Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cryptozoology 101

Kevin Coolidge

Seconds, little pieces of forever, crawling towards 5pm and quitting time--I’m drained of essence, slaving in a cubicle, no window, no outlet, no wind in my face, just an organized version of Hell, but with paperwork. My boss keeps yelling at me to think outside the box, but I’m crammed into a container that someone forget to punch holes in to let me breathe. I’m tired of watching the clock. I’m tired of asking permission to go to the bathroom. I’m tired of working for the man. It’s time to carve out my own niche. It’s time to do something for me. I’m going to be a cryptozoologist.

Cryptozoology is the search for animals believed to exist, but for which conclusive evidence is missing. The field also includes the search for known animals believed to be extinct. The scientist or explorer who discovers a new species gets the privilege of naming it. At last, I can see my 15 minutes coming, and it’s covered with scales and fur. But first, I need to bone up on cryptids, the hypothetical creatures involved...

Cryptozoology A to Z: The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters, Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark: the first encyclopedia of its kind contains nearly two hundred entries. This book provides definitive descriptions and many never-before-published drawings and photographs from eyewitnesses' detailed accounts. You want to be sure you snag Bigfoot, and not your hairy next-door neighbor.

The Field Guide to Lake Monsters and Sea Serpents by Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe: Water covers two thirds of Earth’s surface, that’s a lot of exploring. From the serpentine “Champ” of Lake Champlain to the venerable “Nessie” of Loch Ness, extraordinary and unexplained creatures of the deep have been reported in sightings throughout the centuries. Comes with an in-depth taxonomy system. Now, let me tell you about the one that got away.

Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America by Scott Francis: Tired of bird watching? This book is limited to North American monsters such as The Jersey Devil, The Loveland Frogman and Tioga County’s very own Squonk. Within these pages you'll find detailed pen-and-ink drawings, helpful quick-reference boxes for quick identification of key monster traits, a glossary of crytozoology terms, a remedial course in common monster knowledge, useful appendices, case studies, and more. Decoder ring not included.

The Monster Hunter’s Handbook by Ibrahin S. Amin: Looking for tougher prey? This book tells you how to hunt the creatures of lore, such as the Minotaur or Hellhounds--includes a useful section on legendary weapons like Excalibur and Mjolnir. Beware of hunting monsters, lest you become a monster. Gotta love that Nietzsche.

A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, And Other Subversive Spirits by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack: Every culture has its demons and they aren’t always cloven-hoofed. From the Tommyknockers of North American mountain mines to Japan’s fox like Kitsune to India’s Rakshasas, this book melds folklore and mythology to give an even handed view of the world’s demons. I guess we really do live in a global society.

Hunting the American Werewolf by Linda S. Godfrey: He’s out there… a malevolent beast with the head of a wolf—walking upright like a man! Don’t believe it? How do you explain dozens of verified sightings throughout Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, and nationwide? The author takes on weird creatures too bizarre to be real—and too well documented to be mere fairy-tales. Think I’ll be loading up the shotgun with some silver pellets.

Three Men Hunting Monsters: Six Weeks in Pursuit of Werewolves, Lake Monsters, Giant Cats, Ghostly Devil Dogs, and Ape-Men by Nick Redfern: A delightful travelogue with three English blokes who drink a lot of beer and investigate such entities as The Man Monkey of Ratan and the Big Gray Man. No exotic locales here with stinging insects, infectious diseases or restless natives. This takes place entirely in Great Britain. Road trip anyone?

Yes, there be dragons here and the map is not the territory. We may live on islands of ignorance adrift in oceans of chaos and we fear to voyage far from shore. Unknown creatures await, not urban legends like alligators in the sewers of New York, or aliens crashing in the desert at Roswell, or that social security can be saved. Beyond the known lands of humanity lie dragons, demons, and monsters both real and mythical. I will set sail for the edge of the world, the edge of reason. Seeking knowledge, seeking the unknown, seeking the truth. There are dragons alive in the world today, and I will find them…

Comments, questions, is the cryptid you know better than the cryptid you don’t? Email me at All past columns available online Hey, check out the cat’s new book “Hobo Finds A Home” No cryptids, does contain cows, illustrated by Susan Gage, written by Hobo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Of Conspiracy, Respect, Poetry, and the Last Hurrah!

Kasey Cox

Before the popularization of the Internet, before the phenomenon of The X-files, before the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was Andy Winiarczyk, of “The Last Hurrah Bookshop”. Nearly twenty years ago, Andy Winiarczyk (pronounced “Win - AR – zik”) began amassing books and selling them to interested customers via mail-order. The books now fill the Williamsport location he calls home and store, and many of his customers find him by Internet and national reputation.
Andy’s collection focuses mainly on American history and politics from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. Specifically, Andy’s customers come to him – from all over the country – for books, media, and information on assassinations, the Kennedy family, the history of the American Intelligence community, conspiracy theories, Cuba, and organized crime.

If you google Winiarczyk or “The Last Hurrah”, you will see that many people meet Andy at conferences on the JFK assassination, in Dallas or Washington, D.C.; or on Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis; or RFK in Los Angeles. He regularly has a booth at these conferences, where he is known as a fantastic resource for the sheer amount of books that have been published on these subjects, the historical era surrounding them, and the people involved. The presenters at the conferences may show excerpts from a new documentary on the members of the Warren Commission, or read from a paper discussing the community of Cuban exiles in the U.S. in the early 1960’s. Andy himself has spoken on the reasons the JFK assassination continues to have such a hold on the American mind, and why it was such a turning point in the way Americans looked at their country.

What do these people have in common? Not as much as you’d think. As Andy tells me in his often quite poetic manner, his clientele are “not the kingdom of the lonely and the paranoid”. They include historians, college professors, forensic scientists, authors, filmmakers, journalists, librarians, and genealogists. He does regular business with retired members of various intelligence agencies, and has helped provide books for the library that the FBI maintains. The people who seek Andy as a resource – whether they are professional scholars or folks who work at the grocery store and read history passionately in their spare time – share what Andy calls “a fever at the core”.

So what’s the difference between Andy’s colleagues and our local Pennsylvania Bucktail re-enactors? Certainly, both have a passion for history. Andy and I mull this question a little, and he suggests it has to do with the point in time when “current events” become “history”. Other factors are how people feel about the government, and how much they trust the sources of the stories they are given. We talk also of the “history in both directions” of the events of the 1960’s. Andy speaks knowledgeably on the roots of the CIA, (the Office of Strategic Service, formed during WWII), and the books coming in now about 9/11.

For my own curiosity, I ask Andy the question every bookseller and bibliophile wants to know: what are you reading now? “The books I most recently finished and enjoyed were two Gary Trudeau books about the injured folks coming home from Iraq,” [“The Long Road Home” and “The War Within: One More Step at a Time”] he answers. “I found them thought-provoking and respectful.” I would say the same of Andy Winiarcyzk.

Contact info, location for “The Last Hurrah”

Andrew “Andy” Winiarczyk, proprietor
937 Memorial Ave
Williamsport, PA 17701
Phone/FAX: (570) 321-1150

Info on Kasey Cox, journalist extraordinaire (ha, ha!!), fledging writer for “Mtn Home”
Co-owner of “from my shelf books”, 87 Main St, Wellsboro, PA 16901
Phone: (570) 724-5793 email:

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Star, A Star, Dancing in the Night....

Kasey Cox

Celebrated author Madeleine L’Engle died this past Thursday, September 6, 2007. Her books touched children and adults across many generations, an achievement recognized by the many awards she received, including the 1963 Newbery for “A Wrinkle in Time”. Guides to children’s literature laud her as one of the most important contributors to the genre in this century (St. James Guide to Children’s Writers; New York Times Book Review). Beyond juvenile fiction, however, L’Engle’s body of work encompassed poetry, plays, memoir, Christian apologetics, prayer guides, science fiction and fantasy, historical fiction and more. She published 60 books during her lifetime.

When someone important dies, eulogies are written, proclaiming how “a bright star has gone out.” While the analogy of a star is more than fitting for Madeleine L’Engle, describing her death as the extinguishing of her light would be to miss the entire point.
In her writing – fiction and nonfiction, for children or for adults – L’Engle professed a fervent belief in the powerful impact one event or one life can have. An enormous part of her writing is dedicated to the ripple effect each event, each life can have on others, flowing out into an exponentially larger web of connections. This was a keystone of her faith, and shows up as a theme and a plot device throughout her writing.

Indeed, her life, her writing, her faith, and her imagination have created a legacy that shines on. I am one of those touched by her, my life significantly changed by just a few of her words. And with that change, I become living testimony to the connections in which she believed. There is a scene from one of her books in “The Wrinkle in Time” series that both radically altered my thinking and cemented beliefs I already had.

In the second book from her Time Quintet, titled “A Wind in the Door”, Meg Murry has been transported inside her little brother Charles Wallace’s cells. The mitochondria inside his cells are sick, and the fight to save him becomes the central action of this adventure. In a wonderful combination of symbolism and science fiction, Meg must convince tiny parts of the mitochondria to advance to the next stage of their growth. They must move from their lives as free-moving, mouse- or tadpole-like creatures to “deepen” into their adult form as kelp-like trees. Imagine convincing a caterpillar that it must create the cocoon that will transform it into a butterfly. Through breathtaking, sensitive, imaginative storytelling, L’Engle shows the reader how it is only through choosing to take root in your home that one truly grows and experiences a life of deeper purpose.

And so it is after my years of free movement throughout the country, in and out of many adventures, I have come to put down roots in my hometown. I do believe that being an adult means making definite choices that may, at first, seem limiting – (“after I take these vows, I’ll wake up next to this same woman for the rest of my life?”) – but in reality give us a home in which we truly blossom. I wear a tree pendant on a chain around my neck to remind myself how we can really only feel free when we have a foundation on which to build, roots that go deep, so limbs can reach for the sky. Thanks, Madeleine.

Water, Water ... Everywhere?

Kasey Cox

Author Lee Welles set herself a daunting task with her second book, “Gaia Girls: Way of Water.” Her first book in the series, “Gaia Girls: Enter the Earth”, won the National Outdoor Book Award and the iParenting Media Award, garnered critical acclaim, and brought her invitations for book signings at schools, libraries, and fairs across the country. That’s a hard act to follow, even for a seasoned author, but “Enter the Earth” was Welles’ first book.

Furthermore, in writing “Enter the Earth”, Lee drew from her own experiences, growing up on a farm in upstate New York. In “Way of Water”, the main character, Miho, is an American-Japanese girl who has spent her entire life traveling to Pacific Ocean ports with her whale-observing parents, while the book itself mostly takes place in Japan, where Miho must go to live when the sea claims the lives of her parents. In choosing this premise and this setting for her second story in this series, Welles breaks one of the oldest guidelines for writers – “Write what you know.”

The large focus on Japan works for Welles, though, in part because Miho has never before been to Japan. Though her mother was Japanese, and she knows a little of Japanese language and culture, Miho’s culture shock and her feelings of being an outsider with much to learn helps the reader identify with Miho, and gives the book a much deeper ring of truth than if Welles had tried to write Japan from an inside perspective. And, as the author confesses in her blog at, she had to do “massive amounts of research.” As Miho adjusts to the sudden, difficult changes in her life, I found her a believable, fully-developed character with whom I could easily sympathize – a heroine, in fact, who bravely deals with the death of her parents, the move to a new country and culture, and the fantastical experience of meeting a talking otter!

With the Gaia Girls series, the fantastic blends quite well into the normal experiences in the lives of the girls around whom each book centers. I am reminded of the Narnia series, or of Philip Pullman’s “Golden Compass”, where children encounter creatures and ideas beyond the scope of everyday reality. The characters respond at first with surprise, shock, disbelief, curiosity – as most of us would. Then, because children are better are adapting and using their imaginations, they accept the new creatures as comrades or foes and step forward into the quest. In this case, the quest is a very real and laudable one: to save the Earth from the damage we humans are doing. And thus is born a new kind of fantasy book for kids, a new kind of super-hero, presented in a creative and fun way, but with very practical, concrete applications.

Lee Welles’ Gaia Girls are “eco-heroines”, advocates and activists for caring for the Earth, and therefore, caring for ourselves. The message is one of environmentalism and stewardship without being too preachy. The scientific explanations, the political message is not too heavy-handed, and the storylines are exciting in and of themselves. I continued reading because I wanted to know what happens to Miho, and along the way I thought more about the amount of earth that is covered by water, the mind-boggling amount of life that inhabits our oceans, and our place in these things.

Four Books in Bed with Me

Kasey Cox

The best part about reading outside of school is that you don’t have to finish a book in order to do a book report! (My apologies and sympathies to students who head back to school assignments this week.) Even in writing a book review column for our dear Gazette, I’ll admit that it’s helpful to have finished the book(s) under discussion, but not always necessary. This week is a case in point.

Most bibliophiles I know have a pile of books waiting on their nightstand, as well as a few floating around the house – next to the Lazy-Boy, in the bathroom near tub or toilet, on a counter in the kitchen. For me, this is in part a preventative measure, so I don’t have to resort to reading the cereal box while waiting for the kettle to whistle. The rest of the revolving stack is analgesic. I might need something quick and satisfying, that I can finish in the ten minutes in bed before sleep takes me; other times I’m looking for a story I can really sink my teeth into, an absorbing tale that takes me away like Calgon did in commercials of the 1980’s. Alternatively, I almost always have one or two self-improvement, informational, do-it-better kind of books around. I may never actually finish these texts, but having them nearby makes me feel productive and well-intentioned.

I have an especially interesting pile right now, four books which I truly am sampling equally from. That many at once is usually too many, but it’s such a fun combination, I’m excited to share. Caveat lector, any one of these books could easily merit a future book review all its own, or may provide a strong start but an insipid ending.

The book that’s been next to my sleeping head nearly a year is “How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It,” by Patricia Love (yes, that’s really her legal, given surname) and Steven Stosny. Yes, there are books on communication between the sexes and improving your marriage ad infinitum, ad nauseum, but I gotta tell you, this runs circles around Dr. Phil or John Gray (“Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”). My only criticism is that it’s a little heavy-handed on the observation of gender differences in processing fear or shame, but my perception may be a little skewed, since I’ll let several weeks go by without picking up the book again, and then I have to re-read the first chapter.

The rest are more recent acquisitions. When I saw the previews for “Stardust”, I was intrigued by the movie, but my immediate comment to Kevin was a wish that it had been a book first. Luckily, Kevin is a Neil Gaiman fan, and so he hooked me up. I’ve waited a few weeks since the Harry Potter release, because I wanted to enjoy “Stardust” without any Deathly Hallows hangover. Now Gaiman’s book is a welcomed, much-anticipated treat. Indeed, “Stardust” is a journey into Faerie, the land that the Brits still spin stories about, but we Americans water down with tame Disney replacements. “Stardust” takes the reader into the enthralling and bewitching realm of Faerie, that place of Queen Mab, the Brothers Grimm, and Edmund Spenser’s Elizabethan epic.

A BookSense newsletter brought to my attention editor Jenni Ferrari-Adler’s new collection, “Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant.” I thought it would be a cookbook, but haven’t been disappointed to discover an anthology of essays about the amusing concoctions the contributors eat when they don’t need to worry about anyone else. I read one essay; I laugh; I get some great ideas for meals; I put the book down and pick up another until the next time I’m in the mood for something short and sweet.

I’m balancing “Eggplant” with a book on being careful with money, because my love of exotic foods gets me in trouble grocery shopping. A friend recommended “America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money”, and now I see why. Like books on communication for couples, there are too many books on learning to budget, often written by people trying to make a fast buck on folks who are grasping at straws to handle their finances. I love “America’s Cheapest Family” because it’s easy-to-follow, practical, and the authors live the lifestyle they describe.

Author Joan Didion, most recently celebrated for her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking”, is quoted exulting her passion for books. “When I’m near to finishing a good book,” she said, “I damn near have to sleep with it.” I grew up with a bookshelf that doubled as the headboard for my bed. Have I learned by osmosis while sleeping? With books, anything is possible.

Questions, comments, the title of the book that’s leaving wrinkles on your face at night, email Kasey at

Jazz, the Blues, and Jesus

Kasey Cox

Define the universe and give three examples.

That’s the punch line to a joke I heard in college, when we were cramming for final exams. The “funny” preamble is this: on the day of the final exam in Philosophy, the professor will hand you the dreaded blank blue book, point to the above question written on the blackboard, and say, “You have one hour.”

I have to say, I feel a little like I’m in the same position trying to write a review on Donald Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. The title is apt, but just as illusive as placing this book in a genre, or defining jazz.

Try to define jazz music. I’m a music lover, and have even done some performing in various choral groups, school bands, and in front of many a campfire. I can converse confidently about many kinds of music and music experiences, but I’m intimidated to flesh out JAZZ. Let the jazz musicians or the music professors tell you, I’ll say. Go to the experts for that one. But when Louis Armstrong was asked, his reply was, “Man, if you gotta ask, you’ll never know.”

There are, of course, many experiences in our lives that remain difficult to explain. Take GOD. We as a human race have written millions of books on God. The books we believe were directly inspired by God we call our sacred texts. In addition to these “God-breathed” texts, we’ve written ad infinitum attempting to define, explain, defend, and share our faith in God. “Blue Like Jazz” is one such book. C.S. Lewis wrote several books that fall under the term “apologetics”, the subsection of theology that focuses on academic or logical proof of Christianity as truth.

In many aspects, Don Miller’s books could be on the same shelf with Lewis’s apologetic texts. “Blue Like Jazz” also reads like a memoir, or an anthology of essays about Christian life in the 21st Century. The praise that comes to Miller from the literary community and folks in the Christian church liken him to a male Anne Lamott, whose books “Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith” and “Grace (Eventually)” continue to touch people across many denominations.

So what does Don Miller actually say about God, faith, and himself in this book? His tone is conversational, an approach that has garnered Miller both criticism and adoration. I read some reviews that unfavorably compared Miller’s writing to “a glorified blog … meandering in [the] purpose to get to a point that never comes.” For many readers, especially younger Christians or those who have become disillusioned with puffed-up preaching, Miller’s writing is a breath of fresh air.

I had mixed feelings while reading this book, but take that with a grain of salt, because I have mixed feelings about God, faith, and myself. Also, it is important to note that Don Miller wrote “Blue Like Jazz” from the perspective of a man (which I am not), who lives in Seattle (which I don’t), mostly interacting with a college population who look at you as though you’ve sprouted an extra head if you admit that you’re a Christian. That is not the day-to-day experience of most of us who live in Wellsboro and surrounding environs, nor does that sound anything like my growing up years or my time in college. Sometimes I wasn’t sure what Don Miller had to say to ME. Yet I found myself continuing to read, occasionally laughing out loud, often brushing a tear from the corner of my eye.

That’s where JAZZ comes in. Though there are many definitions out there, most people writing on jazz agree on a few basics: jazz starts with a theme, and a strong rhythmic understructure, from which musicians improvise, playing with variations in chord structure, meter, harmonics and more, to express themselves and the mood they wish to convey. The mood can be as complex as the entire range of human emotion, and can change as quickly, as the history of jazz music has, encompassing everything from New Orleans funeral marches to swing to big band. In order to play jazz, a musician need not be classically taught – indeed, most of the earliest and greatest weren’t – but a musician must have a deep understanding of music and of the basic theme he’s building on. This can be said for Don Miller’s writing about being a Christian. At one point, he clearly states that he does not want to defend Christianity; he wants to talk about Jesus. This he does, with improvisatory, virtuosic style.

How Tea Empowers Me

Kasey Cox

Since the 2003 publication of Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” people far and wide, small town to big city, teens to senior citizens, descended of many nations, have raved about this story. This success is rare for a first novel, and it is perhaps even more unusual that a book about Afghanistan, whose author has a Middle Eastern name, would have such widespread applause in these times when – dare I say it? – such a name might be met with a more frosty reception by much of the U.S. Nevertheless, despite the odds of a sophomore publication enjoying equal success, despite Hosseini’s focus on a culture about which many Americans (myself included) have had little understanding, despite the damper that hardcover prices can place on number of sales, “A Thousand Splendid Suns,” published in May of this year, is as beloved as its older brother.

Although I frequently recommend both these books, I must admit, in general, I am intimidated to read about the Middle East. The headlines and newscasts that have been coming from that part of the world over the last few years are bewildering to me. I feel depressed, overwhelmed, angry, confused, and numb in turn; but overlying all those emotions, the sense of guilt that I don’t know enough about the people of Afghanistan; the differences in religious practices between Sunni and Shia Muslims; the origin of the conflicts between Pakistan and India; and so forth. What are Americans doing, mired in these conflicts? I actually do not mean that question in a “peace-nik” kind of way, though my politics and personal philosophies probably lean more in that direction. The embarrassing truth is this: I am ignorant to the history, politics, cultural knowledge, geography, economics, and religions of this area of the world.

While Khaled Hosseini’s novels have given readers a window into the world of Afghanistan in the 1970’s, that is not necessarily the focus of his writing: ultimately, Hosseini delivers beautifully-crafted stories, with characters who struggle through difficult human situations, transcending their milieu. And so it was a nonfiction memoir-biography that has opened the way for me to understand the recent events in Afghanistan. The book that has given me a foothold here is Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin’s “Three Cups of Tea.”

Greg Mortenson was a mountaineer who, after a failed attempt to climb K2 in 1993, wandered off the wrong trail coming down the glacier. Separated from his guide and his group, weakened from rescuing another climber near the peak, he would have died if not nursed back to the health by the people in the remote, isolated village where he ended up. Touched by the generosity of these impoverished people, and horrified by the conditions under which they often lived, Mortenson promised them that he would return to help them build a school. He knew next to nothing about fundraising, politics, or running a humanitarian agency. Though his parents had been Lutheran missionaries in Africa for most of his childhood, their efforts to build a school and a teaching hospital took decades of work, in another era, in a completely different place.

The story that follows, of Mortenson’s struggles to raise the money, purchase and move the materials, develop the plans, organize and recruit help from the various layers and factions of Pakistani society, is nothing but incredible. And, in reading about “Dr. Greg” (as many of his Pakistani friends refer to him), and his journey from “failed” mountaineer to head of the humanitarian agency of “The Central Asia Institute,” I began to feel familiar with the names and locations of villages in Pakistan … the differences in Suni and Shia prayers … the impact of British Imperialism in India and how it still affects the relationship between India and Pakistan today … the names of leaders in Afghanistan over the last fifteen years. And I began to understand more about what has happened there.

I feel surprisingly empowered by “Three Cups of Tea,” and not in the way I expected. I thought I might be inspired by the mission to build schools in Pakistan, and, indeed, I was. As his co-writer proclaims in the introduction to the book, it is next to impossible to read Greg Mortenson’s story – or report on it – and not become a supporter. However, I also feel that now I can forge ahead in reading to learn more about the headlines that have too often been hopeless spin.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Day of the Dead

Kevin Coolidge

He crawls from the grave, his body a feast for worms. No warmth to the eyes, the skin cold, his heart silent and still. His soul as dark and empty as the abyss, he ignores the bullet and laughs at the blade, for it cannot harm his flesh. Forever, he will walk the earth, devouring the living. Beware, for he is the undead, a zombie.

Just the other day I was watching another gruesome zombie movie, and I was thinking, “There are more zombie movies that you can shake a femur at, but there just isn’t enough quality zombie literature.” I was wrong, dead wrong…

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks: It is said, an intelligent man knows others; a wise man knows himself and that machetes don’t need reloading. Know yourself, know your weapons, and know an escape route. Everything you need to survive the hordes of the undead.

The Undead Zombie Anthology edited by D.L. Snell & Elijah Hall: This book is quite the find, with 23 stories of zombies ranging from the hilarious to the horrific. A wide range of tales from zombies in space to a hotline run by zombies-and the great thing-all these writers love zombies, and it shows. You’ll be hungry for more.

Zombie Tales Vol. 1 by Boom Studios: the undead brought to life in graphic novel format. A wide of variety of zombie stories in dramatic color, delivering chills, thrills and a dose of humanity, not for the young, or faint of heart.

World War Z by Max Brooks: From the author of The Zombie Survival Guide comes this gem chronicling the fictional “Zombie World War”. The book charts a war against the undead from global pandemic to worldwide panic and the armed struggle to reclaim the planet. World War Z is a collection of accounts, each revealing an aspect of the larger plot and a personal tale. The viewpoint is not strictly the American, but focuses of the global nature of the struggle. Brooks manages to address such issues as environmentalism, the war on terror and international health care, and it’s entertaining. Now, if politicians could only do the same. Hmm, maybe war has begun??

The Zen of Zombie: Better Living through the Undead by Scott Kenmore: Do you struggle to get out of bed in the morning and sway lifelessly across the room? Well take heart, you are not alone! The undead can teach us a lot about life. Live life the no- nonsense zombie way, be your own boss, be unstoppable, and devour the brains of those annoying people who get in your way. Not just another irritating self-help book. Isn’t it time you took charge of your life? Isn’t it time you joined the undead?

Damn Nation by Dark Horse Comics: Another zombie graphic novel with artwork by J. Alexander. Dark, grim tones show influence from such movies as 28 Days Later and the Romero films. It’s the future and the future sucks. The United States has been infested with a mysterious plague. The entire Mexican and Canadian Borders have been secured with walls and fences and barbed wire to keep the "infected" from getting out. A cure has been found in upstate New York, but with the USA out of the picture, everyone else gets to move up the food chain. Good characters and a plot driven story, as opposed to all action and gore makes, this zombie tale stand out.

Grampa’s Zombie BBQ by Kirk Scroggs: Grandpa's annual barbecue is crashed by hundreds of rotting residents from Eternal Naps cemetery. Hey, zombies are for all ages. Written for a third grade reading level, so fire up the grill and let’s cook. Bring a dish to pass.

Passage of Darkness: The Ethnobiology of the Haitian Zombie: This is well-written technical book of non-fiction covers the same material of the more popular and fictional The Serpent and the Rainbow. What if zombies are real? Dr. Wade Davis has given us the science of fact behind the mythological tales of the Haitian zombie.

Good zombie literature isn’t dead. In fact, like the best of speculative fiction it can explore current social issues. Zombies aren’t always the biggest problems. Sure, get too close and they’ll chomp your brains. But man is man’s worst enemy. Get too confident, lose your calm, and lose your head. So keep moving, keep low, keep quiet, keep alert, and remember the headshot is the only sure shot…

Comments, questions, should zombies have the right to vote? Email me at Miss a column? Past columns are available at Don’t miss the cat’s new book about a barn cat who wanted more out of life. No zombies here. Illustrated by Susan Gage, written by Hobo.

Kevin Coolidge

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Strap Yourself in For Summer Reading!

Kasey Cox

Blackberries, ipod, Xbox, blog, HD DVD, satellite TV, TiVo, 250-channels-and-nothing-on, email, websurf, mp3, txt msg, Razr phone. News bytes scroll at the bottom of the screen while the newscaster talks over top. Everyone in the family scheduled to be in a different place in the same hour. The Fantastic Four, the X-men, Heroclix, Sky High, Zoom, Spiderman, The Incredibles.

If more than half these terms apply regularly to your life … if you are the parent of a teen … if you love big summer blockbuster movies … if you’re looking for fun, exciting summer reading for a short attention span, I’ve got a reading suggestion for you! Look no further than James Patterson’s young adult trilogy, “Maximum Ride.”

Patterson, is probably best known for his thrillers, one series featuring Detective Alex Cross, and the other series known as “The Women’s Murder Club”. He also penned a romance, “Sam’s Letters to Jennifer”, which reads quite a bit like a Nicholas Sparks novel. But it was “When the Wind Blows”, published in 1998, with which he truly tried his wings (oh! Bad pun, you’ll soon see!) in more fantastical writing.

“When the Wind Blows” features young “Max”, a child who is the result of horrible, secret genetic experiments. Most of the offspring of these experiments died. A few lived, and grew wings. For those readers who could suspend their disbelief, “When the Wind Blows” brought a surprising amount of enjoyment and thrills, as well as bringing Patterson more international sales for this one book than any of his other previous novels. The sequel, “The Lake House” (2005), however, was a disappointment for many, who felt it was a lot weaker in plot, the characters less developed, the action scenes dragged out. Perhaps this sequel didn’t work because Patterson was giving all his snappy writing and emotional wallop to the newer characters he developed for the first “Maximum Ride” book, which was released almost simultaneously with “The Lake House.”

Lucky for young adult readers, Patterson took his ideas from “When the Wind Blows” and re-vamped them for “Maximum Ride”. The author explains, succinctly and carefully at the beginning of each book in this new series that, while there were “bird kids” in the two previous adult books, and one was a child named “Max” who had other genetically-altered “siblings” such as herself, these stories would be about different characters.

Here, “Max” is the nickname of “Maximum Ride”, a sixteen year-old Avian-Human hybrid who takes care of herself and five others like her, as best she can. With the help of a sympathetic lab guy, they escaped the lab two years ago, and have lived in hiding in the mountains of California. Since then, they have discovered and honed their abilities and their fighting skills. Good thing, too, because ….. you’ll have to discover for yourself.

Max’s tough-talking but obviously large-hearted narration rang true for me. I believe that most teens today – as well as their parents and teachers – will recognize and sympathize with her voice as representative of many of her non-winged contemporaries. And for folks who love exciting, cinematic fight scenes, the descriptions at first-rate, written in short, hard bursts with visual language and not a lot of blood. Plus, for kids (and adults) who are bringing a shorter attention span to summer reading, the chapters are short and the action keeps you reading.

Now that I’ve read all three books, I have to tell you I enjoyed the first book – “Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment” – the best of the three. That said, once you read the first book, you’d be hard pressed to stop there. The high-octane fight scenes, narrow escapes, and amazing revelations continue into “Maximum Ride: School’s Out Forever” and finish with the just-released, final installment, “Maximum Ride: Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports.” The books are well-named and have come at the perfect time for a great summer ride!

The Curious Way We Process Words

Kasey Cox

I intended to write about Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” nearly a year ago. I had just convinced Kevin to read it, and I was surprised that he was not as taken with it as I was. I thought we should write a review in the style of Ebert & Roeper: we would both talk about the novel’s good points, and then Kevin could discuss his criticisms, while I interjected my defense. With the discussion set up this way, there would be much more space dedicated to the good stuff about the book, and therefore, I would win. (heh heh heh)

Although I’d like to claim as much credit as possible for my contributions to its success, Haddon’s unique, funny, touching first novel is the real winner here. “The Curious Incident” remains in the top 200 bestsellers at (#184 as of the writing of this review), 4 years after its original June 2003 release. That’s amazing holding power for a book, especially in the flash-in-the-pan, what’s-the-newest-fad-or-scandal environment of current American pop culture. Haddon’s book has garnered all kinds of awards, in adult and young adult categories, in both the U.K. and the U.S. In addition, the Today Show selected it for their short list of book club recommendations. And, yes, even though it’s my byline here, we’ll let Kevin get his word in edgewise: he frequently recommends this book, too.

Whether you end up loving the book or not, you’ll know from the first page how inimitably this story will be told. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” opens with fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone stating that his neighbor’s dog, Wellington, is lying on the grass with a garden fork sticking out of his side. Like a miraculous, alchemical combination of Charlie Gordon in “Flowers for Algernon” and Holden Caulfield in “The Catcher in the Rye”, Christopher’s style of narrating the story reveals more about his story than just the words themselves. The “I” telling the story here is a British teenaged boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Christopher has a high-functioning type of autism, which he himself clearly explains. Indeed, as narrator of the events in his neighborhood and his life, Christopher reports everything clearly and logically, but without any real emotional understanding.

Trying to solve the mystery of Wellington’s murder, Christopher accepts the encouragement of his teacher to write a book about his findings. It is a book whose chapters have prime numbers only and drawings of the way people’s faces look, since Christopher is incredibly gifted with mathematics, but cannot read or interpret people’s facial expressions. Christopher’s ability to detail the words people say and the facts he discovers, juxtaposed with his inability to process what these events mean to most of the people around him, creates the bittersweet tone that touches readers so much.

But it was only after Kevin and I discussed why I liked the book so much that I discovered another truth about the power of how we process words. Yes, when I read this book, I enjoyed it. I found it charming, original, clever. But, truth be told, after I finished it, I didn’t see why the friend who had recommended it to me had raved so much. Until the audio book showed up at the Green Free Library. Hearing the story told, with the British accent, and in a curiously flat, emotionless tone, I really got it. I felt as though I understood Christopher because I could hear him. Because I am blessed with the ability to process and interpret more than words, but also the nonverbal cues in another human’s voice, the irony and the sadness inherent in Christopher’s story sunk in. Funny, too, because I don’t usually listen to audio books. Amazing and ironic that the real impact of Christopher’s differences in processing information came to me when I switched from my normal mode of processing stories.

Memorial Day secrets and honor

Kasey Cox

I have always loved Hamilton-Gibson’s short-play festival, but this spring I am especially honored to be in a play about a local couple during World War II. Rob and Pam Kathcart penned this play capturing a slice of her grandparents’ lives in 1945. To inform myself about clothing and hairstyles of the era, and to inspire my amateur thespian abilities, I have been renting movies depicting the men and women of Brokaw’s appropriately named “greatest generation.”

Nothing, however, put me more in touch with the effects of the war than the book I’ve just read – Lucinda Franks’ memoir, “My Father’s Secret War”. Franks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, but she never intended to research and write a book on World War II, or the Holocaust, or post-traumatic disorder in veterans and survivors, or the activities of various international intelligence organizations. Although her book eloquently touches on all these wide-sweeping issues, the story started when “Cindy” Franks helped her aging father sort through old boxes. She found a Nazi uniform and currency from several different countries.

Tom Franks, like many men, like many soldiers, like many of his generation, was taciturn. He didn’t speak much about the war; in fact, he didn’t speak with his family about much at all, except when he angrily voiced his opinions about his young Lucinda’s radical politics during the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Even after Lucinda confronted her father with the uniform, he revealed little. Tom Franks never used the word “spy” to describe himself, even as his journalist daughter, fortunately just as stubborn as her father, coaxed the stories from him.

I think of my mom’s father, Bart Davis, who never mentioned fear or pain when his grandchildren asked him to tell us about his experiences in the war. He shared “funny” stories, about being in a foxhole, peeing in his helmet, and dumping on his head when the shelling started again. But Cornelius Ryan interviewed my grandfather for his well-known book on D-Day, “The Longest Day.” In the two pages dedicated to that interview, Ryan quoted my grandfather about seeing body parts flying, about his own wounds, I remember trying to tell my “Gump” (my baby word for “grandpa” that stuck, as these nicknames do) about how proud I was that he was in this famous book. His comment, accompanied by a slight frown, was that Ryan had “only used the ‘bloody’ parts I told him about.”

Through several years of painstaking research, mailing away for obscure first-person accounts and only recently-opened archives, Lucinda Franks was able to figure out where her father had been over many months of World War II. She pieced historical data together with her father’s letters home, and used this information to quiz him into admitting his role in many covert operations. In the process, Lucinda learned why her father played his cards so close to his chest, why her parents’ marriage had failed, what memories alcohol helped her father to quell. She took her father to the Holocaust Museum to have his testimony recorded, and she helped preserve parts of history that have been silenced for more than fifty years. More importantly, she learned to love her father again. And respect him for who he was, before and after the war.

The firecrackers and bunting are in the grocery stores again; Memorial Day is just around the corner. Come see the Hamilton-Gibson plays on May 18, 19, and 20. Read a great book about World War II, and learn something new about its many faces, or revisit and appreciate again stories you already know. Talk with your parents and grandparents, the folks at the Laurels and Country Terrace. History still lives all around us, right here in Tioga County. We can still learn, not just about international events, but about ourselves.

Who Knew? Not just another Joe

Kasey Cox

Every month we receive a small box of ARCs – Advance Reader Copies. These ARCs are early copies of books soon-to-be-published, most of them as yet uncorrected, the prose still a little rough around the edges, the grammar not yet made to walk the copy editor’s strict line. The publishers send these ARCs out, hoping to garner interest, entice potential readers, line up pre-orders, and rev up the buzz for this new book.

The sad part of this story is that I hardly ever have time to do more than admire the covers, read a few of the blurbs, and gently stack the ARCs back in the box they came in, hoping at some point to get a chance to read one.

Such was the fate of an ARC we received several months ago, for a book named “Heart-Shaped Box”, by Joe Hill. The quoted accolades from other authors and well-known newspapers were impressive. The word from the publishing world was that this was the best horror novel debut in at least twenty years. Critics were already comparing Joe Hill to Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, and Bernard Malamud. Though the praise had me intrigued, the actual premise of the novel made a deeper impression on me. The protagonist is a washed-up rock star, Judas Coyne, who collects things with a macabre history – an actual witches’ confession from the 1600’s, a real hangman’s noose, a snuff film. When he learns about a ghost that’s for sale online, he doesn’t hesitate to buy it. And with the arrival of the ghost, all the ghosts of Jude’s past – those he has barely been able to outrun his whole life – come home to roost with him, with a vengeance.

So I put the ARC on the top of the pile, and went on with my life. I didn’t take the time to read it, and I only thought of it occasionally.

Fast forward to January 2007, when I finally learn the rest of the story behind this book – the NEWS that’s been tearing across the book world like wildfire. Joe Hill is a pen name. The talented young man is none other than Joe HILLstrom King, Stephen King’s eldest son. He kept his name under wraps, desiring to make it on his own merits.

Lucky for me, in many ways, that I didn’t read the ARC, yet had kept it in mind and in excellent condition. Ironically, I auctioned it off as a collectible in mint condition, which indeed, it is. And I promptly ordered my own copy of “Heart-Shaped Box”, which I devoured. I am not a huge fan of the horror novel, but I am a Stephen King fan. I’m picky about my horror fiction, as well as the science fiction I choose to read. The story has to grab me, thrill me, kiss me in the dark. I want to be surprised. And above all, the writer better have style as well as decent technique.

Though “Joe Hill” may cringe that it was his father’s reputation that actually compelled me to pick up this first novel, I want to declare my enthusiasm for this new writer. He definitely delivers. “Heart-Shaped Box” is an intense ride. I was hooked on the story from the beginning, and found the characters incredibly well-fleshed out. Not only did the story scare the pants off me several times, but I found myself reflecting a great deal on the way the characters were affected by their pasts, their relationships, their choices. I actually thought a lot about what a difference being loved makes in a person’s life. That’s high praise for the writing in a “horror” novel. This is not fluff, and it’s not gore.

Look for more big news on Joe Hill in the coming months, and even years. Movie rights for “Heart-Shaped Box” were immediately snapped up, and a director has already been chosen. Joe Hill’s actual first book, “20th Century Ghosts”, a collection of short stories that was not accepted for publication in the U.S., is slated for American release in October 2007. And “Hill” is still hard at work on a novel he’s been working with for the last couple of years. I, for one, can’t wait.

This book written before Virginia Tech but after Columbine

Kasey Cox

When’s the last time you stayed up all night, not looking at the clock because it didn’t matter what time it was, compelled to keep reading the book in your hands? Although I’m obviously a huge fan of books, I can honestly say I haven’t sacrificed my precious sleep time for a book in quite a while. That is, until I started reading Jodi Picoult’s newest novel, Nineteen Minutes.

Released on March 6, 2007, this is the same date on which the story opens, the date that Peter Houghton opens fire in his high school in Sterling, NH. Nineteen minutes later, ten people are dead, nineteen are wounded, and Peter has been taken into police custody. As the story unwinds from there, Picoult takes the reader back and forth in time, and allows us to see the story from the perspectives of many different characters whose lives the tragedy touches. This shifting chronology and round-robin of characters can often be confusing, dragging down the tempo of a novel, but in Picoult’s accomplished hands, this is seamless. As we follow the thoughts of Peter’s lawyer, the small town’s police chief, Peter’s mother, the local judge, and the judge’s daughter, Josie, the pieces of the puzzle begin to come together, answering the question that is asked at all tragedies – why?

Although I have followed Jodi Picoult’s career for some time now – I had a chance to meet her when I lived in Vermont, and her first novel, Songs of the Humpback Whale, ranks among one of my favorite of all time – I have personally been disappointed by some of her novels that have gained national popularity. Picoult is known for her novels which plunge right to the heart of intense contemporary issues. Her characters, though believable and well-fleshed-out, are placed in situations where they must truly grapple with the question of how much they are willing to sacrifice for those they love. While this is an important question and makes for stories that are both thrilling and touching, I have often found Picoult’s resolutions to her stories a little too pat. For years, I believe Picoult has created beautiful, haunting novels that somehow just miss the mark. Not so with Nineteen Minutes. Here, the author is able to walk that fine line between touching, disturbing, and challenging without falling into contrived situations or melodrama. Here Picoult is tender but unflinching with all of her characters, as each explores his or her own contribution and response to the shooting. I was especially impressed with the author’s approach to Peter Houghton, filling in his life story as victim, while not excusing his guilt as shooter.

Several literary critics have asked, “Are we ready for a novel about school shootings?” It is a question that has also been asked of art, fiction, film, poetry dealing with September 11. My answer is that if the art deals as sensitively with everyone involved as Jodi Picoult’s new masterpiece does, than I give my resounding, YES.

"Books About Tioga County

Kevin Coolidge

I love Tioga County in the autumn. The days are still warm; the nights cool, giving birth to vibrant fall colors. The hills seem almost alive, and the threat of colder weather is a promise on the wind. I anticipate the coming winter nights with a chilling North wind knocking upon the door and frost etching patterns on the windows. Curling up under a thick pile of blankets with one of my favorite local books in hand. Tioga County has enough books available to keep me reading all season long…

Pioneer Life, or Thirty Years a Hunter by Phillip Tomb: Known as the Pine Creek deer slayer of the Alleghenies, Philip Tome was a pioneer farmer who turned to deer hunting for survival. Hunting the headwaters of the Pine, Kettle, Sinnemahoning, and Allegheny Rivers, he shot with a .45 caliber Kentucky-style Flintlock rifle and practiced fire hunting, stalking, hounding, and stand hunting over salt licks. He also captured elk and hunted panthers and bears. The early beginnings of hunting conservation can be seen in Tome's changing emphasis from the kill to the outdoor experience. In addition to his reputation as a hunter, he was an interpreter for Seneca Indian Chiefs Cornplanter and Governor Blacksnake. An American classic recently reprinted by Stackpole Press.

Flatlanders and Ridgerunners by Jim Glimm: James York Glimm was born a city boy. So when he took a position at Mansfield University in the heart of the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania. He was unprepared for the weather, the animals, and getting only three television stations, two of which didn’t come in. He was ignorant, an outsider--yep, a flatlander--As he explains in the introduction to his now beloved book. Folkales from the mountains of Tioga County Pennsylvania. Recently reprinted by University of Pittsburgh Press.

Wood Hick, Pigs-Ear & Murphy by Bill Pippin: The historical story of Galeton Pennsylvania and the surrounding area. This is a great local history with some great photos of our areas logging days, Prohibition, and up until 1976. Unfortunately, this book has gone out of print and in harder to find. Copies usually start around forty dollars. If you have one, take care of it.

Of Woods and Wild Things by Don Knaus: Don’s a local guy writing about hunting and fishing and growing up in Tioga County. Though a work of fiction, there’s more than a hint of the autobiographical. The stories follow a young man through his life from novice fisherman and hunter to seasoned woodsman. There’s fishing and forests, hunting and hiking, camping and canoeing, but the stories are about more than woodcraft and the outdoors. It’s about family and friendship, memories and mentoring, youth and yearning and a rite of passage that is becoming all too uncommon in our modern society.

Birds of Pennsylvania Field Guide by Stan Tekiela: Maybe you don’t get into the woods as much as you used to, but you still love sitting by the window with that pair of binoculars you got last Christmas. There’s also a companion CD so you can learn the songs and sounds of our feathered friends.

Wellsboro’s Own Railroad by Richard L Stoving: The complete story of the railroad running through Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, from its humble beginnings as the Fall Brook Coal Company in 1859, and continuing as the Fall Brook Railway, the New York Central, Penn Central, Conrail, the Wellsboro and Corning and finally, the Tioga Central. Detailed history, plus RARE photos of FBCC steam locomotives, NYC steam and diesel, PC diesels and more.
Woodcraft and Camping by “Nessmuk”:by George W. Sears, better known as “Nessmuk”. Written at a time when woodcraft and woodlore were vital skills. This book contains instructions for roughing it, camping, hiking, fire making, cookout, shelters, and miscellaneous wood lore. This book has remained a cherished classic through four generations of readers.

Wynken, Blynken, and Nod a poem by Eugene Field and illustrated by Johanna Westerman: The statue of this famous trio adorns the Green of Wellsboro.(There’s also a sister statue in Denver, Colorado)This is a great illustrated book of this classic Dutch lullaby.

Bear Hollow by Rod Cochran: It’s 1954 and times are a changing in Pennsylvania’s Steam Valley. The company town owner, a tanner and strip mine operator, learns of virgin timber and soft coal on remote Bear Mountain. Tensions grow when his rival, a forester and returning war hero, outbids him for it. Bear Mountain, however, is the domain of a renegade trapper. A half-breed squatter, the vicious former WWI scout will allow no one to log or mine "his" land. In Steam Valley live three attractive women...vying for the love of two strong, competitive men. There is much to gain, and loves and lives to lose.

Short Hikes in Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon by Chuck Dillon: Describes 44 short hikes and weekend backpacking trips. The hikes range from two to six hours, and the short backpacking trips can be completed in a weekend. Special features and topography summarize each hike. Be sure to check his other book on Potter County as well as his pictorial, Pennsylvania’s Grand Canyon: A Natural & Human History.

The Bucktail series by Bill Robertson and David Rimer: Of all the unusual combat units of the Civil War; none was more colorful than the Pennsylvania Bucktails. The trials and tribulations of the Bucktails have been captured in an easy and fun- to- read series for children and adults. William P. Robertson is himself a Civil War buff and re-enactor, and his enthusiasm and technical expertise shows through his writing and photographs. Robertson does most of his own photography and there are several great photos of fellow re-enactors, which bring the books and time period to life.

So many books; so little time, and I didn’t even have room to list all the books Tioga County has to offer. Brrr...It’s time to throw another log on the fire, make a hot cup of tea and hunker down with a good book…

Kevin Coolidge

Kevin works at from my shelf books in Wellsboro PA. Check it out at Be sure to check out his cat’s new book Hobo Finds a Home-A children’s book about a barn cat, who wanted more out of life, illustrated by Susan M.Gage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

"Introduction to Planetary Defense"

Kevin Coolidge

I remember the stars. No, I remember the promise of the stars--the promise of a future antiseptic and soft around the edges. A promise shattered by the hard reality of the arrival of the Overlords. Now, my days are filled with pain and torment. I labor from dawn to dusk, scrabbling across the harsh desert, imploring the dry earth to give rise to the stark monument demanded by the Overlords to symbolize their power and prestige. I’m but a slave, and according to our masters, a slave requires nothing but work, food, and religion, but I require something more. I require hope. No, I require retribution. I grab a rock. Its rough texture fills my hands. It fills my heart. “Bless this rock, oh Lord. May it crush my enemies’ exoskeleton…”

I grew up reading and loving science fiction, and I love reading about aliens. Any story from aliens-are-hungry and coming-to-eat-us, to earth-needs-to-be-demolished-to-make-way-for-an-interstellar-superhighway, but I always found these books in the science fiction section. An Introduction to Planetary Defense: A Study of Modern Warfare Applied to Extra-Terrestrial Invasion is, just like its title says, a book discussing possible events in case an extraterrestrial invasion force one day appeared and started attacking Earth. But it's not a work of fiction.

Nope, the authors are dead serious. The authors, all highly-educated experts in their fields, decided to apply serious science to the matter of defending earth from an alien invasion. They start from the perspective of probabilities. These guys have done their homework and have done a nice breakdown of the “Drake equation”, which Cornell astronomer Frank Drake developed for estimating the number of probable civilizations in the Milky Way. They’ve done the math and according to the “experts” there’s a very good probability of at least one ET visit in the course of the average earthling’s life span.

Hmm, since mathematics isn’t my strongest subject, I’m not going to check their work. But I am familiar with Fermi’s paradox, which is the apparent contradiction between the high probability of extraterrestrial civilizations and the lack of evidence or contact with such civilizations. You know, just where is everybody? For a great book on the subject, check out If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to Fermi’s Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life by Stephen Webb. It gives 50 hypotheses on why we haven’t found empirical evidence of probes, starships, or email from little green men.

Ok, so it’s a pretty big universe, and there’s at least a possibility that we aren’t alone. So what are we gonna do about it? Well, just because the authors are paranoid, doesn’t mean ET isn’t out to get ‘em. SETI(the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) is basically beaming radio signals advertising “Hey, we’re over here”. They might as well put up a neon sign that says “Eat at Joe’s”. Face it, the chance for ET being hostile is at least equal to him being benign and showering us with great technology—such as can openers that actually work.

The authors examine modern warfare and how we might possibly implement our ability to wage war against a significantly advanced alien force. They used various fancy force multipliers and simulations, to come to the conclusion that ET would kick our butt, and that in order to have any chance of survival, a reserve force (the general population) and asymmetrical war (guerrilla tactics) would need to be harnessed to have a fighting chance. These guys motto is “prepare now, survive later.” So, it may come at no surprise that they support a big military budget on such things as space lasers and powered armor. I get the impression that these PhDs just want to blow stuff up in a really big, expensive way.

There are also some attempts to examine invading motives of aliens. The human race knows only two motivators. These are 1. Desire for gain and 2. Fear of loss. Aliens may want slaves, food, or just to pick up earth chicks, but the thing to remember about aliens is well, that they’re aliens. I did find how mankind might react to an invasion an interesting section. Will we believe it? How will our beliefs and response aid or hinder the overall defense of Earth? Will religious, moral, and ethical beliefs influence the decision-making process, and what are we going to do if the aliens end up looking like demons, or cute, fluffy bunnies? For a more complete look at this fascinating subject, I recommend Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials by Michael Michaud. His analysis suggests that contact is a serious - and not necessarily pleasant - possibility....

Whatever you wish to believe, I have to give the four authors credit for some serious chutzpah (courage bordering on arrogance, roughly equivalent to “nerve”) for writing this book. The book did leave me with some thought-provoking questions, and I recall the axiom of my history teacher, “those of you who fail to learn history, will be doomed to repeat it.” It brings to mind the Native American tribes of the New World. Surely, if they had known what the white invaders had planned, they would have never granted him a green card? Hmmm…maybe the surest sign of intelligent life in the universe is that they haven’t tried to contact us…

Comments, questions, let ET phone home or hold an alien autopsy? Email me at Hey, all of our past columns can be found at check out the ones you missed. The cat wrote a book, Hobo Finds a Home: A children’s book about a barn cat who wanted more out of life. Illustrated by Susan M. Gage written by Hobo.