18 September 2023


Mark A. Hall, Loren Coleman, David Goudsward. Merbeings: The True Story of Mermaids, Merman and Lizardfolk. Anomalist Books, 2023.

This is a very strange book. The 'True Story' of the varied crypto-creatures covered in this book is - largely I think in Mark Hall's view rather than the two other contributors - that they are scale-and-tail, fully evolved real animals. And not just animals, but primates, in fact our sea-going cousins.

Hall's candidate for the origin of this hitherto-unknown extension of the Order 'Primates' is the Oreopithecus bambolii, most fossil remnants of which have been found in the Tuscan region of Italy. What makes Hall suggest that Oreopithecus is the ancestor of an entire universe of semi-human sea creatures is the curious formation of its feet, with a big-toe at right angles to the other four. In one great leap of palaeozoological derring-do, he hypothesises that “the tripod like foot of this primate may have developed into the four-toed foot of the North American freshwater apeman.”

Hall takes every every folktale, legend, campfire story or traveller's tale and spooky encounter in the swamps and presents it as a first-hand account of 'scale and tail' aquatic hominids. They seem to come in a great variety shapes and sizes to cover any possible alleged contact account, a bit like UFO aliens, until they all got whittled down to the standard Streiber format.

Sometimes the reported creatures do not fit into even the broadest depiction of an aquatic primate. Hall quotes case from Spain in 1739 when a creature with a tapered head, hairy back and short arms but with very elongated fingers was caught in a fishing-net. Its heels had fins “resembling the winged feet with which the painters represent Mercury”, and a twelve inch dorsal fin. Very un-apelike. But Hall has an answer, the merman is wearing a hydro-dynamically designed suit for speed and manoeuvrability - “this suggests that Homo sapiens were not the only primates learning how to use tools.”

In 1565 a traveller in the Holy Land discovered a 'mermaids skin' in a local market. It consisted of a torso with a fish tail, from the navel up the creature was human, but the head and arms were missing. A part decomposed dugong or other sirenia? No, to Hall the missing head and arms suggest that it was “a water ape's discarded protective gear.”

Almost any report can be shoehorned into an explanation involving aquatic apes. In Australia, Aboriginal people have accounts of merpeople, who sometimes appear to have a fish-like tail and on other occasions are able to walk on dry land. The answer: “These accounts tell us something we have suspected all along in our research. The fish-tail is detachable”. Perhaps, Hall suggests “the fishtail has become less essential for survival and may be more of an aesthetic choice.”

It is remarkable the range of creatures that Hall has corralled into his merfolk menagerie, from the Lizardmen of the Carolinas, to the man-monkey of the Shropshire Union Canal. Any mysterious or folkloric figure vaguely associated with a water feature – and even some from desert regions - can be explained as an aquatic ape. West Virginia's 'Mothman' even gets recruited to the ranks.

But of course there is not the slightest trace of any actual physical evidence, as we former ufologists like to call it. This huge, world-wide population of sea-going primates, and quite a few inland ones, seems to have lived alongside us for millennia without anyone coming across a body or even a discarded 'aesthetic' tail, other than a vague story about a Levantine market five hundred years ago.

So is this a crank book espousing a crank theory? Well I have to say yes. It reminds me more than anything of the 'crypto-terrestrials' promoted by Mac Tonnies, a ufologist who believed in the existence of a race of intelligent quasi-human 'ultraterrestrials' which also had lived on earth alongside us for millennia. Just like the merfolk, the race who were allegedly responsible for the entire UFO phenomenon seemed to manage this without leaving any tangible trace of their existence. [1]

Unlike Tonnies' very vague account of the nature of the cryptoterrestrials, Mark Hall presents us with a wealth of detail, and the greater part of the text is re-telling and transcriptions of hundreds of accounts of strange sightings as 'memorates'. They come from ancient texts, early modern chronicles, nineteenth century accounts of explorers and anthropologists, from modern newspapers, and of course from the stories collected by folklorists, and they are all meticulously referenced after each chapter.

If you can ignore its blindness to the entire world of folklore studies displayed here, there is a lot of interest in the raw data of the individual stories. But it is frustrating being bogged down by the speculative commentary on the accounts, and i am trying hard not to shout things like “but that's what boggarts do as well” (jumping on passing vehicles), “there are no aquatic giant ape-men in Shropshire”, or asking why the Kelly-Hopkinsville 'goblins' are drafted into the theory, but not the much more mer-creature like Pascagoula aliens.

With a wider perspective this could have been a worthwhile book, but it is ruined by the obsessive focus on an evidence-free theory which refuses to accept that the true realm of merpeople, ultraterrestrials and the hundred other cryptids that haunt our planets is the human imagination.
  • John Rimmer
[1] https://pelicanist.blogspot.com/2010/06/aliens-among-us.html

6 September 2023


Philip Mantle and Irena McCammon Scott. Beyond Reasonable Doubt: The Pascagoula Alien Abduction, Flying Disk Press, 2023.

Another year, another book from the Flying Disk Press about the Pascagoula alien abduction of 11 October 1973, experienced by Charles Hickson and Calvin Parker.

20 August 2023


Joshua Winn. The Little Book of Exoplanets. Princeton University Press 2023.

In 1971 I took astronomy classes at Manchester University and one of my lecturers was Professor Zdenek Kopal. He was one of the first scientists in the then new age of space exploration trying to find ways to discover if any of the trillions of stars we know to exist had solar systems like our own and if any of those other suns had planets capable of supporting life like the Earth.

6 August 2023


Tony McAleavey, The Last Witch Craze: John Aubrey, the Royal Society and the Witches, Amberley Publishing, 2022.

Navigating the foreign country that is the past can be tricky. The way our forebears thought is part-familiar, part-strange, and so often appears contradictory. In The Last Witch Craze, Tony McAleavey explores one such apparent anomaly: some of Britain’s most respected pioneering scientists, who were involved in the founding years of the Royal Society, were also ardent believers in the reality of witchcraft. 

26 July 2023


Adrienne Mayor. The First Fossil Hunters; Dinosaurs Mammoths and Myth in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton University Press. Second Edition, 2022. 

You can see the Monster of Troy in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. It is on a vase made in Corinth in the sixth century BC. It shows Heracles killing a monster to which the King of Troy's daughter Hesione had been offered as a sacrifice. 

14 July 2023

RELIABLE WITNESSES. A Guide to the Evidence. Part One

V.J. Ballester-Olmos and Richard W. Heiden (Eds.), The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony, UPIAR Publisher, 2023. 

This book is an important antidote to the UAP frenzy going on in the USA, and in this summary I will attempt to guide readers through the massive amount of information that is contained it its 700 pages. The reliability of UFO witness testimony is covered in seven sections; Case Studies; Psychological Perspectives; On Witness Testimony; Empirical Research; Anthropological Approach; Metrics and Scaling, and Epistemological Issues. 

13 July 2023

RELIABLE WITNESSES. A Guide to the Evidence. Part Two

V.J. Ballester-Olmos & Richard W. Heiden (Eds.), The Reliability of UFO Witness Testimony, UPIAR Publisher, 2023.

Part One of this review covered the first 17 chapters under the Case Studies section, this part reviews the 12 chapters that look at Psychological Perspectives. Part Three reviews the remaining chapters: On Witness Testimony, Empirical Research, Anthropological Approach, Metrics and Scaling, and Epistemological Issues.

5 July 2023


May Sinclair. The Flaw in the Crystal and Other Uncanny Tales. Edited by Mike Ashley. British Library 2023.

May Sinclair (1863 – 1946) was the pseudonym of Mary Amelia St. Clair. She wrote two dozen novels, short stories, philosophy and poetry. Her supernatural fiction is a small but impressive body of work. Sinclair was influenced by the writings of Freud and psycho-analysis in general. She was a supporter of the Medico Psychological Clinic in London. 

30 June 2023


Mark Pilkington and Jamie Sutcliffe (Editors). Strange Attractor, Journal Five. Strange Attractor Press, 2023.

Its seventeen years since we last saw an issue of Strange Attractor Journal, and I think few of us ever imagined seeing a new one in the wild ever again, although we were more than happy with the 92 other titles the S A Press has produced in the interim. So, like an unexpected comet emerging from its millennia-long journey around the sun, here is Journal 5.

28 June 2023


Colin Fleming, Scrooge. Liverpool University Press (Devil's Advocates) 2021.

Anyone expecting a dispassionate review of the 1951 film Scrooge directed by Brian Desmond Hurst and of course starring Alastair Sim as Scrooge and Michael Hordern as Jacob Marley will find the opposite. Fleming's review is a personal homage to the film but also it is very much more than that. It is a personal confession of the importance the film has played in his life.