Thursday, February 1, 2018

Mystery Creatures of China by David C. Xu: A Book Review

There are very few new release cryptozoology books that I get noticeably excited about anymore. Unfortunately, the field is constantly inundated with books covering the same handful of reports with little to no new information or commentary added. This is why when I first heard about the release of Mystery Creatures of China: The Complete Cryptozoological Guide by David C. Xu, I was elated. China is the source of much interest to me, especially the folklore, but it has always seemed odd that for such a large country with such a varied history, that the cryptozoological significance is confined to just the Yeren (which is China's best-known version of the wildman archetype). I was determined to get my hands on a copy of the book and was lucky enough to receive a review copy from Coachwhip Publishing.

I have since read it from cover to cover twice. It is easily one of the most important cryptozoological titles of the past ten years. The book covers over 100 various cryptids and folkloric creatures from around China and is certainly the most extensive piece of literature on the country's cryptozoological significance ever.

Xu decided to split the book into six different categories.

  • Aquatic Cryptids: Creatures of the lakes, rivers, and ocean. This includes the Cyan Goat of Lake Sayram, the chimera-like Hippoturtleox, and the blue-skinned Huponiu which is an ox with a fish-like dorsal ridge along its back. 
  • Humanoid Cryptids: Man-like creatures. This includes the infamous Yeren, the unusual and short-statured Hongliuwa, and the laughing Feifei that is said to eat humans as it cackles. 
  • Carnivorous Cryptids: Various predatory cryptids. This includes the Lanhu or blue tiger, the Bei which is an odd looking companion of wolves, and the brown panda. 
  • Herbivorous Cryptids: Exactly as it sounds. This includes the Qilin or Chinese unicorn and the Guancaishou, the beast shaped like a coffin. 
  • Reptilian Cryptids: Again, exactly as it sounds. This includes the Long or Chinese dragon and the Jiao, a possible surviving sauropod. 
  • Winged Cryptids: Creatures with the ability to fly. This includes the Fenghuang or Chinese phoenix and the Jiutouniao or nine-headed bird. 
The biggest strengths of the book were the wonderful illustrations, many of which are from various historical texts or witnesses, as well as the extensive references. Xu certainly did his homework for the book. But, I must say, the best part of the book, in my opinion, was the inclusion of various explanations that Xu felt were relevant to each entry. Many of the explanations were extensively explained and Xu does not shy away from the skeptical side of things. 

Mystery Creatures of China is a well-written, extensively researched, and covers a lot of ground. I think that many countries besides China would benefit from this kind of research and book. Not only is Mystery Creatures an important piece of cryptozoological literature, it is an absolute joy to read with its colorful creatures and excellent explanations. This is a must have for every cryptozoology library.

You can get the book here.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mothman Dynasty by Lon Strickler: A Book Review

If one asks a cryptozoologist what happened in 2017 concerning the topic, the answer you probably will get before anything else is the Chicago Phantom or Mothman. Way back in the beginning months of the year, a couple odd flying humanoid reports from Chicago were sent in to MUFON (Mutual UFO Network). Blogger and Fortean researcher Lon Strickler got ahold of the reports and began to meticulously catalog and report the many following encounters. 

In my nearly six years as an active cryptozoologist, I have never seen such a large, polarizing, and dividing crypto-news story. Nearly everyone had an opinion. It seemed to come up in conversations on podcasts and at conferences more than any other topic I've seen (besides, perhaps Bigfoot). It was an exciting time for cryptozoology, and in the middle of it all was Lon Strickler. 

I first met Lon back in May 2017 after the wave had been going on for a few months already. He was extremely friendly and we had a good, if brief, chat about our respective opinions and research on various topics. Because of that, and later having the chance to work with Lon at WCJV Radio for a short time, I wholeheartedly believe that Lon is an upstanding person and an effective investigator. 

Near the end of the wave and the end of the year, the sightings were winding down, but the controversy seemed to explode. Both Lon and Loren Coleman were publishing books on the Mothman, and both were covering the Chicago sightings. Coleman and others began to criticise Lon's work and stirred up quite a social media debate on the matter. 

Because of this, I was rather looking forward to reading Lon's book on the topic. I had had Loren on my radio show to discuss his, so I wanted to see the other side of the story if you will. After I read it the first time, I realized that this is something I would need to wait and digest for a while before I made a review. This was mostly due to the controversial nature of the topic, but also because of my own slightly controversial opinions on the matter. This is why my review of the book is a little belated, but I think that it was important for me to find the right words before I tried to enter these rough waters. 

Firstly, I did enjoy the book. It was a fun and easy read. Most of it was taken directly from the eyewitnesses' reports, with Lon gently narrating the story as it progressed. It did feel a little disjointed, as Lon tended to jump around a bit with the various stories and topics he wanted to cover, but that certainly isn't a deal breaker. 

I think my biggest criticism of the book is the lack of skepticism in Lon's analysis of the reports. I do not think that he should automatically think that the witnesses are lying to him or that the only thing the witnesses saw was a big drone, but it is important to examine the physical and known explanations of any mystery encounter. Even if the witness is insistent that they saw a giant bat, and you are inclined to believe them, you still should at least consider many of the alternative explanations. When the alternatives were brought up, it was generally by one of the many researchers and readers of Lon's blog who gave their opinions at the end of the book, but Lon does not address them further than note whether or not he agrees. It's important to remember that people's eyes can be fooled. Quite easily. 

Finally, the book does an excellent job of bringing together the mass of relevant reports in a readable fashion. I think that is where the book truly succeeds. 

Overall, Mothman Dynasty is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, I certainly think that there were some missing perspectives and possibilities. On the other hand, it was a good read and I'm sure that many of my readers will also enjoy it. 

You can buy Mothman Dynasty here.

You can find Lon's blog Phantoms and Monsters here.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Movie Review: Small Town Monsters' Invasion on Chestnut Ridge

As a researcher into and a fan of the unexplained, I always enjoy watching the documentaries Seth Breedlove and the rest of the Small Town Monsters team produce. "Minerva Monster" and "The Mothman of Point Pleasant" remain two of my all-time favorite movies. I am always looking forward to what they will be making next, but I was even more excited about "Invasion on Chestnut Ridge." This was for two reasons. Firstly, the film focuses on the Chestnut Ridge. The Chestnut Ridge is a mountain range that spreads across the western edge of Pennsylvania and just happens to be one of the weirdest and most fascinating places on Earth, in my opinion. Secondly, the film features heavily the work of one of my mentors, Stan Gordon. Stan is one of the main reasons I am where I am today and I always enjoy seeing his work getting more recognition.

The movie opens with a disorienting shot of the Ridge, followed by narrator Mark Matzke's clean, news reporter-esque introduction. Mark begins by informing the viewers that there are places on this planet that appear to be catalysts for the odd and unusual. He mentions Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines, and the Bermuda Triangle before shifting into the Chestnut Ridge. Some of the rich histories of the Ridge is mentioned and then the most infamous case from the Ridge is brought up: the Kecksburg UFO Crash. The Crash is discussed in detail and included some witness testimony from some locals who experienced the event. From there, the movie begins to go chronologically through the Ridge's weirdest cases. You'll see Bigfoot in cahoots with UFOs, birds so big you'll shout "Judas Priest!". and even a werewolf or two. 

The film has a uniquely '80s infused atmosphere that positively oozes the strange. The visuals, sound effects, and special effects all harken back to the B-science fiction and horror films of that period. Yet, the film still accomplished to be informative and interesting, in a style similar to the classic "In Search of..." series. One of the best parts of the movie, as with "Mothman", was the animated sequences reconstructing the encounters. For "Invasion" the animations were saturated with color and were made to resemble old film videos. 

All in all, "Invasion on Chestnut Ridge" is another fantastic entry to the STM collection of movies. I highly recommend the movie to all of my readers and listeners, whether or not they are from Pennsylvania. Be prepared to be shocked, amazed, and thrilled by this throw-back documentary of epic proportions. If you love old sci-fi and horror and unexplained stories of the mysterious, this is the documentary for you. 

You can find the trailer for "Invasion on Chestnut Ridge" here.
You can purchase the movie here.
And you can keep up with STM here.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cryptid Con 2017

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The first annual Cryptid Con was held this past Saturday and Sunday in Frankfort, Kentucky. The event featured some of the top names in cryptozoological research as well as many local brands relating to cryptids and monsters. I was lucky enough to be a speaker at this fantastic event. The Con ran similarly to many comic conventions: two different event tracks, each featuring lectures, Q&As, and panels from some of the top researchers and celebrities in cryptozoology. Other than myself, some speakers who were featured include Loren Coleman, Stan Gordon, Ronald Murphy, David Weatherly, Bruce Campbell, and Lyle Blackburn.
The first day was filled with screenings of excellent documentaries and lectures. After the first day concluded, there was an afterparty for the vendors, guests, and conference attendees. Interestingly enough, around 10:30 that night, the electricity for the whole area went down. That did not stop the party, but it did add a creepy atmosphere to it.
I got to speak on the second day. I discussed my research into Cryptid Livestock Predation and got quite a bit of positive response.

All in all, the event was a fun one to both attend and speak at. If I have the chance, I will definitely go back next year!

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Sunday, August 13, 2017

August 2017 Crypto-Kid Guests

I am proud to announce that I have the next three guests for the Crypto-Kid booked. This will lead us into September. Because I have several guests booked already, I decided to list off who, what, and when for the next few weeks.

August 14th: Tyler Houck. 

Tyler is one of the only other cryptozoologists under 18 in the world. Tyler and I have collaborated on several projects and are good friends. He is the author of Cryptid U.S. which discusses various cryptids around the United States. He is also the writer of the blog Tyler's Cryptozoo. We will discuss Tyler's research into US cryptids and the subject of globsters.

August 21st: Ken Gerhard

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Ken Gerhard is one of the world's premier cryptozoologists. He has written four books including A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts, Big Birds!, and Encounters with Flying Humanoids. He will be coming on the show to discuss sightings of the Thunderbird across America.

August 28th: Chad Lewis

Chad Lewis is the author of over a dozen books discussing various unusual occurrences in the Midwest. His books include Lake Monsters of Wisconsin, The Van Meter Visitor with Kevin Nelson and Noah Voss, and Pepie: The Lake Monster of the Mississippi River with Noah Voss. He will be joining me to discuss lake monsters in the Midwest.

I am quite excited about having these great guests on the show and I hope that you all will tune in.

Who would you like to see on my show? Comment below to let me know!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vintage UFO, Paranormal, and Cryptid Book Collection

Those of you who know me well, know that I collect lots of books about the unusual. I am quite proud of my collection of nearly 250 books on all kinds of strange phenomena. Among these, I actually own quite a few that are fairly old and rare. If you listen to my show, I actually mention my collection quite regularly so I thought my followers might be interested in a small peek into my library.

Here are a few highlights from my collection:

  • They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers by Gray Barker, Second Edition, signed by the author (1956)
  • Invisible Residents by Ivan T. Sanderson, First Edition (1970)
  • Book of Great Jungles by Ivan T. Sanderson, First Edition (1965)
  • The Flying Saucers Are Real by Donald Keyhoe, First Edition Paperback (1950)
  • Man, Myth, and Magic, all 24 volumes, (1970)
  • Practical Zo├Âlogy by Alvin Davison, Ph.D. (1906)

The last one isn't about unexplained phenomena but it is still the oldest book I own and a testament as to how far zoology has come since 1906. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Kecksburg UFO Crash

52 years ago, on December 9, a bright fireball appeared over several states. The fireball eventually crashed outside of small Pennsylvanian town. The case remains open today and the origins hotly debated. While less well known than other UFO crashes, the Kecksburg event is popular in the area today and has caused the small town of Kecksburg to host an annual UFO themed festival every year.
The festival, run by the Kecksburg Volunteer Fire Department, is the perfect blend of small town festival and UFO conference. The event lasts all weekend and includes a parade on Saturday, a hot dog eating contest on Sunday, and a UFO conference on Sunday. I highly recommend attending, the event is a lot of fun and there are numerous interesting vendors (both paranormal/fortean researchers and local craft-makers).
The speakers at the conference are also great. Dr. Brian Parsons, Ronald L. Murphy Jr., and Stan Gordon are all speaking. I will also be giving a talk at the conference. Everything from cryptozoology to UFOs to other strange Pennsylvanian phenomena.
I will have a table where I will be selling CD copies of some of my best Crypto-Kid episodes. I will also be debuting a new map plotting out various regional names for Bigfoot-like creatures, dwarves, and canine cryptids throughout the USA. Finally, I will have several binders containing various examples of my research into several of my current projects.
I hope to see many new and familiar faces there.

You can find out more information about the Kecksburg Crash here.
You can learn about the festival here and here.

Because of my interest in newspaper accounts of the strange, I am including two newspaper articles from 1965 discussing the Kecksburg crash.
The Pittsburgh Press, December 10, 1965, pt. 1
The Pittsburgh Press, December 10, 1965, pt. 2

The Evening Standard, December 10, 1965, pt. 1
The Evening Standard, December 10, 1965, pt. 2