Tag Archives: Cryptozoology

Review: Neanderthal: The Strange Saga of the Minnesota Iceman by Bernard Heuvelmans

In Neanderthal: The Strange Saga of the Minnesota Iceman, Bernard Heuvelmans introduces us to a carnival attraction with a mysterious provenance that may be even stranger than advertised.

Heuvelmans, along with friend and fellow cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson, are tipped off to an allegedly authentic “Iceman” on display at a midwestern carnival. Initially suspecting a ruse, both parties soon find themselves shocked by the apparent genuineness of the exhibit. Of course, it wouldn’t be a mystery if everything were so straightforward, and the two soon find their investigation obstructed by the attraction’s owner. His convoluted and inconsistent story telling, refusal of physical examinations, and general aversion to letting the truth see the light of day all hamper further efforts at getting to the bottom of who or what the Minnesota Iceman really was.

Despite having a first rate curiosity at its center, the book has its ups and downs. Heuvelmans is constantly on the defensive, going on repeatedly and at length about the superiority of his approach to the investigation, the closed-mindedness of his peers and the media, and every other perceived flaw which ultimately permitted the iceman to slip through the investigative cracks. The author was clearly hurt by this episode in his life, both with regard to its affect on his professional image, as well as the toll it took on some of his personal relationships (with Sanderson being the most obvious collateral damage). Regardless of the potential accuracy of his gripes though, the defensiveness of the discussion at times borders on melodrama, and eventually becomes a drag on the reader. The admonishment may have been an necessary exercise in catharsis for the author, but quickly surpasses the point where it adds meaningfully to the story.

Heuvelmans also treads too deeply into speculation. The presentation of the facts of the case (the viewing of the iceman exhibit, its movements over the span of a few years, and the activities of the owner, the investigators, and the other bit players) is only about half the full length of the text. As suggested by the title, the author comes to believe that the iceman was in fact a Neanderthal, surviving to modern day. He details, at length, his theories for specifically how such a creature could have been captured and transported to America, ultimately arriving in its final state as carnival attraction. This is followed by a full fledged argument for the general survival and continued evolution of Neanderthals as a species.

On the one hand, it’s somewhat obvious why Heuvelmans wades so deeply into conjecture: it’s another manifestation of defensiveness. He feels he must justify the sheer plausibility of the outlandish claims he’s making. He must convince the world that not only has he discovered a hominid hitherto undescribed by science, but that it is in reality a species thought to be extinct for thousands of years.

These theories are certainly interesting, and to some degree they do present the reader with an avenue to coming to terms with the more basic conclusions of the investigation. The problem with bare speculation is that it poses a double edged sword: rather than the unassailable facts of raw, scientific observation, we now have a long and contrived chain of suppositions, any or all of which are prone to being mistaken. The longer the chain gets, the more likely a weak link will invalidate the entire thing. Basing the viability of his case on the plausibility of a long and convoluted theory risks the opposite of the desired effect: discrediting the author and the more sound aspects of his research by pairing it with inaccurate guesswork. He almost simultaneously decries the closed-mindedness of his peers in the scientific community, while offering as his thesis half fact and half blatantly unprovable speculation.

In hindsight, the years have not been kind to the suggestion that the iceman was a member of the Neanderthal species. As Loren Coleman discusses in the afterwords, advances in research and technology, including DNA analysis, have only served to further diverge the standard image of Neanderthal from the traits observed in the iceman. It seems more unlikely than ever that this classification was correct, and that’s a shame, because it in no way invalidates the fantastic mystery that underlies the story. It simply serves to show how basing an argument on complex speculation can inadvertently detract from the case it was initially intended to support.

In the end, Neanderthal: The Strange Saga of the Minnesota Iceman is still a decent book with a highly satisfying, if frustrating, curiosity at its center. I would still highly recommend it to any armchair cryptozoologists out there, with the caveat that some chapters have definitely aged better than others.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology by Loren Coleman

Tom Slick was a Texas oilman who took an interest in anomalous creatures from a young age. He was fortunate enough to have the wealth necessary to sponsor expeditions around the globe, and today he is most well remembered in cryptozoology circles for his pursuit of the Himalayan Yeti, or Abominable Snowman. Tom Slick: True Life Encounters in Cryptozoology is a biography of Slick’s life, with a specific focus on his contributions to the early days of cryptozoology.

Loren Coleman is the author of numerous books in this field, and is currently the curator of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME. His credentials make him a logical candidate to produce this sort of biography, and it’s clear that a lot of time and effort went into researching the private and somewhat enigmatic individual that was Tom Slick. Having died suddenly and unexpectedly in a plane crash, Tom did not leave behind a formal record of his activities, making it necessary to piece together his story from family members, colleagues, and correspondence.

The text begins with a relatively straight biographical introduction to Tom Slick, addressing his parents, family atmosphere, and general upbringing. This serves as background as we progress toward the main event, which will constitute the remainder of the book: Tom’s contributions to cryptozoology. These early chapters, on up through Slick’s involvement in the Himalayan expeditions, are informative and satisfying, and really shed a great light on his character.

After covering the Yeti years, the content starts to get off track and begins to ramble. Chapter 10, supposedly on the Orang Pendek, somehow manages to discuss neither Tom Slick, nor the Orang Pendek in any real quantity. The following chapter (“Other Cryptozoological Side-Trips”) again makes only glancing mention of Slick, instead choosing to address a couple other cryptids at length. It felt as though Coleman couldn’t quite help himself in turning at least a few chapters of this otherwise-biography into another book of creature tales, justified only by making the vaguest of connections with Tom Slick in the process.

A few appendices follow the main body of the text, the first of which is purportedly an exploration of Tom Slick and potential connections the CIA. Why this would be in an appendix rather than a chapter is not immediately clear, as it is at least a full chapter in length. Sadly, the content is a mess of mostly random facts and coincidences, few of which seem to involve Slick at all. The conclusion seems to be that no, Slick probably wasn’t involved much in covert government operations, and if he was, the book fails completely at providing coherent evidence of the claim. In my opinion the entire section should have just been dropped for lack of relevance.

Finally, as a more material complaint, the editing in much of the text was horrible. It was really surprising to see a book by a seasoned author be released with so many blatant typographical errors. Simple words were misspelled, punctuation wandered, and names changed spelling from one sentence to the next. (I also found the parenthetical reference format less than ideal, but it’s better to be distractingly referenced than not referenced at all.)

It’s nice to see a book paying homage to Tom Slick’s personal, and largely private, quest for the unknown. His role in early cryptozoology deserves to be recognized and appreciated, and Loren Coleman’s research does justice to his ambitions. It’s just unfortunate that poor editing and a lack of focus manage to hinder the enjoyability of the final product.

Rating: 3/5

Review: The Hoopa Project by David Paulides

The Hoopa Project by author and investigator David Paulides offers bigfoot research on a level scarcely found in cryptozoological publications. Paulides dedicated years to interviewing witnesses and visiting locations within the small communities of the Hoopa Valley in California. Hoopa was chosen as a high quality location based on several criteria (explained in the text), and it appears to have payed off.

What really stood out about The Hoopa Project wasn’t necessarily the writing style or presentation. Nor were the individual sighting entries (interviews) particularly sensational in and of themselves. On the contrary, most of the sightings amount to the fairly mundane glimpses or brief run-ins with the mystery creature. What really hits home is how the sum of all the individual puzzle pieces come together to be something altogether more impressive.

Whereas other bigfoot authors generally pull material from anywhere they can find it, The Hoopa Project was intentionally focused on a small geographical area. Stories gathered from people with no connection to one another are often easy to put aside. “If these things were real, people would see them all the time.” Or even, “every town has it’s crazies.” Therein lies the real impact of The Hoopa Project: it’s not a scattering of distant parties; it’s about a large number of people in a relatively small physical space and time. And because the entire study focused on one area, it comes off as a natural environment that a real wild animal (or animals) could continuously inhabit. Bigfoot is not a thing that was seen once in this town and never again. On the contrary, it was spotted repeatedly by people who are essentially neighbors, as any real creature would: coming and going at random. The author turns the whole “no frequent sightings” complaint on its head simply by picking a promising area and sticking with it long enough to produce results.

There is another major element of The Hoopa Project which involved an endeavor to employ a trained sketch artist to draw the bigfoot creature as remembered by several of the best witnesses. This produced some interesting material, also included in the book, with a number of drawings having some fairly intriguing similarities. In the end I came away feeling somewhat critical of the sketch concept. That is not to say I think they were a bad idea, or that I don’t feel the artist chosen did a first rate job, but I did find several areas of concern. The author does not explain in much detail how the sketching sessions actually work (neither traditional criminal nor bigfoot), so perhaps a better awareness of the process may have helped lend credibility to the end results.

Many of the sightings are years old by the time they are finally drawn. It’s a known fact that witness memory is easily prone to corruption from external sources. The mind may alter memories over time without the person ever realizing it, even with something as familiar as other human faces. With huge, intimidating, mystery creatures that aren’t even supposed to exist, it has to be almost impossible to maintain a totally unspoiled recollection of creature characteristics several years beyond an incident. This is assuming that the witness even saw what they think they saw in the first place, considering how stressful and brief and unexpected these events must be.

There is one particular sketch which came out noticeably different from most of the others, despite being from a source trusted greatly by the author. He wonders openly in the text about this disparity, but I think it simply makes my point. It requires no intentional deception for testimony to be faulty, and given the author’s own background in law enforcement, I’m surprised this doesn’t seem more obvious to him. It’s likely as simple as an honest mistake of either the witness’s senses (vision), or memory, or both. And while one sketch makes this possibly more apparent than the others, the reality is it could manifest to some degree in any or all of them.

Further, it’s unclear how qualified a sketch artist with a career of drawing human criminal suspects can be when it comes to accurately depicting wild creatures (humanoid or otherwise). I have no concerns regarding the credentials or integrity of the artist himself, I have no doubt he did the job to the best of his ability, and I have no reason to think anyone else would have done differently or better. But that is not to say I’m convinced that the endeavor is scientifically valid. Was the human element that was so prominent in the drawings in any way influenced, even subconsciously, by the fact that they were drawn by someone with a lifetime of experience sketching humans? Further, is it possible that the artist’s own preconceived notions about bigfoot’s appearance could have subconsciously influenced the end product? Given that the artist interviewed several witnesses a day, and all the witnesses in a short time period, is it possible that later drawings were in any way influenced by the earlier drawings?

As I said earlier, a better understanding of the interview procedure may have helped with mitigating some of these concerns. But ultimately, regardless of both the quality of the artist and the integrity of the interviewees, I’m hard to be sold on the true value of the sketches. There are just too many variables, and of course there’s no way to validate any of the results. A photograph or video may be blurry, but what’s visible is essentially accurate and true, even decades after it was taken. It’s just hard to expect the same of artist interpretations of the aging memories of witnesses, even in the best of cases.

With all that said, I don’t want the issues around the sketches to weigh heavily on the final review. The drawings were interesting, but they are only part of the presentation, and the remaining research methodology really goes above and beyond, and is what makes the book worth reading. You simply can’t find this level of commitment in most other works in the cryptozoology field, and the result is impactful. I’m not sure I can recall any other single work that I’ve read to date which does a better overall job of making the case for bigfoot as a real creature. I’m looking forward to reading the follow up.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Man-Monkey by Nick Redfern

Certain parts of the world are famous for their large hairy hominids: there’s North America, of course, and the Himalayas for the Yeti. Even the isolated Australian continent has its own version of Bigfoot, the Yowie. And while Great Britain may not spring to mind as one of the more well known mystery ape haunts, author Nick Redfern suggests that we should not be so quick to dismiss the British Isles. In “Man-Monkey”, the author takes us on a trip to the European continent, as the tagline reads, “In Search of the British Bigfoot.”

On the positive side, much of the material in “Man-Monkey” is sourced from first hand interviews conducted by the author. The research was a side project of his spanning several years, and he was clearly motivated by a deep personal interest. He was able to visit many of the sighting locations in person, and the paperback text includes an insert of some black and white photographs to illustrate various people and places from the stories.

Unfortunately, for me, “Man-Monkey” never really managed to achieve critical mass. Unlike Bigfoot phenomena from other parts of the world, Redfern’s monsters always seem to avoid leaving behind any convincing physical traces. What we’re left with is a handful of the “momentary sighting of something” types of encounters that, while interesting, don’t really go the full mile in terms of overwhelming evidence. Moreover, the author plays it pretty loose with the variety of strange events to be considered, also bringing topics such as black dogs, ghosts, and shape shifters into the fray. Many of the incidents documented here lack an apparent consistency. The failure to maintain focus further dilutes what is already arguably somewhat sparse source material, and the end result is less of a “there’s a hairy humanoid running around in Britain” type of conclusion, and more of a “people in the British Isles sometimes see odd things.” There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s all a bit more supernatural and haphazard than you might find in some other literature of the Sasquatch variety. There’s also an ever-present autobiographical element which only really serves to pad out the length, and adds little practical value.

My other gripe is a somewhat questionable editing of the final product. Every paragraph was doubly spaced for no apparent reason. Worse, the author seems to have lost control over his adverbs. This particular foible really became increasingly grating the longer I read. I have never seen the word “duly” inserted so often into a single text. (Though there were others overused as well – that one stuck with me.) I’m sure some readers would probably entirely ignore this, but for me, it detracted from the overall enjoyability.

Technical issues aside, at the end of it, “Man-Monkey” left me feeling fairly unconvinced. It wasn’t a terrible read by any means, but it played more like folklore than rigorous cryptozoology. This might be more of a winner for “locals” (or at least “regionals”) with a personal interest in the places involved.

* For other “regional” treatments of Bigfoot phenomena which I find compare more favorably, I recommend “The Yowie: In Search of Australia’s Bigfoot” by Tony Healy and Paul Cropper and “The Beast of Boggy Creek” by Lyle Blackburn.

Rating: 3/5

Review: In Pursuit of a Legend by T. A. Wilson

In Pursuit of a Legend is not your typical sasquatch story. I find bigfoot books generally fall into a couple categories: There are those which seek to document the sightings or experiences of individuals who claim to have witnessed the creature, and then there are the scientific analysis types which attempt to analyze the data from a technical perspective and draw conclusions. T.A. Wilson presents us with neither.

In truth, there really isn’t a lot of sasquatch material to be found here. Readers expecting the concentrated and focused documentation that is more typical of the genre may well be disappointed in this regard (although I certainly wasn’t). Instead, this book contains the story of a man on a personal journey into the wilderness. Yes, his stated goal is to find the mystical primate for himself, but as one might expect, such creatures are not exactly popping out of every tree and shrub just waiting to be photographed. This is not your typical obsessive, sensationalist television documentary with a monster lurking around every corner. No camera crews and no fancy equipment; just a man and his backpack trekking through the woods.

What we have, then, is a story of nature as witnessed through the author’s eyes. More a commentary on bigfoot’s environment, and those who inhabit it, than of the creature itself. We follow the author as he hikes various trails in Pacific coast national parks, and camps among the native flora and fauna, all the time observing and opining on his surroundings. That’s not to say that there aren’t a few unusual occurrences waiting for us along the way, but to focus only on them is, I think, to miss much that this story has to offer.

I have to say that I loved this book. It was not at all what I expected, yet it was also better than I had hoped. I no doubt suffer a bias in that I felt much in common with Wilson’s spirited attitudes toward the wilderness: the beauty of it, the curiosities it holds, and a strong distaste for those who would abuse it. The author is not afraid to criticize people who mistreat the national parks, carelessly starting fires, or littering and polluting the wilds on their pleasure trips. Some people may find his harsh criticism abrasive, but I largely agreed with his attitude, and had no problem with his expressing it.

In an odd way, it’s almost a shame that the book has the sasquatch element to it, as I fear it will cause it to be overlooked by a wider audience who may also appreciate the contents on a less paranormal level. Bigfoot or not, In Pursuit of a Legend is a beautiful story of a man and his time among a fragile and fantastic environment, and I think many should enjoy it regardless of an interest in mythical beasts.

Highly recommended to both bigfoot chasers as well as regular old nature lovers.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation by Chad Arment

Cryptozoology: Science & Speculation by Chad Arment is a worthy attempt at defining the often slippery science of cryptozoology. The book is divided into roughly two halves, beginning with an in-depth explanation of what cryptozoology is and is not, and follows with real-world examples of its practice.

The first half of the book attempts to define, in no uncertain terms, the science that is cryptozoology. The author goes into rigorous detail here, first priming the reader with foundational chapters which address the topic from scientific, logical, and ethnozoological perspectives. This is also the most potentially difficult portion of the reading, if for no other reason than it’s a characteristically dry treatment of scientific principles. If you can make it through the explanation of various forms of logical fallacy, and how scientific fact differs from theory and belief, the rest of the reading will be a breeze. That’s not to say that the introductory material was superfluous or excessive. In fact, I agree entirely with the author’s intent to provide a solid scientific foundation for his work. Ultimately, however, if you recall your school science course fundamentals well enough, you may find these few chapters a bit tedious.

The good new is, things soon pick up speed. The remainder of Part I (“Science”) is spent addressing cryptozoology directly. What is it? What isn’t it? How does a real cryptozoologist practice in the field? Why is it a relevant field of science? What are some common arguments against the existence of cryptozoology, and how can they be countered? These few chapters are the real meat-and-potatoes of book. Arment goes farther than any author I’ve yet read to position cryptozoology as a relevant and worthwhile field of research. If you previously used the term “cryptozoology” loosely, or assumed it to be in any way a sort of catchall for various pseudosciences, this work has a good chance of reshaping your view. The author makes a sound enough case that you could easily see new university courses cropping up for study in this area.

The latter half of the book takes an entirely different track. We now understand what cryptozoology is on paper, so the author takes us onward into the field. He presents real life cases to illustrate and support the material we’ve just been presented, and he manages to do so in a refreshingly broad and original manner. The ensuing chapters cover historical cases which individually demonstrate folklore, hoaxes, and genuine cryptozoological mystery. These pages include large amounts of quoted source material, interspersed with the author’s commentary, and eschews mainstream topics in favor of the more obscure and focused.

All in all, this book really does qualify as a bible of cryptozoology. It goes to great lengths to define the subject as a legitimate field of scientific inquiry, and it follows through with well structured real-life illustration of the important topics. This should be a must-read for anyone who wants to intelligently discuss or otherwise practice the science of cryptozoology.

Rating: 5/5

Review: The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

The Mothman Prophecies is a book by author John A. Keel which claims to tell the true story of mysterious events occurring in the eastern United States during the late 1960s. The tale is told entirely from Keel’s vantage point as a first-hand investigator (and experiencer) of the paranormal happenings in question.

I must say that I began reading The Mothman Prophecies with certain expectations. I had previously been exposed to the exploits of the infamous mothman by various authors in other cryptozoology texts. There was no question that this book would be the authoritative, original source material from which most other writers have since taken inspiration. I was surprised, however, at the diversity of the matter which awaited me.

On the positive side, Keel is an excellent and engaging author. He writes colorfully, and offers a work that will not likely bore any of his audience. It’s also nearly impossible to argue that this story isn’t a “must read” for those interested in the Mothman, or any of the number of other strange incidents which Keel documents here. Having had the unique privilege of investigating and experiencing these events in person, as they were happening, the author boasts a definite authority and purity in documentation. It’s obvious that The Mothman Prophecies has heavily influenced many modern researchers in various fields of the unexplained, making it an entry hard to ignore on any serious paranormalist’s reading list. I must also say that, even if one were to discount its potential as a true story, the book does make a fairly good classic sci-fi page turner in its own right.

Enjoyment and intrigue aside, I did develop some rather serious criticisms of The Mothman Prophecies which I feel could negatively impact some readers. As with most texts, the degree to which these cons influence your personal experience will vary.

First off, Keel blatantly and repeatedly breaks one of the cardinal rules of good scientific documentation; he continuously introduces theories and opinions into his writing. The Mothman Prophecies is laced with personal interpretations of the phenomena being witnessed. In fact, something that really surprised me on several occasions, were the seamless way in which the author would offer what are essentially his beliefs as solid fact, with nary a disclaimer. It’s not uncommon for paranormal investigators to attempt to draw conclusions from their works, but this goes well beyond that. Keels repeatedly debunks and downplays certain popular institutions, including UFO groups and alien visitation theories, while simultaneously replacing them with his own views. He ironically disclaims one ideology as being scientifically unsupportable, while concurrently supplanting it with his own, equally unsupported, theories. Keel regularly writes in a very matter-of-fact manner with explanations for curiosities that I do not believe have ever been accounted for scientifically, even to this day.

The lack of good scientific method is also not limited to the frequent disclosure of Keel’s convictions. I additionally found myself curious how someone as dedicated to investigating the paranormal as the author must have been, could still be so unprepared to gather any data other than witness statements and personal observations. Throughout the book, Keel documents a multitude of occasions where he witnessed anomalous objects and individuals, both by chance and by intent. All this time, he never mentions taking a single photograph or measurement of those in question. In one chapter, we hear how he repeatedly visits a certain hilltop at night to view a recurring colorful orb in the distance, yet he apparently never thought to take photographs, nor to simply go and wait in the location where these lights actually appeared. His lack of ability to take advantage of the seemingly ubiquitous and predictable phenomena makes the sheer legitimacy of some of the accounts suspect.

Getting back to expectations, having already learned of the Mothman character from other sources, I had come into The Mothman Prophecies expecting to read an exhaustive, authoritative volume of documentation on one of my personal favorite cryptids. I was rather surprised to discover, then, that the Mothman creature really only plays a limited roll in the proceedings. This book is absolutely not the standard investigators report that one might expect to find on other monsters such as Sasquatch or Nessie. Mothman here is little more than a supporting character in a large cast of humans, weirdos, monsters, and anomalous objects. The majority of the book, particularly the latter half, is actually spent away from the Mothman, and enters into a huge variety of lights in the sky, men-in-black, UFO contactees, phone tapping, and lots of miscellaneous strangeness. In fact, Keel relates such a variety of bizarre happenings from this period in his life, that it may greatly strain ones ability to believe that the story is the least bit sane and true. The author, rather than being the normal independent observer, actually becomes the central character in what would more easily be viewed as an old school sci-fi tale, had the cover of the book not disclaimed it to be “based on a true events.”

My final gripe, although smaller than the aforementioned bits, is that the writing style here has a tendency to be disjointed. Characters seem to pop up in various chapters, often for only a paragraph or two at a time. It makes remembering exactly who is where and doing what across chapters more confusing than it should be, and occasionally detracts from the ability to follow the overall story. The chapters, likewise, are somewhat hit or miss. They don’t seem to follow any specific convention, some based on people, others on a block of time, and still others on a specific phenomena. The chapters themselves are also subdivided into numbered sections, in a way which at times felt arbitrary and pointless. While there are no doubt multiple ways to tell a complex and chronological story of this nature, it would have been nice had the author and editors simply picked one theme and stuck with it.

Ultimately, The Mothman Prophecies is an interesting work, to say the least. If you want a good paranormal story, you certainly need to look no further. Additionally, if you’re in the market for a first-hand account of the origin of the Mothman or even the other paranormal events around Point Pleasant in the late 1960s, this is really a must read. On the other hand, if you’re a scientifically minded individual looking for responsible investigation of the unexplained, you’re likely to be disappointed by Keel’s very human (and very biased) manner of recounting events, which greatly stains belief and credibility.

Rating: 3.5/5