Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book Review: Investigating the Impossible

INVESTIGATING THE IMPOSSIBLE: Sea-Serpents in the Air, Volcanoes that Aren't, and Other Out-of-Place Mysteries
Ulrich Magin
Anomalist Books, 2011

Magin's book reminded me of the late Willy Ley's collection, On Earth and in the Sky.  Magin is interested in everything odd (he calls such things "fortean," although he's the only writer I've ever seen use the title based on Charles Fort's name without a capital F).  He has a good idea what can and can't be explained with the all-purpose label "folklore." Whether it's claims of petrified ships found deep in mountains, anomalous dirigibles, or Italian lake monsters, Magin gives them a fair shake and a well-documented analysis.  When something clearly is not literally true, like phantom armies in the sky, he explains how such stories came to be and how they are reshaped and exaggerated over time. 
My special interest is cryptozoology, and Magin turns up some interesting facts.  He notes, for example, that a there are no clear "sea serpent" reports from residents of the Iberian peninsula, but there are stories from passing English ships, which leads him to muse on the cultural origins of such creatures.  One can read on websites that an ancient king named Sargon (one of two to bear the name) met a sea monster, but Magin shows this is a fabrication no matter which Sargon it's ascribed to.  In a long-ago sea monster case Bernard Heuvelmans wrote off as a hoax, Magin argues it was instead a most interesting phenomenon, a Mediterranean undersea volcano. 
Magin includes no illustrations, which is unfortunate given he does talk about some images in the text.  There are a few mistakes in the book that seem to have slipped through editing (there are not 364 days in a year!), and the print on some pages was oddly faded. These detracted from my enjoyment of the the book: I gave the book 3.5 stars on Amazon and would have given it 4 if not for these points. However, this is still a very good disquisition on the impossible, improbable, or simply unique.

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