Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Haunted Skies: Vol. 1

As someone who has written extensively about the issue of UFO encounters in the British Isles, I know how incredibly difficult and time-consuming it can be to research - and write about - such an infinitely complex topic. And when that same research and writing also encompasses cases that date back decades, then the whole process becomes even more of a challenge.

And, this is one of the reasons why I take my hat off (metaphorically speaking!) to John Hanson and Dawn Holloway, who have done a superb job in chronicling the early years of British Ufology in their new book, Haunted Skies: The Encyclopedia of British UFOs, Volume 1, 1940-1959 (CFZ Press).

To say this is one of the most important of all books that address the history and nature of the UFO puzzle in Great Britain, is not an exaggeration. Not only have the authors uncovered an incredible amount of new data and hitherto unknown incidents, but they have also been able to shed a great deal of very welcome new light on old cases - cases that many researchers, I am sure, assumed had reached a point beyond which they could be taken no further. Well, those same researchers are dead wrong.

John and Dawn have done not just a great service to British Ufology, but to worldwide Ufology, too. With a foreword from Timothy Good, Haunted Skies is a book that will astonish you with the sheer wealth of fascinating and - in many cases - never-before-seen data on truly startling UFO encounters.

Given the fact that this volume covers the period from 1940 to 1959, we are, of course, treated to an amazing body of reports from the Second World War. Needless to say, many students of Ufology will be aware of the fact that the 1940s saw the emergence of the Foo Fighter puzzle - and many have concluded that, as far as UFOs are concerned, the Foo Fighters were a solitary ufological phenomenon of that era. Not so.

I was very intrigued to learn that John and Dawn had uncovered copious amounts of data, cases and testimony relative to close encounters with structured, classic, flying saucer-style craft, other-worldly entities, and much more in this very same, war-torn period. That this section of Haunted Skies alone now requires us to majorly revise what we thought we knew about the UFO puzzle during the Second World War is not a matter of any doubt whatsoever.

And with the 1947 commencement of the era of the Flying Saucer, we get to learn a great deal about how the mystery impacted on, and manifested within, ye olde Blighty. Again, it's clear that Britain played a truly significant role in that legendary year of our lord, Kenneth Arnold.

Haunted Skies also treats us to an absolute treasure-trove of material relative to 1950s UFO sightings, landings, police reports, Adamski-style Contactee cases, British military and governmental interest in the phenomenon, and remarkable firsthand witness testimony concerning encounters with all-things incredible, saucer-shaped, and other-worldly.

And let's not forget Cynthia Appleton and her Venusian baby! This is one of those definitively weird tales of yesteryear that John and Dawn tackle in fine fashion, and which I found particularly intriguing. And you will, too!

For anyone and everyone interested in the UFO issue - and particularly so from a historical perspective - Volume 1 of Haunted Skies is a book that I cannot champion enough. Without doubt, it's one of the most significant UFO-related books of the last few decades - and that's not stretching things. It's an undeniable fact.

If Ufological history is your thing, Haunted Skies is indispensable.

And, as there are two more volumes to come from John and Dawn in this series, we're all in for further treats of the Ufological kind!

Big congratulations to John and Dawn for writing the book, and to Jon Downes and CFZ Press for publishing one of the finest UFO books I've read in a long, long time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Silent Invasion: Bigfoot & UFOs

Stan Gordon is a well-known, long-term researcher, writer and authority on many things of a Fortean nature - as is clearly evidenced by his new book, Silent Invasion: The Pennsylvania UFO-Bigfoot Casebook.

Now, I know for sure that any book suggesting Bigfoot may somehow be inextricably linked with the UFO phenomenon - and vice-versa, of course! - is bound to raise hackles in certain quarters.

However, the fact of the matter is that there is surely not a Bigfoot researcher out there who has not been exposed to (at the very least) a few creature cases that absolutely reek of high-strangeness, and that place the hairy man-beasts into definitively Fortean - rather than zoological or cryptozoological - realms.

Whether those same Bigfoot researchers are willing to admit they have come across such cases - or are willing to give such reports some degree of credence - is a very different matter, however!

Fortunately, there are a number of researchers who recognize that as much as it would be preferable to place Bigfoot in a purely flesh-and-blood category, there is a significant body of data and testimony that points in a very different direction. And it's a direction that, to his credit, Stan Gordon does not shy away from. Indeed, Stan's new book is a first-class study of a truly weird wave of Bigfoot-UFO activity that swamped the good folk of Pennsylvania in the period from 1972 to 1974.

In many ways, reading Silent Invasion reminded me of John Keel's classic The Mothman Prophecies and Jon Downes' The Owlman and Others - as a result of the fact that it focuses on the in-depth research of a dedicated, investigative author who duly finds himself up to his neck in monstrous bizarreness, ufological weirdness, and downright Fortean menace!

Silent Invasion is a swirling cauldron filled with dark and ominous woods; glowing-eyed beast-men prowling the countryside by night; strange lights in the sky; UFO landings; neighborhoods gripped by terror and fear; and much, much more, too. And, it's thanks to Stan's research, as well as his in-depth files prepared back when all the dark drama was going on, that we're now able to appreciate the curious chaos and calamity that collectively hit the unsuspecting folk of Pennsylvania all those years ago.

But, that's not all: macabre Men in Black, paranormal activity, psychic possession, secret government interest in Bigfoot, and prophetic visions of a dark and foreboding future all come to the fore in a book that is guaranteed to make you think twice about the true nature of Bigfoot.

To his credit, Stan does not take the simplistic approach that Bigfoot is some sort of "pet of the aliens," as some might assume. Instead, he logically, forthrightly and with supportive data in-hand, makes it abundantly clear that - even if we don't have all the answers - addressing the Bigfoot controversy from a purely zoological perspective does not work - at all.

He notes the problematic lack of a body (even just one would be nice!), the meager evidence of Bigfoot's eating habits, and its uncanny ability to always avoid capture - not to mention that the beast appears to be nigh-on bullet-proof. And I do mean that literally! And Stan hammers home, time and again, that where Bigfoot turns up, so - very often - do a host of other Fortean favorites.

Something strange and diabolical was afoot in Pennsylvania between 1972 and 1974. Bigfoot, UFOs and a plethora of paranormal activity were all in evidence. Somewhere, somehow, there is a connection - even if it's one we're not fully able to understand, just yet. Until we do, however, Silent Invasion will provide you with much to think about, to muse upon, and to ponder. And it may just make you totally revise your views on North America's most famous ape-man.

A great, atmospheric and uncanny tale best devoured by a flickering candle as the witching-hour looms!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Paranormal America

Countless books have been written - by believers and skeptics alike - on such paranormal topics as UFOs, Bigfoot, lake-monsters, ghosts, demons, the Bermuda Triangle, ESP, tarot-cards, and astrology. And on quite a bit more, too!

The problem is that not only do the vast majority of those same books very often (albeit not necessarily deliberately) reflect the subconscious prejudices of their respective authors, but they tend to focus more so on the data, than they do on the witnesses to the respective phenomena and the personalities that investigate them.

In other words, what has long been sorely lacking in the domain of paranormal research is a definitive, unbiased, careful, agenda-free and expert study of the mysteries at issue - but with an emphasis on those individuals that take the plunge and dare to immerse themselves in those very same mysteries.

Thankfully, that situation has now been rectified by Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken, and Joseph O. Baker. Their recently-published title Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, is a truly excellent treatment of its subject matter, and one that I deeply recommend to those fascinated by all-things paranormal.

And the three are well-qualified to write about, comment upon, and critique such issues: Bader is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Baylor University, Waco, Texas; Mencken is a Professor of Sociology at Baylor; and Baker is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at East Tennessee State University.

But, and here's the important point: this particular trio is not looking to force-feed you any specific theory, idea or notion with respect to Bigfoot, UFOs and all the rest of the high-strangeness that dominates the lives of so many. Rather, they are merely looking for answers - whatever they may ultimately prove to be. And there's none of that annoying, condescending, self-importance and self-congratulatory huffing and puffing that fills the pages of so many skeptical studies of the supernatural to be found in this book either.

It's clear from the outset that the authors are not seeking to demolish any notions that hairy man-beasts are roaming the woods, that aliens may really have crashed at Roswell, New Mexico all those years ago, that ET is abducting earthlings for bizarre reasons of a genetic nature, or that life-after death is a reality. But, they're not looking to do all they can to uphold such beliefs, either.

Instead, what they are doing is taking the refreshing approach of spending as much time as possible studying, and understanding, the witnesses to, and believers in, paranormal phenomena as they are examining the alleged phenomena. And, it is with respect to the witness - or participant - issue that Paranormal America really scores points and hits home.

As the book makes abundantly clear, paranormal research is filled with characters that range from the depressingly boring, to the overwhelmingly obsessed. And, in between, there are - for the most part - those that are open-minded, others who it could be argued are somewhat too open-minded, and many who are just fascinated by the notion that the world as we see it may not actually represent all there is to see.

To their credit, our Three Musketeers do not sit on their laurels as they seek to determine what on earth (or off it!) is afoot. No: they stake-out haunted locales, they hit the road in search of Bigfoot, and they track down key and integral players in the world of the paranormal.

Citing, time and again, thought-provoking statistical data on the nature of belief systems relative to certain, alleged supernatural anomalies said to be in our midst, Bader, Mencken, and Baker show that the field of paranormal research is not at all unlike that of mainstream religion: belief and faith in "something," without any hard evidence of its actual existence, is rampant.

That same paranormal belief, just like religion, on occasion, utterly transforms lives. And, in some cases, a belief in Bigfoot, UFOs and the rest of their motley ilk appears to offer some meaning to the existence of people for whom religion plays no real part.

But, it's crucial to note that while Paranormal America makes it very obvious that - in terms of how people incorporate such controversial issues into their lives - a belief in God (or a belief in a God, or countless Gods) and the way he/she/it/they impacts/impact on the lives of people is not that different to having a belief in Bigfoot, this does not mean that the many and varied phenomena under scrutiny are simply brain-borne fantasies of a definitively X-Files like "I want to believe" nature.

No: our authors are extremely (but not uncritically) open to the idea that certain paranormal phenomena may indeed be a reality, and that just maybe aliens really are flying around, that it's not a waste of time for grown-men to chase Bigfoot on weekends while their wives sit at home rolling their eyes, or that perhaps the dead really can return to either comfort us or scare the you-know-what out of us.

But this is all very much secondary to the undeniably fascinating story at the crux of Paranormal America: namely, the way in which the paranormal - as a medium, and even as an outright culture - has spread astonishingly far and wide across the United States, the means by which belief-systems flourish and mutate, the nature of our deep-seated desires for there to be more to life than just 80-years and then a never-ending "lights-out" scenario, how cultural background, class, geographic location, and even monetary income deeply impact on such beliefs, and how and why people accept, need and yearn for the existence of fantastic, amazing, and occasionally terrifying "things."

Paranormal America is a book that should fascinate anyone and everyone with a deep interest in its subject-matters. Whether you are a full-on believer in the world of the paranormal, a die-hard skeptic, an open-minded interested soul, a combination of all three, or something more, you will gain much satisfaction from digesting this fine, scholarly, and always-entertaining work.

And you'll find yourself exposed to those most fascinating and mysterious of all realms that have led to the ever-present fascination with, and belief-systems relative to, the paranormal: the strange depths and complexities of the human-mind.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Japanese Monsters: Yokai Reviewed

Richard Freeman's new book, The Great Yokai Encyclopedia: An A to Z of Japanese Monsters, is an appropriately Godzilla-sized book (it runs to 416 pages!) and is a definitive look at the strange creatures and beasts of Japan, both in times past and the present day. A wealth of dedication, hard work and diligent study has gone into making this book a triumphant tour de force on one of the most sadly overlooked aspects of cryptozoology, monster-hunting and strange creatures.

Collectively known as the Yokai, the monsters of Japan are largely unknown in the West. But by addressing the cultural background that gave rise to these legends, and then listing the creatures in detailed encyclopedic form, however, Richard Freeman has now firmly and decisively rectified that situation for one and all.

This is a truly magical title that demonstrates not only Freeman's love and appreciation of Japan's rich folklore, history and mythology of a monstrous nature, but that also reveals his profound knowledge of the subject, too - not to mention his patience in putting the mighty tome together in the first place! Freeman writes in an informative and entertaining style that ensures you'll keep turning the book's pages to learn what is coming next.

I recommend The Great Yokai Encyclopedia to anyone and everyone that wishes to learn more about the fantastic beasts, mythical monsters, unknown animals, and creepy critters of Japan. Winged monsters, dragons, man-beasts, water goblins and much more - they all feature within the packed pages of this book. Invest in a copy and you won't be disappointed!