Review: Abominable Science

If you were like me growing up, you had a stack of Weekly Reader books about the spooky and the supernatural at your bedside. These were the source of maAbominable_Science_cover-576px-300x450ny restless nights for me, in particular books on Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. My friend Todd still speaks with reverence about the Bigfoot episode of In Search Of… with Leonard Nimoy.

We are the ideal audience for Abominable Science, co-authored by a scientist and a writer who was obsessed with the mythology of cryptids (a fancy term for a creature of legend whose existence has not been documented).

The nuts and bolts of the book are simple, yet genius. The authors examine the cases of legendary cryptids (Bigfoot, Nessy, the Yeti) and consider the scientific evidence, essentially disproving, or at least discrediting, their existence.

The first part of this equation is great fun. The second part is like when the mean kids first tell you there is no Santa Claus.

In other words, buzz kill.

The authors devote too much space to debunking the “evidence” of cryptids. Look, we know they’re not real. What makes these creatures so interesting is not whether or not they exist, but rather in the mysteries and folklore that surround them. If Bigfoot did exist, he would no longer be a mystery. He’d be a zoo exhibit. While it is important to show where the science doesn’t add up, the debunking feels a bit like a deposition at times, which isn’t nearly as much fun. (Just ask Paula Deen.)

The other issue I have with Abominable Science is redundancy. The book is divided into sections addressing each of the cryptids individually. Unfortunately, the commonalities between the cases make parts of the narrative redundant.

The result is diminishing returns.

The Bigfoot section is riveting. The Loch Ness section is interesting and very well written, but replace an American forest with a Scottish lake and you’ve got more or less the same storyline. By the third section, we know what to expect: unreliable eyewitness accounts, grainy photographs, unidentified footprints, overactive imaginations and outright deceptions, etc.

So, the book might have been arranged so that it addressed the similarities between the legends at once rather than divided by cryptid.

I also wish the authors had a bit more fun with it. The narrative is playful at times, but the hyperactive debunking misses the point that these legends are, more than anything, fun. Look, we know professional wrestling isn’t true competition along the lines of football or baseball, but its appeal lies not in its verisimilitude, but rather in the storytelling, the characters and the spectacle itself.

Otherwise, wouldn’t WWE have implemented instant replay a long time ago? (Even Bud Selig would have the sense to review and overturn illegal tags and errant three counts.) They would also probably do something about those metal folding chairs that always seem to find their way into the ring.

But perhaps I doth protest too much. At its heart, Abominable Science is not intended to be a buzz kill. It is an enjoyable read that will have you laughing out loud at times—and you might even learn a little science along the way.

So, if you’re the type that can’t pass up a Bigfoot or ghost hunting special on cable television, you will love this book. And though it will confirm that the cryptids in question don’t exist, it won’t stop us from tuning in. If anything, it reinforces the universality of creature mythology and our attraction to fantasy and mystery. (Earlier this year, Syfy debuted its new show, Joe Rogan Questions Everything, with a
full hour devoted to hunting Bigfoot.)

We will always be obsessed with the unknown. We will be happily drawn into those blurry shadows of the natural world. I’m happy to report that we will always remain… In search of…

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