Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Investigating the Impossible

The guys at Anomalist Books - Patrick Huyghe and Dennis Stacy - have been busy lately, as is evidenced by the fact that they have unleashed upon us an excellent selection of new titles that I'll be reviewing right here, including Grassroots UFOs by Michael D. Swords and Robert Cracknell's The Lonely Sense.

But, there's yet another new title from Anomalist Books, and it's one that I finished reading over the weekend: Ulrich Magin's Investigating the Impossible: Sea-Serpents in the Air, Volcanoes that Aren't, and Other Out-of-Place Mysteries.

This is a wonderfully weird collection of articles and papers from Magin that are presented to the reader via an intriguing format. The book is basically split into four-sections, titled Air, Earth, Fire and Water.

So, in the Water section we get to read about sea-serpents and Nessie. In Fire it's the aforementioned volcanoes that aren't. In Earth it's sacred landscapes, crop circles and...well, you get the picture by now, right?

Let's start with Air, a section that devotees of all-things of a Mothman nature will definitely want to read. Did the glowing-eyed, winged beast put in an appearance at Italy's Lake Garda just a couple of years ago? Was something strange and diabolical really roaming the skies? Or was the entire affair provoked by far more down-to-earth phenomena? The answers can be found in a fine and intriguing piece of detective work!

In the same section, for fans of secret-aircraft, UFOs pre-dating the Kenneth Arnold era, rumors of advanced German technologies, and perhaps even a bit of skillful psychological-warfare, there's an excellent article titled The German Border Patrol In Their Flying Machines. And who can resist a feature on one of the more bizarre aspects of cryptozoology: winged serpents? Not me!

When it comes to Water, whatever your views on tales and traditions of sea-serpents and lake-monsters, this is a section of the book that most assuredly will not disappoint. And, indeed, it was the section that I found most engaging and thought-provoking.

Magin's approach to the controversy surrounding the Loch Ness Monster is as refreshing as it is insightful, and focuses on what we really know (which may actually not be what many think they know!) about the very earliest years of Nessie-themed research and reports.

Also of particular interest is the odd saga of the weird-looking critter of Spain's Rio Genil. This is a case - from the 1950s - with which I was not overly familiar, but that most certainly strikes a significant chord in the high-strangeness stakes. What was it that was dwelling in the waters of the Rio Genil more than half a century ago? Good question!

In Earth, Magin tackles the controversial 1678 story of the so-called "Mowing Devil" - an affair that some Crop Circle researchers conclude may offer evidence that the now-legendary formations in the fields are far older than many assume.

The Mowing Devil controversy has been addressed in a number of books; however, I'm pleased to note that Magin looks at the matter from a somewhat different - although certainly related - perspective, demonstrating that the story is far from dead and buried, and one still worthy of commentary and study.

Tales of allegedly out-of-place ships and boats (very out-of-place!) also dominate this particular section of the book, and demonstrate Magin's ability to dissect and entertain us with quirky tales from the fringes of Forteana. Legend, rumor, reality? Well, half the fun comes from reading Magin's words and conclusions, so I won't spoil things for you, except to say that this is an undeniably captivating aspect of Forteana that will not disappoint.

Finally, there's Fire and those mysterious volcanoes that aren't...or weren't...or maybe, for a while, really were! If that sounds somewhat cryptic, well it's meant to be!

You might think that volcanoes and Forteana make for strange and highly unlikely bed-fellows. Well, after reading this section of the book you will likely be forced to change your opinion.

It's clear that this is an area of research for which Magin has a great deal of time, interest and affection, and he regales us with tales of near-phantom-like volcanoes surfacing, provoking havoc, and then mysteriously vanishing into the murky depths from which they first surfaced. Or did they really surface at all? Might all the tales be simply that - tales? If so, were they just fanciful stories and hoaxes? Or did they have some basis in reality - albeit of a more down-to-earth nature?

I've never really been that interested in volcanoes, but Magin crafts a superb story (across several papers) of how they have come to play a significant and long role in folklore, mystery and Forteana.

And, with that all said, I will leave you with the following words: Ulrich Magin's Investigating the Impossible is a first-class, highly-enjoyable, and deeply informative study of a wide variety of infinitely odd phenomena that Forteans everywhere should have on their book-shelves. Charles Fort would be proud and pleased!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tabloid Man

When people ask me about my favorite books, I'm often met with surprise when I tell them that most of them have very little - and, more often than not, absolutely nothing - to do with the realms of Ufology, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the many and varied similar topics that occupy much of my time.

Amongst my most cherished of all titles are Keith Waterhouse's Billy Liar; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles; and Jack Kerouac's Big Sur.

But, if I was put on the spot and asked to name my all-time favorite, it would have to be Hunter S. Thompson's The Rum Diary, which tells - in a definitively-masterful, and definitively-Gonzo style - the entertaining story of Thompson's early years and journalistic adventures on Puerto Rico, a place for which I have a great affinity, having worked there on a number of occasions.

And, it's perhaps because - having spent more than 20-years in the field of freelance-journalism myself - I can deeply relate to Thompson's literary romps in and around San Juan, that I immensely enjoyed Tabloid Man & the Baffling Chair of Death by Paul Bannister, which is a new book written very much in the spirit of the Gonzo-master's own work. And a fine piece of work Tabloid Man is, too, being equal-parts illuminating, hilarious, insightful and adventure-driven.

Bannister, like me, is a transplanted Brit, now living in the United States, and someone who - also like me - spends his days and nights earning a crust in the realm of freelance journalism. And, as Tabloid Man demonstrates - and as I can attest, too - it's a realm that can be as rewarding as it can be harsh, and as bizarre as it can be unpredictable (but in a very good way, if you keep your wits about you, and have a love of getting into the thick of things in search of a rollocking good story).

Basically, Tabloid Man tells the story of Bannister's life as a near-constantly-on-the road journo for numerous tabloids, but chiefly for the National Enquirer and its legendary boss, Generoso Paul "Gene" Pope, Jr., a fascinating character with a somewhat ruthless flair for business, a brilliant mind, and near-Machiavellian links to none other than the CIA.

Given that Bannister spent many a year paying the bills courtesy of the Enquirer, we get to learn a great deal about his excursions to foreign and far-away lands in search of all manner of story - but very often relative to Hollywood scandal, sensational murder cases, and much more of an entertainingly controversial nature.

Particularly jaw-dropping are the stories Death by Python and Cougar Attack, which are as graphically horrific as they are fantastically captivating. Much the same can be said for Mafia Hit Man - a Sopranos-style affair from Bannister that provides a unique insight into the world of the hired assassin. In other words, Bannister is someone who has literally been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale.

But, one of the reasons I am so keen to review Tabloid Man is because our fearless author was someone who was at the absolute forefront of covering stories of a definitively paranormal nature for the Enquirer.

Indeed, the book's sub-title (...& the Baffling Chair of Death) is a direct reference to an engagingly-weird story of an old, seemingly innocuous-looking, chair that, for many years, stood in a Yorkshire, England pub, eagerly inviting one and all to sit in it. The problem is that those who chose to do so often met with very quick and fatal ends. Or, at least, so the legend goes. Of course, for the Enquirer, as Bannister notes, this story was practically Manna from Heaven. Yep, the tale of the chair was a controversial one; but, by God, for getting one's foot in the door, it was a good one too!

It was also a story that - having helped secure for himself a good position and a "can-do" reputation with the Enquirer - led Bannister to be dispatched just about here, there, and everywhere in hot pursuit of further supernatural-themed stories, including tales of spectral Roman soldiers, encounters with the psychic-spies of the CIA, the spoon-bending exploits of Uri Geller, and a multiplicity of all-things ghostly and ghastly.

Coupled with highly amusing stories of (A) carefully-modified expense-claims (surely not!), (B) copious amounts of free-flowing booze, (C) adventures in exotic climes, (D) the undeniable camaraderie that comes with working with fellow-freelancers on breaking, historic stories, (E) last-minute flights to the other side of the planet, courtesy of the Enquirer, and (F) doing whatever needs to be done to get the story and earn the dollars, Tabloid Man is a first-class account of what goes behind the scenes in the the world of freelance journalism and its links to Hollywood, deep scandal, and all-things supernatural.

But, Tabloid Man is far more than just that. It's also a celebration of what it means to live rather than just to exist, of doing things on one's own terms, of grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns, and of the always-unpredictable adrenalin rush that accompanies the words of your forever-demanding editor: "Get on a plane to Thailand; someone has just seen Elvis!" Or, something like that anyway!

To purchase your own copy of Paul Bannister's Tabloid Man, go to: www.bannisterbooks.com. Disappointed, you won't be!