Friday, May 14, 2010

A Daintree Diary

If, like me, you're into entertaining road-trip-style books that take you to far-off places, and encounters with exotic creatures, captivating landscapes, and much more, then Carl Portman's A Daintree Diary is the book for you!

Containing a mountain of cool and enchanting photographs, Carl's title is a genuinely engaging look at what happens when he and his partner, Susan, and their friend Angela, head off to the wilds of the North Australian rain-forest in search of all-things animalistic and unusual.

Rather like a combination of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas-meets-Jurassic Park-meets-The Crocodile Hunter, Daintree takes you into the very heart of an on-the-road quest for high-strangeness, high-adventure, and high-entertainment!

Written in an engaging, diary-format, Daintree is a book that will be relished by anyone and everyone who can appreciate what it means to live life to its fullest, who can understand the adrenalin-rush that comes from heading into realms unknown on adventure-filled quests, and who has a passion for the stranger aspects of zoology.

Packed with humor, excitement, danger, and mystery, Carl Portman's A Daintree Diary was a book that kept me transfixed from the first page to the very last. I strongly suspect that it will do likewise for you!

After all: how can you turn up your nose at whistling spiders, giant catfish, the Thylacine and more? That's right: you can't!!

Conan Doyle, Houdini & Giants!

Just recently I received in the mail copies of three new books published by what is surely the most industrious Fortean publishing company in the world: Tim Green Beckley's Global Communications. Indeed, it seems to be the case that barely a week goes by (or maybe, even, an hour!) without some new title hitting the stands courtesy of Tim and GB.

And amongst those new titles are those aforementioned three that found their way to my letterbox a few days ago. They are: The American Goliah; The Paranormal World of Sherlock Holmes; and Revealing the Bizarre Powers of Harry Houdini.

I'll begin with The American Goliah. And, no, that's not a spelling-error: even though the book is a study of everything giant and man-like, "Goliah" - rather than "Goliath" - is the wording used in the original 1869 edition of The American Goliah.

Basically, the book is a detailed and fascinating study of a phenomenon that captivated whole swathes of the U.S. population in the late-1800s, when a gigantic, petrified man was "found" at a certain site in the United States. I include the word "found' in brackets, because the subject is one of deep notoriety and chicanery, and is a real roller-coaster-ride-type tale that is filled to the brim with claims, counter-claims, hoaxers, yarns, money-makers, P.T. Barnum (no less!), and tales of giants walking the earth.

I submitted my own piece for inclusion in the book, as did Scott Corrales. And Tim has done a fine job of presenting a fascinating, entertaining and wonderful old tale to a whole new audience. The American Goliah does not disappoint!

Moving on to The Paranormal World of Sherlock Holmes, this is a superb study of the great man himself - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - and his investigations into the world of mediums, life-after-death (a subject very dear to the heart of Sir Arthur), the notorious affair of the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies, ghosts, ectoplasm, seances and a great deal more, too.

Accompanied by a very cool selection of images and photographs, this is a fine study of how and why Conan Doyle became so fascinated by the realms of the paranormal and the supernatural.

And then we have the Houdini book (which, you will be pleased to know, also contains a bonus-CD of Houdini's last seance), that delves deep into the world of the master-escape-artist - who was highly skeptical of tales from the "other-side" - his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Houdini's exposes of fakers and fantasists, and the nature of belief-systems.

Tim B is to be congratulated for putting into the public domain some old, very-hard-to-find titles that are backed up with new contributions from some well-known names within the field of the paranormal.

If you're even remotely interested in 19th and early-20th Century Forteana, these are all books you definitely cannot afford to miss!

Real Zombies

For just about as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the world of the zombie. Well, actually, I'll confess: largely fascinated by one aspect of the zombie - it's on-screen exploits. In fact, I think I have DVDs of pretty much every zombie movie ever made.

I like the slow, shambling flesh-eaters of Romero's Night of the Living Dead; and I will never forget the atmospheric graveyard scene in the 1966 Hammer Film production of Plague of the Zombies. But, most of all, I love those fast-running monsters of the modern-era of zombie film-making.

Whether it's the real undead of the spectacular 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, or the super-fast fiends of 28 Days Later (who, aren't actually dead at all: they're infected by the devastating "Rage Virus"), they are my kind of zombie!

And: I look forward to the day when some super-plague escapes from a secret underground lab, and spreads among the populace. And, overnight, the world becomes filled with chaos, carnage and flesh-eating ghouls (yes, I know I'm strange...), as society unravels and falls apart, as the fast-runners increase in number, and as the Human Race becomes nothing but a band of scattered survivors (me being one of them, of course!)

But, the slow-walkers and the fast-runners are not the only kind of zombie out there - and this is where we get to Brad Steiger's latest mighty tome, Real Zombies: The Living Dead, and Creatures of the Apocalypse.

Largely thanks to the way in which the zombie has been popularized by Hollywood, there is a tendency on the part of many people to think that what they see on the silver-screen is all that there is to the zombie phenomenon. But, this is actually far from the case; as Brad shows us time and again.

Real Zombies is a superb, extensive and highly detailed study of the zombie in the realm of the aforementioned movies, but also in folklore, legend, mythology, the domains of the occult, voodoo and the supernatural, and - in the final chapters - in the field of conspiracy-theories.

Tribal religions, folk-magic, sacrifice, the ominous raising of the dead, and dark and disturbing real-life mysteries focused upon London's River Thames are only the start of the ominous story. Serpent gods, shadowy goings-on in New Orleans (my wife and I spent our second wedding anniversary there, and I can say for sure that a weird and sinister atmosphere does indeed hang over certain parts of the city), Voodoo Queens, curses, possession and ritual magic all play significant roles in zombie lore and legend.

And, for me, this is what makes Real Zombies such a captivating read: by focusing less on the Hollywood angle, but far more on the little-known - but in many ways more disturbing - aspects of the phenomenon, we're provided with a rare treat indeed.

Wendigos, voraciously-hungry spirits and the actions of deranged flesh-eating lunatics and cannibals are also all parts of the story - a story that is made notable by the fact that it is indeed so complex and multifaceted.

As I mentioned earlier, the final chapters deal with the zombie in the areas of conspiracy and official secrecy. This is a highly thought-provoking part of the book that reveals much pertaining to mind-control experimentation, LSD-based black-ops, Manchurian candidates and the disturbing scenario of jack-booted government types planning to microchip the populace.

All in all, Real Zombies is a superb, and arguably definitive, look at the zombie phenomenon in all its glory and from numerous perspectives. Its place in popular-culture, history, mythology, folklore and present-day society are all placed skilfully under the microscope - demonstrating that as important as the likes of Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead most certainly are in zombie lore, the subject is infinitely more complex than many realize.

Like a zombie itself, Brad's book grabs you by the jugular and doesn't let go!

Mars Bar & Mushy Peas

This is a book you have to read!

Paul Screeton's Mars Bar & Mushy Peas (published by Bob Trubshaw's Heart of Albion Press - click this link for more information on the book) is a hilarious, illuminating and superb dissection of the world of urban-legend as it relates to the famous-faces of television, film, the rock music industry, the pop world, and even Fanny Craddock (non-Brits may wonder who on earth I'm talking about here - which is a very good reason for you to get acquainted with the book!).

It's clear from his writings that Paul has a deep affection for, and a fine appreciation of, the whole urban-legend phenomenon - as well as a keen understanding of how and why urban-legends begin, spread and then very often become accepted as the gospel truth. Of course, whether there is any truth to the stories, or perhaps how much, is one of the staple points of the subject and of Paul's book.

This is a very funny and entertaining book, and I laughed out loud on many occasions reading it - and you will, too!

So, what do we find within the pages of Mars Bar and Mushy Peas? Well, let's start with the title. The Mars Bar episode is, of course, that which has become inextricably linked to 60s celebrity Marianne Faithfull who - urban-legend suggests - was once, as the book words it, caught in a "perverted sex act with a chocolate bar".

True? Probably not! But, as with all urban-legends, the story has taken on a life of its own, and is now truly multi-faceted: Jagger & Richards, the cops, the press and more all feature in this saga that is almost certainly destined to never go away; at least, not completely. But, as Paul notes, that's the point with urban-legends: they're tenacious critters that spread and multiply like rabbits!

And, such tales mutate, too: moving on from Mars Bars, we hear other entertainingly amusing stories/legends of unusual items being placed into certain celebrity orifices; including gerbils. Yep, MB&MP gets better and better as the pages turn!

As for the Mushy Peas saga, well, if only it could be true! And maybe, partly, somehow, is! Or isn't! Things are never quite clear in the world of the urban-legend. But would we really have it any other way? No, not when it comes to this particularly mushy matter.

This is the legendary story of British politician Peter Mandelson allegedly mistaking a fish-and-chip shop's supply of mushy peas for a bowl of posh avocado mousse. Did he? Didn't he? I don't know, but I do know that the story has more lives than a cat, and that it seems to forever hang around Mandelson's shoulders like a veritable sword of Damocles! It takes a skillful writer to make a whole chapter on a bowl of mushy peas readable, informative and smile-inducing at every gven moment; but Paul manages it! I strongly doubt, however, that he's on Mandelson's Christmas-Card list...

We are also entertained by countless other "if-only-they-could-be-true" stories concerning (in no particular order) TV magician Paul Daniels's wife Debbie McGee and a dog; actress Diana Dors and the tales generated by her real name; the "Paul McCartney is Dead" affair; the Captain Pugwash controversy (a bit of Googling will enlighten you!); the aforementioned Keith Richards and his dad's ashes; an excellent section on Forteana and Charles Fort himself (this chapter, alone, should be firmly digested by anyone and everyone with an interest in urban-legend, the world of the unexplained and the development of stories, tales and mythology); Greyfriars Bobby; the Global-Warming/climate-change controversy, and much, much more.

In conclusion, Mars Bar and Mushy Peas is absorbing, thought-provoking, and deadpan funny in the process. That the author not only has a deep knowledge of the cases that he highlights, but also a fine appreciation of the whole urban-legend phenomenon, makes MB&MP a witty, wonderful and informative title.