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.

Image result for mystery creatures of china

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.