universe. Perhaps they already did.

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I often feel my life is encrypted to keep me out.

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The David H. Koch Fund For Science sponsors NOVA on PBS, even as the same money source disburses millions to skew science, warp science, and even suppress and negate science to benefit Big Oil, to blur Global Warming evidence, to deny the harm of exploiting and piping tar sands, to lie about coal being clean, to keep fracking secretive and to deflect notice of the harm it does, and to promote other agenda items meant to protect capitalism’s depredations from fact.

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Dragons must be herbivores, which means the fangs depicted so often are wrong. It’s methane that makes them viable. They’d belch huge gouts of methane, then ignite it by clacking flint-embedded teeth. The flint comes from them chewing rocks in their mountain lairs. The methane would also help them fly. To kill a dragon, use a flaming arrow or incendiary round. Dragons would need swamps, jungles, or cultivated fields to feed from, since they’d eat exclusively vegetative matter, like cattle. They would only nest or lair in caves for protection from lightning and humans. Were dragons, as dinosaurs are now thought to have been, feathered?

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Sometimes my fear is slippage, that my gears are not meshing but I’m not noticing.

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1200 deaths and counting, projected to reach perhaps 2500, have occurred in the slave-like dangerous conditions in which the latest World Cup stadium is being built. Why? The construction company is using Grover Norquist’s formula for how to treat workers. Yes, the GOP’s main strategist’s ideas are killing people in droves, needlessly, to save a company money from a corrupt FIFA.

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Thailand loves Hitler. WTF?

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Genug genesh.

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Our Occulted History by Jim Marrs, A Review

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Our Occulted History:
Do the Global Elite Conceal Ancient Aliens?
by Jim Marrs
Wm. Morrow, 2013, hardcover
382pp, notes, index

A Review by Gene Stewart

Jim Marrs? Aliens? Must be some kind of joke.

He wrote Crossfire, which, blended with Jim Garrison’s On the Trail of the Assassins, became Oliver Stone’s JFK. That was no joke, and Crossfire remains the definitive book covering the JFK assassination.

He wrote Rule By Secrecy, Alien Agenda, Rise of the Fourth Reich, and Trillion Dollar Conspiracy, for others. Each nailing down the details for topics as diverse as the shadow government, Nazi influence in today’s world, and the systematic looting by the 1% of America’s wealth.

Trained as a journalist, he uses a reporter’s approach to gather and sift information from a wide variety of sources. He investigates and correlates a vast array of material for each book with impeccable research and solid citations. Investigative reporter by training and instinct, he delves into our conventional, approved history and finds a gold-mine of suppressed information, which he presents clearly and entertainingly.

Jim Marrs is like your wise old uncle who’s seen most of it and can guess the rest if you get him in a good mood.

Our Occulted History focuses on how ruling elites warp the story of how things got the way they are now. Occulted means hidden. Blocked. We are not allowed to see many things dealing with our own history.

One of them is the Ancient Alien question. He explores the evidence for the possibility that Ancient Alien influence may well have shaped our so-called civilization. Further, he reveals evidence that it’s still with us, guiding us if not calling the shots.

Marrs does not shy away from the outré. He surveys Von Däniken and Sitchin, giving their questions and interpretations fair due, then takes us into our own DNA, where there is strong evidence of binary coding and inserted sets of genes received all at one time. It happened, somehow, precisely when homo hominid became homo sapient, the brain explosion that took us from small animals to technological masters of much of the planet.

That humanity underwent a sudden, mysterious increase in brain power, and consequent abilities to control our environment, is undisputed. What caused it, or did it? The more science looks at the evidence, the more it seems to have been done deliberately by a higher intelligence.

Were the so-called gods of our superstitious past actually star people? Sky people? People with advanced technology who came from other planets or even other dimensions would prove good suspects in the brain expansion mystery, when we not only had our brain capacity boosted but received, too, a set of genes not acquired over time and natural selection. A packet, inserted, is what it looks like, and the information in those genes remains unknown, although the early research is provocative.

Suppose, then, a small cabal of elite humans and perhaps hybrids continue contact with the ETs who did this for us so long ago. Talk about a shadow government; high tech may well mean something to them that we would look upon as impossible magic.

Many scientists in the early days of UFOs, from the 1940s on, quickly concluded something unsettling: If these craft represented a group advanced enough to make and use them, then such a group would be extraterrestrial OR would exist parallel to us, or among us, unseen somehow.

Leaving aside interdimensionality, we might postulate the various groups of so-called supernatural beings observed through history, the faerie folk and spites and pixies and leprechauns, the demons and djinn, the spirit people of many cultures, might actually be due to glimpses of this parallel or ET group. Some ETH theorists say they live among us, or that they’re taking us for genetic hybrid experiments to let them do so. Others talk of spacetime portals and multiple worlds, permeable by technology we do not yet have.

Or do some of us have access to things like time travel? Is the Montauk Experiment rumor or fact?

Secret societies and privage groups of influential, wealthy people may know. In fact, they may benefit from their position as unofficial emissaries of the 99% of us on Earth who have no idea, no E-ticket letting us in on the hair-raising truth.

Our Occulted History is at core a presentation of evidence that leads to terrifying, at least unsettling conclusions. Certainly, as Henry Ford and others have said, history is a lie, agreed upon.

By whom is the lie agreed upon? What does the lie allow them to do with the rest of us not privy to the secrets? Or is the secret that there is no secret?

For those who think history is a series of random events, this book will either amuse or enrage you. For those who wonder, or who suspect that our history is shaped by unseen forces, influenced if not controlled by small cabals of wealthy elite who just might have access to information sources the consensus media sneers at and calls fringe and worse, for those people this book will prove compelling.

Either way, Marrs is always readable and interesting, and the evidence he discusses can be confirmed on your own, if you wish to dig a little. His excellent notes and index make researching accessible, if you wish to pursue the leads that brought him to these conclusions.

For the open-minded, Our Occulted History offers the chance to change the way you see the world and our history in it.

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman, A Review

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Bird Box by Josh Malarian
Ecco, 2014, 1st edition, hardcover
Special cut-out dust jacket
Special cover, 262pp

A Review by Gene Stewart

Malorie and her two kids, a boy and a girl, are left alone by a deeply unnerving plague of sorts. Perhaps it’s an alien invasion. Maybe it is supernatural. Maybe nature herself is taking revenge. No one knows.

All anyone knows is, a glimpse of these shadowy intruders is enough to drive you mad. You will try to kill others and yourself with wild violence. If you glimpse one of them, what ever they are, you will have no hope.

Oddly, these things do not intrude into houses, unless there is an opening. Openings are shut, windows blocked, doors locked and guarded. No one dares look out. Yet some must fetch water from a well. Some must seek loved ones stranded where ever they may have been when the things came.

If the are even things.

Malorie raises her children with them all wearing blindfolds. She teaches them to listen, developing their hearing and refining it until they can identify things to an amazing degree. They are stuck in a house lucky enough to have a well. Her forays to fetch water, blindfolded, feeling her way, terrified of encountering the things, are epic tests of nerve she does not always pass.

Food become scarce. They need to go find others. Safety in numbers. She has heard a few snippets on radio that works less and less. She has even received startling phone calls. Some are from desperate, dying people. Others offer shelter. Try to get here, they urge.

To walk to the house next door, not knowing what is there, whether the things have gotten in, not knowing if it’s booby-trapped, knowing only it is dangerous to do this blind, is what Malorie determines to do. She wants to see if she can find food or other useful items.
This novel is beyond nerve-wracking. It is a conceptual nightmare executed carefully. Malerman’s writing is taut and precise. He gets details right, with the eye of a poet. Or ear. Or touch.

Other people are found, or find Malorie. She takes a harrowing trip on the river, her children listening for things, telling her what they hear. Sometimes they don’t know. Other times it is crazy people seeking to kill or be killed.

How or even if she and her kids get through this ordeal, where they might even go to escape a world gone dark and dangerous, is something you’ll have to read for yourself.

Know that Bird Box, and yes, there is reason for the title you will not guess, beyond the metaphorical aspect, is well worth reading. Spectacular horror dark fantasy suspense mystery science fiction Malerman debut.

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The Ancient Alien Question by Philip Coppens, A Review

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The Ancient Alien Question:
A New Inquiry Into the Existence,
Evidence, and Influence of
Ancient Visitors
by Philip Coppens
Career Press/New Page, 2012
320pp, 8p color insert, b&w illos throughout,
notes, bibliography, index

A Review by Gene Stewart

Featuring an introduction by Erich Von Denizen and a cover with a Mayan pyramid set against a nebula with four glimpses of ancient places and artifacts in circles at the pyramid’s base, the first impression is Uh-oh. This could be one of the those breathless compendia of rhetorical questions matched to wild speculations. It could be an overly-somber volume crammed full of recherché data somehow confabulated into a grand theory that you know boils down to the simplistic assertion: Aliens.

Instead, Coppens confounds both true believers and hardened skeptics by presenting factual information clearly, examining it logically, and dismissing outré notions while never closing his mind to possibilities.

Have we been visited by ET in the past? Did these EBEs influence us culturally or even genetically? Do ancient places and monuments, artifacts and traces tell us anything about such things?

Coppens covers these and other questions systematically. He presents us with both startling facts confirmed by consensus science and alarming demonstrations of flaws among scientists. We learn that academia has done a poor job of investigating evidence it cannot refute, to see what it might mean. Ignoring things until they go away is hardly conducive to advancing human knowledge, yet that is what has most often been done.

Alternative theories, rather than being welcomed and tested, confirmed or demolished by the scientific method, are brusquely dismissed out-of-hand by those holding politically-accepted established views. A good example is the Sphinx on the Giza Plateau in Egypt. It shows water erosion, something that could only have happened over tens of thousands of years, and only tens of thousands of years ago, when the climate there was much wetter. It’s a desert today; no opportunity for vertical water erosion occurs. Yet there are the marks, in front of everyone since the Sphinx’s body was dug up in the 1920s. It being in a desert, no one “saw” this plain fact.

It remains denied to this day as Zawi Hawass, the head of Egyptian Antiquities, defends his own version of history, which places Ancient Egypt at the pinnacle of ancient civilizations, which pleases his political masters.

A glance at the pyramids leads to interesting speculation, too. Are those huge stone blocks quarried? Or were they poured? The latter would make it much easier to have built the huge pyramids, which took only 20 years or so each, as recorded in verified Egyptian records.

Geopolymers may be the answer. A chemical process whereby artificial rock can be created using chips of rock, stones, debris, and various other elements such as potash and plant resins, into a large rock or stone, or block, indistinguishable from natural stone. Indistinguishable but for the shapes we find, which are man-made and fit so perfectly together as to be impossible to shape with copper chisels.

Interestingly, small artifacts such as certain vases and statuettes were produced in Ancient Egypt using the process of geopolymerization. It was obviously known and used. Why not for larger projects?

Dr. Joseph Davidovits, a French chemical engineer with multiple overlapping degrees, first mooted the geopolymer notion about the Great Pyramid in 1974. Davidovits is the father of geopolymers and a giant in is field. His theory would mean the Ancient Egyptian workers would have had no huge blocks to move, no ramps needed, and repairs could be made easily by recasting stones. The amazing accuracy would be relatively easy to achieve without having to deal with tremendous sandstone blocks.

He proved the density of the pyramid stones differed from the stone still in the quarry. They differ chemically, too. Mud from the Nile, shells in the sediment, lime, natron salts, caustic soda… He asserts that Imhotep, the great genius engineer and builder of Ancient Egypt, also the great Alchemist, would have known this method and used it, as is proven by the structures.

Yet, despite proving his theory in geology, chemistry, and engineering, his work remains ignored by Egyptology. This is due to the strict separation among the sciences maintained by academia. Scientists of different fields ignore each other’s work.

This is but one brief, fragmented, poorly-presented example from a clearly-written, fascinating book full of such insights, revelations, and surprises. Coppens never falls into any given belief system. He sticks to facts and does not let the wilder extremes distract from the analysis. He dismisses Sitchin after showing how wrong those translations were, how imaginary in many cases. He does not diver headlong into the ETH either, even as he points out that we are the space aliens, due to panspermia.

Yes, we fell from the stars, amino acids cooked by interstellar radiation, carried by comets and other debris, dropped into an atmosphere grown from volcanic and bacteriological out-gassing. There those building-blocks of life from space found warm tidal pools and began the binary on-off dance that produced ever more complex biochemical devices that eventually took on all the attributes we call life.

This is the best overview to read if you would wade into the Ancient Alien question set without instantly going over your head in speculation and cynical storytelling. The late Philip Coppens has left us a superb guidebook to these topics, and his sensible, pragmatic tone is to be emulated.

Reading The Ancient Alien Question changes one’s view of history for the better, and opens one to possibilities yet to be confirmed, if only we can encourage scientists to get out there and investigate what all the baffling, intriguing, and suggestive evidence adds up to, what it means.

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