Monday, December 30, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

But no matter! All is well!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 13, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, now let’s have a discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 23, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Vesuvius Isotope smolders occasionally but never erupts

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, after all, this is fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pherick’s conception of spirituality is fantastically bland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 22, 2013

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

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

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

It has all the elements you expect from the genre:

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

* Well-handled actions scenes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

Don't get me wrong -- there's nothing wrong with that!

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

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

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

Saturday, September 7, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA

Thursday, August 15, 2013

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

Review by KEN KORCZAK

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

I was not disappointed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

William Hazelgrove hits a home run with his latest novel, The Pitcher

Review by KEN KORCZAK

The last book I read by William Hazelgrove was ROCKET MAN -- and one does not have to be a rocket scientist to come to a quick conclusion about his latest novel, THE PITCHER.

This is a straight-up feel good novel designed to milk your emotions and tug at your heart strings. It’s a big fat fastball tossed right down the heart of home plate – and most readers will be taking all the way, and glad they did.

At the end of the novel, you may feel like you hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs in the Seventh Game of the World Series. MR. HAZELGROVE is a literary engineer who knows how to manufacture a resounding conclusion you will feel in the gut.

So -- The Pitcher is a sports novel perhaps directed primarily at young teenage males, but it’s meaty enough for adults to enjoy as well.

The story revolves around an unlikely triad – a poor Mexican-American boy growing up in south Florida with an illegal immigrant mother who is divorced, unemployed, riddled with deadly health problems but with no insurance to pay for treatment.

The third leg of the stool is a Major League Baseball pitcher who is long past his day glory days. Years ago he reached the summit of the baseball Nirvana – winning the World Series. Now he’s a pathetic drunk running out the time clock of his life as a booze-soaked TV zombie, hazed with tobacco smoke and drooling spittin’ chaw.

Young Ricky Hernandez, age 14, has nothing going for him; he’s poor, edging toward homelessness and academically adrift. He‘s among the brown-skinned ethnic American underclass. He has a violent absentee father who only who only shows up occasionally to slap around his ex-wife and kid, or steal money. On top of that, Ricky has a learning disability and yes – he’s unfocused and lazy.

But wait, Ricky does have a gift – a rocket for an arm. He’s a natural; that is, he would be, if he could only get his fuzzy mind together, get some discipline, develop a work ethic and burnish his golden arm into the shining ticket it could be to the good life. It just so happens that the guy living across the street in self-imposed alcoholic exile is a slowly rotting baseball god -- but can Ricky reawaken the Old Deity to get the help he needs?

William Hazelgrove
Needless to say, it all comes together for a wonderful Frank Capra-esque conclusion – and so now that 90% of you have dropped out of the review by this time and are trotting over to the nearest bookstore or Amazon to get a copy – it’s time for me to push “Ordinary Book Reviewer Ken” aside and unchain from the basement my evil twin brother, “Cynical Jaded Pedantic Book Reviewer Ken.”

Look:

William Hazelgrove is one of the most interesting writer’s in America today; some critics say he’s resuscitating great American literature, and I agree. In addition to reading Rocket Man, I have also occasionally browsed his web site, THE VIEW FROM HEMINGWAY'S ATTIC. He’s obviously a thoughtful man of insight whose views I am entirely in sync with.

But for the sake of doing my (nonpaying) job as a book reviewer, I must add these observations about vexing aspects of The Pitcher which nettled me along the way:

Message:

Many frustrated social critics and reformers working in our inner cities say that young people of color, especially blacks, have been oversold on the fantasy that the best way off the Mean Streets of America is success in sports. Only a tiny – very tiny – fraction of any ethnic minority ever make the big leagues, yet like people playing the lottery, millions of young men of color all believe they at least have a shot at sports fame and riches. They don’t ... but the result is they end up ignoring other more constructive life pursuits for a near-impossible dream. This book leverages that same fantasy. I highly recommend an essay by Lee Jones, “Hoop Dreams, Hoop Realities,” here: HOOP DREAMS

On the other hand, some might reasonably argue this is a story about a boy who is just trying to make the high school team and prove something to himself.

• A technical Point:

Years ago I had a chance to sit down with one of America’s most successful writers, Ben Bova. I asked him to give me his best writing tips and he said, “Make sure your characters always get out of their own jams.”

He said that when the character is always getting saved by the cavalry thundering over the hill, or by a white knight that swoops in to save the day it robs the story of punch.

Bova said you should make your characters solve their own problems, get themselves out of their own scrapes, even if you, as writer, have to “practically kill them” in the process. Don’t let someone or something else magically swoop in and provide salvation. Bova’s advice might be applied to several scenes of the The Pitcher, and I’ll say no more because I don’t want to issue a spoiler alert.

• Derivative Themes: The Pitcher is basically “The Karate Kid” as baseball. The student wears mitt and hat rather than a dogi and belt; the “master” is burned out drunk rather than a humble Zen handyman. Hazelgrove even seems to give a preemtpive nod to the movie in this passage:

“I breathe heavily and I really want to learn how to pitch. I feel like that boy in the movie Karate Kid where the guy is teaching the boy how to wax his car you know, wax on, wax off.”

• Predicable outcomes:

While Hazelgrove is a master of creating tension and getting the reader to root eagerly for his characters, no one will be surprised by the ending, even if they are delighted.

• Enough saccharine to give you diabetes

Many years ago in the blissful days before the Internet I sold my second article to a national magazine – it was a story about my cat. Cat Fancy magazine bought it, and when it came out, my older brother read it and said in a tone laced with contempt: “Boy you really laid on the sappy schmaltz pretty thick.”

God! Did that ever hurt my feelings! But it was true; my article was emotional and sappy … but … on the other hand, what’s wrong with lathering on the sticky sentiment?

I still don’t know the answer – some might say too much sentimentality is gratuitous – or maybe going for the “cheap score.” Well, I only bring it up here because it’s my job to inform my readers about what to expect. Especially in the denouement, the tenor of The Pitcher is far more “Harlequin Romance” than “gritty inner-city drama about a tough Mexican-American kid.” It’s a Hollywood Ending that oozes smarm.

I have a few other quibbles (in fact, several) but I have already gone on way too long – no matter what I say or think, this is a compelling read that even the most cynical among us can enjoy, and even if that means we must keep our cranky alter-egos shackled in a dark basement corner.

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Once Upon a Missing Time by long-time UFO researcher Philip Mantle is a terrific read that is compelling and entertaining, a work of integrity but never waxes ponderous

Review by KEN KORCZAK

When I saw that one of Britain’s most respected, renowned and dogged UFO investigators, PHILIP MANTLE, had published a work of UFO fiction my first thoughts were, “Uh-ho.”

That’s because I have been down this road before with researchers famous in the UFO field, most notable the great Jacques Vallée, who a few years back took a turn at fiction with his novel Fastwalker. It was pretty bloody awful.

Others in UFO or similar fields have also attempted a fictional turn with disastrous results, notably NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin who wrote a fantastically boring science fiction novel called Encounter With Tiber – and I refuse to even speak of Graham Hancock’s recent foray into fiction.

And so I was not only pleasantly surprised – but absolutely delighted by Mantle’s, “ONCE UPON A MISSING TIME.” This is a terrific book that delivered everything I expected from a tale of close encounters with strange beings – but the plot also took unexpected turns which makes this book a work of depth and pragmatic integrity.

As far as I can tell, the story is based on a bona fide UFO abduction event known as the Aveley Abduction which occurred on a dark country road in West Essex in 1974. I believe the story was first reported in Flying Saucer Review by writer and long-time UFO investigator Andrew Collins. Collins also writes about the Aveley Abduction in his recent book, LIGHTQUEST. (See my review of LightQuest HERE).

I’ve also seen the story of the Aveley Abduction bounced around in the endless echo chamber of the Internet – often with details slightly altered and with the “names changed to protect the innocent” – but with the core of the story essentially in tact. Some call it the U.K.'s “most important UFO multiple abduction case."

The events involve an ordinary family: Dad a school teacher and mum a social worker, who along with their 12-year-old daughter, enjoy a middle class lifestyle that couldn’t be more grounded and normal. But then they confront the extraordinary – or I should say – the extraterrestrials!

PHILIP MANTLE
The result is the shattering of three lives. In additional to the eschatological shock of having their world views torn to shreds, the larger effect precipitated upon the close-nit, small-town and social network of their staid Yorkshire community is vexing, to say the least.

What makes Once Upon a Missing Time truly a top-notch read is Mantle’s considerable skill at creating vivid characters. He makes us feel strong empathy for them as they struggle with their stunning situation.

Believe me, taking a run-of-the-mill school teacher and a plodding social worker and selling them to the reader as interesting and sympathetic characters is no easy task for any writer – but Mantle pulls it off.

The author gets it done – in my opinion – by not being a blowhard and trying his hand at “great literature.” Rather, Mantle writes within his own capabilities. His years spent writing nonfictional UFO accounts and serving as editor of a number of UFO publications has provided him with the pragmatic clarity of a journalist, but also the expanded skill of observation required for someone in the endlessly enigmatic, twisted and tangled field of Ufology.

The result is tale well told, the ordinary made extraordinary, and a piece of fiction that displays a keen eye for what makes common people tick. Once Upon A Missing Time has my highest recommendation.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Astro Turf offers and inside look at the culture of the aerospace industry that's highly entertaining, offers unique insight, but is also subjective

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Satan worshipers, left-over Nazis, kooky dreamers , communist sympathizers, war mongers and male chauvinist pigs - that's who the Founding Fathers of the U.S. space program were -- or at least that's the impression you might come away with from a read of ASTRO TURF by daughter-of-a-rocket-engineer M.G. LORD.

But is it true? Sure it is - or at least the case can be made, and I can find little to fault Lord's take on the brilliant-but-motley crew who were the first key players in early rocketry (although she gives painfully short shrift to father of American rocketry, Robert H. Goddard).

I also can't disagree that after World War II the U.S. Military gave a free pass to German rocket scientists who almost certainly had committed - or at least knowingly aided and abetted - horrendous war crimes in Nazi Germany.

Add to all of the above: An exclusive, male-dominated, female-scorning, uber-sexist aerospace industry culture. Whether it was a contractor, such as McDonnell Douglas, or government agency, such as NASA or Jet Propulsion Laboratory, men were from Mars and women were from Venus - and the planetary gulf was not to be crossed. If you were a man, you were in a position of power - if you were a woman, you were a secretary, a sex object or a subservient computer-data entry worker.

Through the relentlessly feminist eye of M.G. Lord the penis-shaped rockets which thrust the human race into space were the ultimate phallic symbol of a world ruled by men, hell-bent on conquering new worlds - but mostly the Communist enemy.

Lord comes at her subject not as an objective journalist and social observer but as an insider for whom the development of the aerospace industry was personal - her father was a cog in that testosterone-drenched machine that ground away at conquering cold outer space while turning a frigid, cold shoulder to their wives and children at home.

In a sense, Lord's nuclear family was a fractal iteration of that culture which would build nuclear bombs and load them onto rockets. The development of missile technology was actually more about the macho posturing of war than advancement of knowledge for the good of all mankind.

M.G. LORD
So this book is as much personal memoir as it is sociological study. For me, this is where Lord opens herself up to some constructive criticism. Lord has clearly never gotten over the pain of what she perceives as her father's emotional abandonment of her and her mother. Her pain is exacerbated by the fact that her mother suffered greatly from a cruel case of cancer which killed her too early.

Lord eventually became deeply estranged from her father, only bridging the gap when he grew old, finally retired and approached his own death. Part of the rift had to do with her father's extreme social and political conservatism. Lord matured into an ardent liberal feminist.

All this is well and good, but it necessarily detracts from her status as an objective analyst of what truly shaped the culture of space exploration in America. Lord makes a good case, but it's highly anecdotal and deeply emotional. Certainly, that the first two-thirds of the twentieth century - across all culture and industries - was a male dominated society is not under dispute. Thus, it's hardly blowing the lid off the nose cone to reveal that the aerospace industry culture was more of the same.

(Special Note: Feminists have long pointed out, rightfully so, that accusing women of being "emotional" or "hysterically emotional" is a favorite "go-to smear" to denigrate women and dismiss them as unreliable. So my comments might seem like a "here we go again moment" -- because here I am -- you know, a male -- describing part of Lord's thesis as "emotional." But no one should give me any of that crapola today - anyone reading Astro Turf will be confronted with its often highly emotional tone; the still moldering resentment Lord holds for her father is more than obvious - she wrote it, she owns it - so don't kick it back on me).

I am also tempted to say, "Hey M.G. -- I'll trade you your dad for mine any day! My dad drank a quart of Windsor Canadian whiskey every single day (and never missed a drinking day), smoked two packs a day, worked in his grocery store from sun up to sun down, never said a single word to me that I can remember, never played with me, never took me fishing, never took us on a vacation; he lived in the same home with me as a total stranger, and croaked when I was 16. My mother also suffered a slow, cruel death from breast cancer to boot."

Your dad was a rocket scientist!

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

Friday, June 21, 2013

Machines of Easy Virtue is a throwback to 1940s-style detective novels with a science fiction spin that reads fast and satisfies even faster

Review by KEN KORCZAK

So here is a writer who trims the fat from his prose; it's all lean. The dialogue is snappy, the sentences crisp, the observations pithy, the action scenes crackle up, explode then dissipate rapidly leaving no aftertaste -- just good clean fun.

Well, maybe not so clean when you consider the robot orgies.

When the author dubbed his yarn MACHINES OF EASY VIRTUE he meant really easy. Believe me, these anatomically correct androids come out of the factory generously equipped. The technicians didn't scrimp on the screwdrivers, if you know what I mean. The robots in the world of JACK PRICE give a whole new meaning to the term "tool" and "package" -- their software may be soft, but these machines are hardwired for maximum pleasure.

It's one thing when a high society millionaire starts getting a little on the side from the maid; but it's quite another when the maid is a robot. And when the robot maid and robot butler get a hankering for each other and start a mechanical shag-a-thon on the kitchen floor -- and then the flesh-and-blood master walks in on it - well, you know, life gets complicated.

Somebody could get killed.

That's where Red Bourbon, gumshoe, private dick, man for hire, comes in.

JACK PRICE
You see, Bourbon is down on his luck. He's almost out on his ass. His apartment rent is unpaid so he sleeps in his sleazy inner-city office - but he's behind on the rent there, too.

That means when a classy dame with sexy long legs straight up to her business section strolls in with a crazy-dangerous job and a pile of cash, you jump on it - and you try to jump her, too, at the first opportunity.

Yeah, there'll be cash, there'll be some pleasure along the way. But getting' up to your neck in the lusty affairs of the rich and powerful get can you clipped - and fast. You never know who your friends are. Your old buddy on the Chicago P.D.'s got your back - except when he doesn't. The dame who's payin' you might be settin' you up - you just never know.

When you're Red Bourbon, private eye, you're on your own. Sometimes the only thing between you and another meal is how fast you can draw your Glock, or kick some thug in the jewels and then knee-up his ugly face.

That's right. The future has arrived. Cars drive themselves, robots do all the scut work and the Artificial Intelligence ap on your smartphone is your only true friend. Sometimes making a living is more like making a dying -- but, hey, you signed up for it.

Ken Korczak is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Erotic short story collection, Lazuline, by Elizabeth Woodham manages to stir passions with skillful prose

Review by KEN KORCZAK

A while back I reviewed a book of Christian literature and I mentioned in the review that I was not a Christian. This prompted one indignant reader to comment that I had no business reading and reviewing Christian literature without being a Christian.

How ridiculous is that! What if only Jews should read Jews and only blacks read blacks and Native American read Native Americans? I have a friend who is pure European lily-vanilla white and has written a book featuring Native American characters, and he is already taking heat from some Native Americans who are telling him he "has no business writing about Our People."

I mention all this because today I am reviewing a book of erotic fiction, and well, it's just that I never read erotic fiction. I can imagine the writer thinking: "Why is this bloke reading and reviewing a work of erotic fiction if he never reads erotic fiction?" Well, see paragraphs one and two above.

Sure, I've read a lot of erotic scenes as part of other mainstream novels, but I am always a tad cynical about it. That's because when the time comes for the characters to "do it" my jaded editor kicks in and I think, "Okay, here it is; the obligatory sex scene. It's part of the formula and the publisher demands it because they know sex sells." The point is, no matter how skillfully the sex scene is handled, there is an element of gratuitousness about it because the writer thinks it's obligatory. He or she doesn't necessarily need the scene to move the plot forward, or develop the characters but, well ... they just "stick it in" anyway.

Anyway, my status as an outsider to ertotic lit gives me greater objectivity, wouldn't you agree? My objective opinion, then, of LAZULINE by British author ELIZABETH WOODHAM is that this is fairly terrific literature - lovely, effortless prose that flows with grace, marvelous imagery, superb word choice and revealing insight into human character and motivation.

My criticism is that this is a collection of short stories, but these works by and large do not bear out as short stories. They do not have all the four necessary elements of short story form: Plot, character, setting and theme. Most of these tales are more akin to poetic vignettes. For example, the titular offering, Lazuline, is not a story at all, but a dreamy, in-depth musing on the extreme pleasure of sexual revelation.

In other instances the author attempts to tie everything together to make a solid story with a beginning, middle and end, or resolution - especially in the case of "The Decision Tree" - but the effort falls flat.

But I don't think it matters - I have no doubt that fans of erotic literature will get their money's worth and then some from these powerfully erotic tales. The author manages to use the cold utility of words to conjure up and invoke that primal heat of lust nestled in the psyche of every human being.

Ken Korczak is the author of: THE MAN IN THE NOTHING CHAMBER

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Free history ebook: "William the Conqueror" by Jacob Abbott will give you an in-depth overview of the life of one of England's most pivotal figures

Review by KEN KORCZAK

Enter a courtroom in the United States today, especially New England states, and you will hear the bailiff proclaim: "Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!" That's Norman French for: "Hearken! Hearken! Hearken!"

And so the titanic influence of one man, William the Conqueror, ripples across the centuries and even an ocean to display its effect today. In the year 1066, William, the Duke of Normandy, set sail across the English channel with a mighty force, marched ashore and throttled the army of the last Saxon King, Harold, thus taking the English crown and changing western world forever.

Originally published in 1877, educator Jacob Abbott writes like a kindly history teacher speaking to class of high school seniors. His style is lucid and no nonsense. He gives you the facts, but manages to flesh out enough anecdotal and incidental information to make this a bright and interesting read -- still fresh more than 100 years after it was written.

This book, and all of Abbott's "Makers of History" series, are short treatments of famous historical figures. They are must reads for those who want a deeper understanding of the incredible people who changed the world in their day, and colored all of history. About the length of short novels, I love Abbott's history books because they inform an educate, and give you a rich perspective on history, without having to wade through a lot of dry, academic textbook-like tomes.

Do yourself a favor. Brush up on your history, maybe starting with this fine little book, William the Conqueror by Jacob Abbott. You can download the free ebook here: WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR

Ken Korczak is the author of: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA