30 October 2018

Has Non-Fiction Become Dumber?

Over the past few years I've been reading fewer new books. New fiction is, for the most part, self-indulgent, meaningless narcissism wrapped inside a veneer of pretentious twattery. And non-fiction has taken to become more like fiction.

Take a look at books from a few decades ago. Greats like Isaac Asimov wrote great fiction, and also great non-fiction, and you could tell instantly which genera you were reading. Today that line between fiction and non-fiction has blurred to the point where memoirs contain largely fabricated material and novels contain pages of footnotes and references to news articles and scientific papers.

One great example is The Great Hedge of India by Roy Moxham. You start with a fantastic premise: the second largest man-made barrier the world has ever seen was once a giant thorny hedge that ran across India and today almost no one knows anything about it. Then you read the book and 80% is the author talking about himself, his travels, and his research in writing the book you are now reading. Almost nothing about the book is about the hedge itself, the book is little more than a self-referential exercise in seeing how recursive a book can be by referring to itself and the process of writing it as much as possible.

Or The 37th Parallel by Ben Mezrich. The premise is fantastic: UFO sightings and animal mutilations cluster around the 37th parallel, which is the same area where most secret US military bases are located. You then read the book and you find absolutely nothing on the phenomenon of the 37th parallel until the very last chapter. You find very little about UFOs either. Almost the entire book is about a crazy man who lost his job because he was obsessed with UFOs, the furniture he bought his wife to get her to stop nagging him about his obsession with UFOs, the misadventures he had with his equally crazy sister, and the billionaire frenemy he has who started a top secret corporation that works with the government to build private spacecraft. And it's not even written like a biography, it's written like a novel where the author injects his personal opinions throughout. About 10% of the book is fact, the rest is a story with a plot and characters and a twist ending and melodrama concocted to sell books.

Michael Drosnin's Bible Code series contains a handful of intersting facts about a statistical study of the Torah woven together with a whole heap of narrative about how the author is Indiana Jones and has to save the world. Elaine Pagles' books on early Christian history similarly contain as much narrative about the author's own quest to research and write the books as actual history.

New non-fiction has being transformed into some sort of quasi-fictional "thriller" where a kernel of fact is sewn into a narrative with characters and settings and PG-13 dialogue in order to appeal to the dumbed down twitterati and snap-crackle-and-pop chatters with three second attention spans and fifteen word vocabularies who like mass-market corporate "edgy" comedy vomit. Ten page magazine articles are expanded with loads and loads of filler to create 250 page books so wannabe Hollywood screenwriters can keep their heads above water.

17 October 2018

Deadhead Mountain

Donnie Eichar in his book Dead Mountain: The Untold True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, tries to censor everyone who reveals the bullshit "secret" "true" reason behind why 9 experienced skiers died in the Ural mountains mysteriously. He is not interested in the truth, he wants you to buy his shitty book. Well, here's the "secret" and here's why it's a total load.

The shape of the Kholat Syakhl mountain produces a Kármán vortex street when the wind hits it just right. These vortices of air generates infrasonic noise that 22% of the population are highly susceptible to (and, coincidentally, ALL 9 skiers were in that 22%). The noise causes them to go crazy and stuff ("hijacking their bodies" and "wreaking havoc on their minds") after they listen to it for a few hours. They run out of their tents naked in a panic. There was no moon that night, and the temperature was 40 below freezing. The combination of extremely low temperature and injury from bumping into things in the dark killed them.

Of course, it doesn't explain how ALL 9 of the skiers were in that magic minority that is susceptible to infrasonic waves like this. It doesn't explain why one skier was missing a tongue and another was missing eyes. It doesn't explain why they had internal crushing injuries and broken bones but no bruises or any external injuries. It doesn't explain why a few bodies had dark orange skin and were highly radioactive. It doesn't explain why no one before or since, of the thousands of people who have been there, have ever experienced this phenomenon, including the natives who live in the area, and multiple teams of researchers who investigated the deaths.

It doesn't take into account the lights they saw in the sky (which were later identified as Russian missile launches, as the mountain is near a top secret military base) and any possible motive the military would have for killing them to keep their missile tests a secret.

No reason is given why the author did not go to the mountain and set up any equipment to listen for these infrasonic waves. He's throwing away all other hypotheses as obviously wrong and setting up his own as obviously right without actually conducting a test to see if these waves are actually produced by the mountain or not? He didn't actually conduct the test? He based it on similarly shaped mountains that produce kind of similar infrasonic effects that have never ever killed anyone so far.

I shit you not.

There, I just saved you the $20 for the book and ruined the author's fun by exposing the secret ending.

Now, here's what we do know:

•FACT: This was during the coldest time in the Cold War when both the US and USSR were testing a great deal of new weapons.

•FACT: There is a Soviet military base within the vicinity of the mountains where the hikers were staying.

•FACT: There were reports of lights in the sky were confirmed to have been Soviet rocket tests.

•FACT: The Soviet Union has a long history of testing air-burst weapons such as the Father of All Bombs.

•FACT: The internal crushing injuries the skiers received are consistent with the powerful shock waves produced by these types of explosives.

•FACT: The Soviet government had every reason in the world to cover up the deaths as they had with other accidental casualties of military experiments, such as the anthrax leak at Sverdlovsk in 1979.

Can this hypothesis I've cobbled together over the past ten minutes explain everything about the Dyatlov Pass incident? No. Does it do a better job at explaining at least some of the details than the total bullshit explanation a Hollywood screenwriter came up with and repackaged as non-fiction because he wanted to get a movie deal and drum up positive press for his potential future pay day? Absolutely.

By the way, I've used first-person pronouns with less frequency in this review than the author did in the original book.

15 October 2018

Devil's Pass

Saw a movie called Devil's Pass. It's a "found footage" movie, meaning it's shite and there are scenes in porno night vision. A group of kind of plain looking people and a fatty with a face like a jack-o-lantern who have never acted before in their entire lives are making a mockumentary about the Dyatlov Pass incident, where some Russian hikers died under mysterious circumstances.

Of course they make sure to leave the cameras rolling during all the parts that have absolutely nothing to do with the documentary they are working on just in case they die and someone decides to make their home movies into a horror flick. This includes night vision sex, I shit you not. The "film makers" actually record themselves having sex. Of course fatty cheeseburger, who is the main character and her character's name is her real name because none of these people are actors, is jelly and some guy gives her a bottle of Jack because we're going to be camping in the woods for one night and have to have sex because we have to earn our R rating.

There's an avalanche or something and the kind of plain girl gets thrown into the camera with a wide-the-fuck-open mouth because that's how everyone dies. The guy who does her gets his leg broke and he's surprisingly coo with two amateurs resetting the bone, which is sticking out of his leg, by hitting it with a board while someone off camera breaks some celery. I'll admit that was the one moment where I winced. Celery really does sound gross.

So some Ivans find them in the morning because they stupidly launch a flare that goes all of ten feet and they shoot the cripple because they're racist against cripples. Fatty Cheeseburger, Jack, and some other guy then go to the bunker they found the other night and they go inside because being locked inside a Cold War bunker to die in agony over several days is better than getting shot, or taking your chance running knowing the people following you have a finite number of bullets and they've already used several. And there's like trees and shit, you can't just duck?

Inside they find two tunnels leading off in the same general direction and the lights start blowing out because zombies. You know it's going to be zombies because it's a found footage film, it has to be zombies. So they go down the other tunnel and find pictures of the Philadelphia Experiment, which was originally featured in Playboy, believe it or not. Jack just so happens to be an expert on the subject.

Inside the tunnel they find obviously CGI zombies who kill the other guy. Fatty Cheeseburger and Jack lock themselves into another room and find a worm hole with spider veins. They theorize that the worm hole will take you wherever you focus, but it has to be someplace fresh in your mind. Now even though I could picture every square inch of my house with my eyes closed these two idiots focus on the outside of the bunker where two men with guns are waiting for them.

They then appear outside the bunker as corpse men in 1959. Reds take them inside the bunker, which was new at the time, and undress them for some reason. They also take the camera, which is rather considerate, and place it where we can see the bodies because that's exactly what a soldier would do when he finds a piece of alien technology with a couple of bodies. The Reds leave and we see the two naked bodies hanging from meat hooks for some reason and we see... surprise!... NOT! The two zombies are really Fatty Doo Doo and Johnny Walker! They've been alive/undead inside the tunnel since 1959 because it's a found footage film and there's only so many different ideas we can use for those.

The sad part is IMDB shows production stills and they had some really decent makeup effects for the zombies. Why they decided to go with early Tomb Raider quality CGI is beyond me.

Oh and that camera Ivan Drago places on the operating table? He left it on since 1959 and the batteries didn't go dead until 2013 when Fatty and Jack found it. I got to get me some of those batteries. The batteries in my camera last 45 minutes tops.