Monday, August 29, 2022

EARTH'S HIDDEN MYSTERIES by Carl Cohen








Following up on Daniel Cohen's The Greatest Monsters in the World here's another young reader primer on the supernatural, by one Carl Cohen - no relation. This Cohen's book is far more scattershot, running through the Bermuda Triangle, Easter Island, the Mary Celeste, modern witches, UFOs, and the Oak Island Money Pit ... and that's that! Carl's not a patch on Daniel's writing ability, descending into kid's book treacle and uncritically repeating von Daniken's nonsense on Easter Island and spacemen. He even promotes von Daniken with the title of scientist, debating theories with other scientists! 

The urban legend of Oak Island is another example of rumor and myth being repeated ad nauseam until it takes on a life of its own. Fifty years after Carl Cohen tossed off a quickie chapter recycled from earlier writers, there's a long running reality show about the non-existent treasure playing on the History Channel. In the world of the paranormal, everything old is new again.

Nice cover art at least, and the UFO photos are delightfully bogus.

Xerox Education Publications, 1974

THE GREATEST MONSTERS IN THE WORLD by Daniel Cohen








It's the end of August at the Hotel Ozone, and the perfect time to review a paranormal pocket primer for scholastic readers courtesy mid-century pop-sci writer Daniel Cohen! All the stars are out tonight: Bigfoot and the Yeti, Nessie, giant squids and sea serpents, and Cohen gives them all grounded summaries in his smooth, unpretentious style. There are more than a few nice illustrations, including the diagram above of a shark rotting into a "sea serpent" and some funny looking 16th century snake drawings. Cohen includes an index, which isn't always a given with this genre!

Cohen was a member of CSICOP (nowadays known as CSI), the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and leavens his writing with the appropriate amount of skepticism while avoiding the tone of a debunker. He also avoids the syrupy tone that plagues inferior authors writing for young readers.


An Archway Paperback published by Pocket Books, 1977 (original pub. 1975)
 

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

FATAL EXPOSURE by Michael Tobias




Environmentalist/author Michael Tobias delivers a would-be searing sermon on ozone depletion and the fate of the planet, but things fall flat in FATAL EXPOSURE! We're off to a roaring start on an Antarctic expedition, as some scientists doing routine monitoring find a wasteland of death and suffering. As one little baby penguin shits and pukes itself to death right at the feet of Dr. Willard, we receive the message loud and clear: something is wrong! Tobias writes with a cynical but clear eyed attitude, rendering these initial horrors all the more striking.

Flash forward a few years later. That mysterious ozone phenomena has reappeared over Seattle! Once Tobias gets into the capital-P Plotting of the story, things get sticky. The horror and dread of the opening scenes are replaced with bathos and pure silliness: witness the tragic fate of a cameraman, knocked out of a helicopter, onto another helicopter, getting chopped into a thousand pieces and causing a crash, all above a rotten ocean of dead whales, fish, plankton, done in by ozone depletion! By the final 50 pages we've been reduced to stock survivalist scenarios as civilization breaks down in the PNW. It's just too much, a cavalcade of misery, stock conspiracy plotting, and wannabe Grand Guignol that leaves us feeling nothing but vague dissatisfaction.

For a strong start followed by nothing in particular, Fatal Exposure earns one UV ray warning out of four:


Dig that Art Deco cover art though.

Pocket Books, 1991

Monday, June 27, 2022

GENESIS by W.A. Harbinson





Author W.A. Harbinson delivers us this "true story" treatment of the flying saucer phenomena, starting with the mystery airships of the 1890s, on through foo fighters and saucer crashes, cattle mutilations and saucer cults, culminating with wunderwaffe and secret Antarctic bases revealing the terrible secret of GENESIS!

It's all very clever and meticulous but eventually collapses under its own weight, as every bit of UFO trivia must be incorporated into the increasingly top heavy narrative. What's left is less of a story and more a bullet list, and once we grasp the structure the whole enterprise is rendered plodding and turgid. Major spoilers follow, so be warned!

Our antagonist, it turns out, is a mad scientist from the 19th century, the inventor of those mysterious airships. As the years rolled on, he perfected his flying machines, ultimately making the sociopathic choice to work for Hitler's reich to reach even greater heights. His flying saucer wunderwaffe predate the now common modern formulation of Die Glocke, but as we know Nazi UFOs were nothing new in the subculture. 

From money making schemes by
run-of-the-mill neo-nazis ... 

... to poorly thought out products by model makers!

Following the fall of Berlin, our mad scientist flees to New Swabia and sets himself up with some robotized Nazi slaves and a fleet of flying saucers. Complicating things, the US government is also engineering their own crude saucers, which is a nice touch that adds some depth - no wonder UFO reports are so varied and strange, if multiple culprits are to blame. By the by, our villain has also unlocked anti-aging treatments, and a good thing too because he's coming up on 120 now! The early atmosphere of paranoia that Harbinson stokes degrades into nihilistic boredom - what horrific evil will our villain unveil next? Ho hum.




We are no monsters, we're moral people
And yet we have the strength to do this
This is the splendor of our achievement
Call in the air strike with a poison kiss

Harbinson includes an author's note and source appendix after the story, drawing heavily on the unreliable Renato Vesco, Italian ex-NASA contractor who assembled a UFOlogical history in his Intercept UFO which parallels many of the tacks taken in Genesis. Harbinson admits that much of Vesco's narrative is unsupported but no matter, it makes a good tale. He recommends a swath of UFO titles as well as WWII texts and some psi titles. Ol' Brad Steiger sneaks in with his edition of Project Blue Book - one of his stronger titles due to simply being the released Blue Book papers. His inclusion shows how the high and low mix in UFOlogy, purported hard facts mixing with innuendo and fantasy.


Over the years Harbinson has expanded his Genesis into a series, titled Projekt Saucer. For an ambitious misfire, Genesis earns one wunderwaffe out of four:


Dell Publishing, 1982 (original pub. 1980)

Monday, June 20, 2022

BLIZZARD by George Stone






Here's a disaster novel with an outstandingly simple idea: what if it didn't stop snowing? The entire eastern seaboard is about to find out, as the flakes just keep coming down, day after day, week after week, until the Boston/NYC/DC megalopolis is buried under TONS of fluffy, freezing DEATH! The Soviets have parked some satellites over the scene and a fleet of perfectly innocent fishing trawlers off shore, but are they just curious snoopers, or sinister appraisers of some sci-fi weather control scheme? It's making the boys in the State Department nervous, and someone's liable to do something reckless if we don't get to the bottom of this BLIZZARD and fast!

It's a breezy, cynical, slightly sleazy '70s thrill ride we're in for, with plenty of post-Watergate apathy and an entropic inevitability around the big blitz - of course this is happening, what should we expect? Author George Stone writes with a light touch around CIA assassinations and black budget skulduggery, and his characters are the standard neurotic '70s horn dogs. Thank God for that! This is a fine, fun time, starting with the gimmick cover where the actual title is inside on a spread. Imagine that kind of ballyhoo for a novel nowadays.

My only real complaint is that there isn't enough snow! We get a snowmobile chase through the flurried streets of NYC and our sexy journalista heroine cross country skies her way through DC, but otherwise we truly don't get enough of a sense of the BLIZZARD'S scale. It's all over before we know it, and while the pace and economy are appreciated we could have done with just a little bit more. Blizzard might not go over the top to a world beater but that's just fine, it's enough that it's competent and satisfying.

Corgi Books edition, 1979

For a very pleasant disaster thriller, BLIZZARD earns three snowflakes out of four:



Dell Publishing, 1979 (original pub. 1977)

Sunday, June 19, 2022

COVER UPDATES: WISDOM OF THE ANCIENTS and LIVING WITH THE LAMA


A double dose of T. Lobsang Rampa today, beginning with the Bantam Books edition of Rampa's occult guide from 1978 (original pub. 1970). "He survived torture, imprisonment, starvation," but not really.


And another Corgi edition of Living With The Lama from 1968, which plays coy with the concept of Rampa translating his cat's biography from "the Siamese Cat language" (original pub. 1964).

Cute logo!