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Unexplained Natural Phenomena
Keith Tutt
TV Books, 303 pages

Unexplained Natural Phenomena
Keith Tutt
Keith Tutt has written four screenplays, including a three-part adaptation of Martin Amis's novel Other People for the BBC, and in 1987 was a winner of the National Screenwriting Competition in England. Tutt started producing TV documentaries in 1991, winning a BT Science Journalism Award for the 1993 program about Sizewell "B" power station, "Killing Us Softly?"

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Thomas Myer


For as long as I can remember, I've been fascinated with two subjects:
the occult

(Okay, so I'm also keenly mega-aware of the opposite sex. But that's a topic for another time.)

Because one of my New Year's Resolutions has been to write more focused SF Site book reviews, I won't necessarily be talking microchips and socket bindings in here, more like psychokinesis and other Jedi mind tricks.

I have, over these 28 years, collected, read, reread, traded, bought, sold, and dog-eared many a title in the occult/New Age section of the bookstore, including Anton LaVey's Satanic Bible (a must read for anyone who smugly thinks they know what a Satanist is), Montague Summers' A History of Witchcraft (it's okay), and Colin Wilson's staggering The Occult: A History.

(Not to mention that one of my favourite novels of all times is Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which, in a mind-raping performance, Eco turns into a repository For All Things Knights Templar Meets Afro-Brazilian Religion Meets Rosicrucianism Meets the Kaballah Meets Cryptography Meets Semiotics. Only Neal Stephenson and Robert Anton Wilson, in my humble yet incredibly well-reasoned opinion, have intellectual packages that measure up.)

Plus, I'm also an X-Files fan too, so you could say I've got affection for the topic at hand. And I guess I can be considered something of an authority on matters occultish -- or at least, an authority on what people have written about the occult.

So when our venerable managing editor put out last month's call for books, I snapped up as many of the TV Books series on creepy-weirdo stuff: alien encounters, ghost stories, and the like.

I decided to review Unexplained Natural Phenomena because it looked like the most basic introductory text of the group (and because it fell out of the mailbag first).

Like Gaul, Unexplained Natural Phenomena is divided into three parts:

Powers of the Mind
Mysterious Beings
Incredible Happenings

In the first section, Keith Tutt deals with such topics as thoughtography, precognition, psychic surgery, and telepathy. He uses a very engaging conversational tone that is pleasant and easy to read; the prose is nimble and unencumbered by the pedantic rhetoric of academia. Although Mr Tutt uses case studies to illustrate his topics, they make for lively reading.

The second section, Mysterious Beings, covers (among other topics) the Yeti, Nessie, vampires (including the chupacabra), zombies, and angels. This section was the most fun for me, as I was first drawn to this entire area of thought by books on the Yeti and Loch Ness I foraged during third grade sessions in our elementary school's media centre (I guess we weren't old enough to have a library).

I especially like how he leads the section on werewolves (one of my favourite critters):

"The werewolf -- the transformation of a man or woman into a wolf -- has a history that reaches back as far as Ancient Greece and beyond. Paulus Aegineta, writing in 7th-century Alexandria, was the first practitioner to describe the medical condition of 'melancholic lycanthropy.' Sufferers were said to have ulcerated legs from moving about on four legs; they were drawn to wander the night howling until daybreak. The illness was believed to be caused by an excess of black bile, one of the four elements in the body, an ailment also known as melancholy."

As you can see, the prose is meaty enough to attract both the novice and old hand, but spry enough to not bore.

The last section, Incredible Happenings, has sections on ball lightning, spontaneous human combustion, dowsing, the face on Mars, and crop circles. (I told you this was fun stuff!)

If this book were a boxer, I'd say it was a bantam weight: fast on its feet, wiry, but packing a mean punch.

Copyright © 1999 Thomas Myer

Once upon a long while ago, Thomas Myer decided that he was getting too much sleep. So he gave it up. This decision has of course enhanced not only his productivity, but also his writing (and not to mention filing an edge in his interpersonal affairs). In his latest bout of insomnia, he blew away a Windows NT box and loaded Linux on it -- the same box on which he is writing this review.

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