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Search tags: strange-but-true
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text 2016-07-26 04:50
What's in a name?
YES, I NAMED MY DAUGHTER GAYLORD FOCKER. SO FOCKING WHAT!: (OVER 1,000 REAL NAMES OF REAL PEOPLE, ALL WEIRD) By Joseph Joel, no kids. Don't want little ... I was just kidding. (The unbook series) - Joseph Joel

Here's something that looks like it might be interesting. How many strange, but real, names have you run across? Every one of these belongs to a real person.

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review 2016-06-07 00:00
Raechel's Eyes: The Strange but True Case of a Human-Alien Hybrid
Raechel's Eyes: The Strange but True Case of a Human-Alien Hybrid - Helen E. Littrell I want to make it exceptionally clear: I did not go into this book as a cynic. Even if I don’t personally believe in aliens, alien-hybrids, or Star Kids, the ideas are fun to entertain and it could even make a good book if handled right.

RAECHEL EYES is “true story” about an alien-human hybrid, as described by someone who “actually” met her. It’s divided into two halves, the first being a summarized version of how a daughter from a dysfunctional family ended up rooming with a literal alien-human hybrid, Raechel. This narrative shifts between the early 1970s and the mid-1950s, and central characters are Marisa (the daughter of one of the authors), Helen (said author), Raechel (the hybrid), and Harry (Raechel’s adoptive father). The second half of the book is supposed to provide “proof” about Raechel’s existence, but it’s mostly about Helen being stalked and traumatically impregnated by aliens among many, many other things.

Of course, that’s not the point of the book. Oh no, the story’s malleable as butter as far as Helen Littrell and Jean Bilodeuax are concerned. The point of RAECHEL’S EYES is to explain how aliens “really” been interacting with the human race since the 1950s. As in, the book is intended to be nonfiction.

The narrative tries to ground ETs into a workable reality. Secret laboratories, crashed UFOs, lizard men, Star Kids, Men in Black-esque governmental agents… everything short of aliens building the pyramids are brought down to earth (ha) through the experiences of the author of the book, Helen, and her family. It’s one of the few elements of the book that works in theory: Raechel’s integration into the human world mirrors that of Helen (and thus, humanity) integrating into the cosmos. In a book that’s supposed to be about science versus compassion, it could have worked well.

Here’s the problem with “true” stories: they need to co-exist within the time and place they’re set in. Unfortunately, it’s an even worse problem than usual here. However, the book can’t even do that much even before we reach can address the possibly of alien life.

When details DO appear in RAECHEL’S EYES, they’re superficial at best. Period appropriate commodities and slang are conspicuously absent. Despite most of the key events happening in the early seventies, for example, the Vietnam War is never mentioned. Meanwhile, basic facts are often wrong like the day of the Macy’s Day Parade. I frequently had to put down the book and do extensive research on things like the 1970s welfare system, the history of ESL teaching techniques, or treatments for diabetes/blindness, because even correct details felt wrong in presentation. Seeing as the book is supposed to be a very true and very personal story, why was no research or even simple fact checking put into the final product? If the book is unbelievable, it has nothing to do with aliens.

In order to “confirm” the numerous stories of alien contact, the existence of Star Kids, etc., every coincidence on the planet needed to happen to one specific person and her family in order to function as an intimate tell-all. It’s an uphill battle to make a story like this convincing, let alone plausible enough to pass as “true.” That the book already fails before even touching on the story itself isn’t a good sign.

In literature, there’s this concept of the Unreliable Narrator. Essentially, the unreliable narrator is a device used to make the reader question the truthfulness of what they’re being told. In certain genres, like horror, it can be chillingly effective. In nonfiction, it’s nothing but trouble.

In the case of RAECHEL’S EYES, Helen is extremely unreliable as both an author and a character. In Part I, she spends all of her time dragging her abusive husband’s name through the mud, to the point where she seems completely uninvolved in any of extraterrestrial events surrounding her daughter. In fact, Raechel and Helen share almost no dialogue, and it’s made worse by the fact that Helen’s version of events in Part II frequently contradicts, changes, or completely invents new events that happened in Part I to the point that it’s impossible to determine which narrative is supposed to be the “true” story.

Even Helen’s excuses for knowing certain things can’t stay consistent. For example:

In Part I, a few things are explained to Helen.
In Part II, Helen originally claims that some of the events of Part I actually happened to her.
Then she claims Marisa told her everything off camera.
Then she claims Raechel told/showed her everything.
Then she claims Raechel’s adoptive father showed/told the facts to her.
Then she says that Marisa was ALSO a magical alien-hybrid baby, and mother/daughter share a long-distance psychic connection.
Then she just says that Marisa merely told her everything again.

Note that I’m not defining what Helen was told, mostly because she can’t be bothered either. Even ignoring the improbity of some of those claims, it’s never clear how much information was discovered by Helen firsthand, how much of it was secondhand, how she discovered it, and when. Important facts are hidden under a deluge of reiterations of the events of Part I and flashbacks involving evil female doctors, and psychic birds. People who have never before been introduced suddenly have in-depth knowledge about Raechel, or met her in-person despite their complete absence in Part I. No timeline is ever established in either section of the book.

To paraphrase a quote, Littrell and Bilodeaux do seem to understand that writers sometimes include contradictory facts or opinions to strength their own argument, but they haven’t quite grasped why. When people other than Helen describe Raechel, it sounds like they’re describing a completely different person from Helen. The non-Helen Raechel had food allergies, oddly colored skin, and oddly large eyes, but the similarities end there. She doesn’t even wear the giant sunglasses that Helen spent over 300 pages ranting about! In the accounts from the friends and family of Marisa, Raechel left after a suicide attempt—that’s all. No explanation is ever given for the discrepancies.

The primary “evidence” of Helen’s truthfulness are the hypnotic sessions she undergoes for years to remember the “truth” that she’s repressed from herself. While there are many legitimate uses of hypnotism in modern psychology, the use of it to deal with repressive memories has been highly criticized for decades. As such, every single sentence within Part II has to be called into question. This book was written in 2004, long after the infamous false memory/abuse cases that peppered the 80s and 90s. The authors should have known damn well that even if everything in the transcribed logs are completely true, that the hypnotism sessions are not reliable evidence to present to the world. Even ignoring the hypnotism, memories aren’t always factual to begin with.

If I had to choose one singular piece of media to contrast to RAECHEL’S EYES, I would point to the MOTHMAN PROPHECIES. It’s the perfect book to showcase why and where the narrator of RAECHEL’S EYES fails. Where the MOTHMAN PROPHECIES uses numerous (and sometimes conflicting) accounts to discuss UFO sightings and strange phenomena, RAECHEL’S EYES solely uses a mother’s interpretation of her daughter’s and their friend’s experiences. There’s no outside source to collaborate or the statements made by anyone who’s not Helen—not even that of the woman in the middle of it all, the daughter herself. “These interviews/letters I’m allegedly transcribing totally exist because I say so” simply isn’t a compelling standpoint.

I genuinely try not to spoil books, but there’s one last major factor in Helen’s unreliable authorship. There’s a reason that the daughter isn’t around to verify her mother’s story: Marisa died before the book was published. One of the central figures in this in entire story, and she can’t even confirm or deny the actions and opinions attributed to her in the book. We have no way of knowing if Helen’s account of her daughter’s blindness or abusive home life even accurately reflect Marisa’s experiences, either.

It reflects badly on Helen, especially in the context of how the book was written. Part II begins with Helen wondering if Marisa ever existed. She evidently has no concern over forcing her daughter’s family into reliving her tragic death during interviews. She admits to never wanting Marisa, and had difficultly connecting to the girl as a baby. Despite this, Marisa’s POV chapters are frequently spent praising her mother page after page, which I found suspicious even before the reveal. Now, they’re downright disturbing. Taken in conjunction with the fact that Marisa’s real name wasn’t used in the book—a step usually taken to distance the living from a particular work—I have to assume that she did not want to be associated with her mother’s work, even if it is accurate. Her mother made damn sure that we’d never know, either.

There are many morally questionable things in this world that I can tolerate in both life and literature. The exploitation of the dead is not one of them.

Fuck. This. Book.

As much as I would like to end the review there, I can’t. Even if taken as fiction and the disgusting morals of one of the two authors ignored outright, the book fails completely.

Almost everything could be forgiven if the book was written well enough to overcome the hurdles placed before it. The idea that the government discovered aliens, and then said aliens’ children grew up during the Cold War is a novel premise. With enough nuance, could even be presented as possible fact. That hope died on the first page, where the most unconvincing introduction in the universe crash landed into the book, and the subpar writing quality refused to leave.

Look, if you can’t convince me that a college freshman saw a counselor about campus housing, you’re probably won’t convince me aliens exist.

As I mentioned before, for example, there’s no clear timeline. Both parts of the book jump around between the 1950s, 1960s, and the 1970s with little to no indicators when a particular moment is taking place. Key events and conversations are skipped entirely for seemingly no reason. The second half of the book is the worst in this regard, as Helen’s interviewer changes topics at random with no indication as to why. The logs are a jumbled mess, and their transcription is hard to follow due to the constant miscommunication, fragmented sentences, and Helen’s constant abuse of pauses denoted by ellipses. I’m not even sure that Helen knows what’s going on most of the time.

There’s another concept in writing called “Show, Don’t Tell,” which refers to showing a scene rather than telling the readers about it. Unfortunately, neither author seem to know how to do this. We’re frequently told how things are, such as when Marisa and Raechel first meet: the reader is just supposed to accept that “hit it off like sisters,” despite neither having a single conversation recorded with one another. We’re supposed to accept that the logs of part two are completely and wholly accurate despite no evidence to the contrary. We’re supposed to accept Helen has impeccable knowledge of secret government experiments despite her frequent lapses in memory about everything else.

On a side note, one of the few outside sources used to confirm the story is a letter supposedly from the university that Raechel attended, which confirms that a student named Racheal—note the misspelling—had been enrolled there in 1972. You’d think the authors would have gotten the hybrid’s name right; it’s only in the title of the freaking book!

Regardless of her name, I have to give credit where credit is due. In Part I, Raechel might come off as a cliché “too good for this sinful Earth” beacon of purity, but for some reason… it works. There’s this aura of bittersweet nostalgia interwoven into her character, and her naïve innocence perfectly contrasts against the very real and very dark world that she’s been briefly thrust into. The way she hides herself in plain sight is clever—in what decade other than the 70s could someone get away with big sunglasses and full body jumpsuits? —and her heartbreak at others reactions to her true appearance feels sincere. The dissonance between setting, character, and culture works strongly in her favor.

Good job book, you literally did one thing right.

Unfortunately, I struggle to find any words to describe a single person who plays a central role in the story. The “good” characters are generically kind, and the “bad” characters are such one-note villains that they wouldn’t be out of place in a Saturday morning cartoon show. Even Raechel can’t stay the same, as she turns from a sweet, if naïve, girl in Part I into a cruel monster in Part II for no conceivable reason. If the “strange but true” claim cover is to be believed, every single person in the book should be real. They should all have unique and consistent strengths, flaws, and beliefs. However, there’s nothing to distinguish anyone’s personality outside of their role or situation. It only extenuates the problem when “real” interviews of multiple people all read with the same voice and tone as one another.

Everyone aside from the Irredeemable Abusive Husband, the Corrupt Cops Who Brag in Front of Civilians About Being Drug Dealers (yes, really, this happens), the Evil Men in Black, and the Evil Female Doctor acts like their primary functions are to praise the author, Helen Littrell, whenever she appears. The aliens even adore her from birth, because she’s one of the few rare super special humans in the whole world! It’s creepy and inherently dishonest ego-boosting. Yet her actual actions amount to plotting to kill her husband, settling for threatening his entire career instead if he crosses her, shows no remorse for probably driving a girl to attempt suicide, frequently refers to said girl as being soulless, openly admits to not loving her children, and clearly twisted the facts to her advantage every chance she had when writing the book.

But it doesn’t matter if RAECHEL EYES is approached as fiction or nonfiction: it’s objectively nothing. The reader is expected to shovel in all this shit without question. RAECHEL’S EYES is disrespectful to its readers on every level, and that’s unforgivable. The sooner I forget about this dreck, the better.
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review 2014-11-13 04:57
13 Ghosts: Strange But True Ghost Stories - Will Osborne

This was a fun, quick read.

 

I'm quite sure I am at this point pretty far out of the target audience, but I absolutely adored this sort of thing when I was younger, and this held up quite well. The stories were short, but well-written. I'm a sucker for the "true story" ghost stuff, so the angle worked for me. 

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review 2014-08-12 00:00
13 Ghosts: Strange But True Ghost Stories
13 Ghosts: Strange But True Ghost Stories - Will Osborne 13 Ghosts delivered on what it promised to be - it was a collection of thirteen "true" ghost stories.

All of the stories in the book were older than I was expecting them to be. Most of them were stories that were originally recorded back in the 1700 - 1800s. As I learned from [b:Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds|162120|Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds|Charles Mackay|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1328696270s/162120.jpg|1033191], hauntings were as popular back then as they are today, and people went through great lengths to fake paranormal phenomena.

The stories are introduced with scenes from the tales written as though they were a third person narrative, with the facts of each story following afterwards.

This was a quick read - it was interesting, but don't expect to be scared by any of the stories in the collection. Unless you're scared of historical accuracy.
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review 2013-12-11 23:50
The Dancing Plague
The Dancing Plague: The Strange, True Story of an Extraordinary Illness - John Waller

An interesting look at the year 1518, the year a woman began to dance and didn't stop for days. Others joined her and soon many many people were overtaken by this strange plague. 

A look back at the ever present threat of starvation due to famine, the corruption of the church who instead of helping their people, took from them. The fire and brimstone preached, the harshness of God and the belief that God was unhappy with them. The darkness of the end of the middle ages, the superstitions ever present are all presented in this book. Therein lies my problem, yes background information was needed to understand the setting that allowed a event such as this to occur. However, I think way to much was presented over and over again, repetitious in some parts. The last three chapters were probably the best, research into the mind and other strange things that have occurred throughout history. The mind is a very powerful instrument indeed.

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