By: Gregory L. Reece
Reviewed by: Van Newell
I.B. Tauris Publishers, 2009
There are those of us who are sated with the basic cable specials on Big Foot, Hidden Worlds, UFOs, and the occult, but for most of us, we are really told very little that we did not already know. Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs by Montevallo’s Gregory L. Reece capitalizes on the inherent interest that many people have regarding obscure pseudosciences and faux “alien” technology. Instead of a forty-four-minute “hour long” special of by-the-numbers cotton candy that most of us already really know about Big Foot, Reece goes a much appreciated step further.
Weird Science and Bizarre Beliefs is a wonderful, skip-to-my-Lou of a book for those wanting meatier information while still keeping a fun, slightly detached point of view so as not to bore the reader. In some ways the book conjures up the same kind of alchemy using the elements of entertaining writing and thoughtful investigation bringing to mind such travel writers as Tony Horwitz and Warren St. John, who combine scholarship and intelligence with a romantic soft spot for their subjects. Reece, for example, dryly observes the ratio of math nerds with ambitiously unkempt hair to live human females at the Big Foot and UFO conventions and meetings. It’s an easy, enjoyable, quick read, but I find myself wishing that there was an extra hundred pages or so of material.
The book is broken up into multiple sections on everything from the mystery of pyramids and their possible alien origins to the Boggy Creek creature of Arkansas and everything in between. Reece makes an interesting point, describing the almost religious-like devotion people have for their subjects of “mysterious creatures, lost worlds, amazing inventions.”
Refreshingly, he does not pull a Richard Dawkins and insult the “believers.” Instead Reese celebrates these people’s beliefs, though he does not necessarily agree with them. There is a certain kind of willingness, like an agnostic’s desire to have faith, in Reece’s wanting to believe an ancient advanced civilization exists at the earth’s core or that Sasquatch does walk upon the earth. Like a Cinderella moment, these narratives are fascinating in their own way, and though they, like the fairy tale, are often too good to be true, we are nonetheless glad we have heard the story. And the next time I am in West Virginia I will definitely stop by the town of Point Pleasant to see for myself the giant mothman sculpture. I can thank Gregory Reese for that. Feb 2009
Van Newell teaches creative writing at the University of Alabama.