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SAVAGE--Adventures in research

  • Wednesday, July 23, 2014
  • by
  • Sean Ellis
  • If you’re a fan of James Rollins or Steve Berry, then you’re used to seeing an ‘afterword’ where some of the stranger bits of historical or scientific lore employed in the stories turn out to be based solidly on fact, which makes them even more intriguing. I have thought about doing the same with my novels, and perhaps one day I will, but for now, this will have to do.

    This week marks the release of SAVAGE, which I wrote with Jeremy Robinson. It is the latest installment in the Jack Sigler/Chess Team series, and my third (or fifth, depending on how you count it) outing with the characters.
    Without giving you any spoilers, I thought I would share a few of the historical and geographical curiosities that found their way into the novel.
    SAVAGE brings the Chess Team to the Dark Continent—a term that was coined in the days of European colonial explorers like the notorious journalist Henry Morton Stanley. Stanley figures prominently into the story, mostly because of a curious footnote in his biography.
    If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Dr. Livingstone I presume” then you’re already a little bit familiar with Stanley. In 1871, Stanley set out on a widely publicized expedition to find Dr. David Livingstone, a Scottish missionary who had been missing in Africa for nearly three years. Stanley found Livingstone after an arduous journey, and accounts of the meeting famously reported the two men greeting with the aforementioned salutation. Like most sound bites, there’s more to the story. Although Stanley reported it that way, we’ll never know for sure what really happened that day, because the pages of Stanley’s diary that contained the firsthand account of the meeting were removed by Stanley himself. Why? What was the most famous explorer of the nineteenth century trying to cover up?

    I can think of one possibility....

    There are two African lakes that figure prominently into SAVAGE. One of these is Lake Natron in Tanzania. To truly appreciate Lake Natron, you need to see it…or at the very least, see some pictures of it. Lake Natron first came to my attention when I read about how the waters can actually turn birds and other animals to stone!

    Okay, it’s not quite as dramatic as it sounds, but it’s not an exaggeration. The alkaline water can have a deadly effect on animals that ingest it, and in some cases, if the animal dies in the lake, the dissolved chemicals in the water can cause rapid fossilization. If that made it sound too boring, just look at these pictures, and you’ll see why Lake Natron had to be in SAVAGE.

    Most of the action in the story however takes place near Lake Kivu, which sits on the border of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. One of the really interesting (and scary) things about Lake Kivu is what lies beneath, which in this case is an enormous bubble of methane and carbon dioxide. How enormous? Estimates put the carbon dioxide bubble at 256 cubic kilometers and the methane at 65 cubic kilometers. Oh, and incidentally, all that gas is the result of volcanic activity under the surface. Methane, as you probably know, is explosive, and it probably wouldn’t take much to set it off, but the real danger is from the carbon dioxide. If the gas trapped at the bottom of Lake Kivu were to rise to the surface—the technical term for this is ‘limnic eruption’—it would suffocate the people living on the shore. A similar event occurred in 1986 at Lake Nyos in Cameroon. The eruption happened quickly, with no warning, and the odorless, colorless cloud moved at more than sixty miles per hour, instantly snuffing out all animal life within sixteen miles of the shore. More than 1,700 people died, along with many thousands of animals.
    The bubble underneath Lake Kivu could be as much as five thousand times bigger, and there are more than two million people living in several cities on the shore. Steps are being taken to reduce the threat of a limnic eruption at Lake Kivu, but the problem with bubbles, as any kid will tell you, is that sometimes when you mess with them, they pop.

    On a lighter note, there’s a little Easter Egg in the story that I hope will provide fodder for discussions among Chess Team fans. It relates to another interesting historical footnote which has to do with one of the most famous wristwatches in the solar system. I present the following excerpt from the official NASA website without comment.

    “NASA supplied each of the Apollo astronauts with a standard issue Omega Speedmaster Professional manual-wind wristwatch…
    The timepiece was intended to be worn for intra and extra vehicular activities including the moonwalks on all the missions. Inside a pressurized environment the watch was worn conventionally but during EVA (extra vehicular activity) the astronauts wore the watch on the outside of their pressure suits, the long Velcro strap was designed to accommodate this change in 'wrist' dimension…

    Of special note, it is understood that Buzz Aldrin's watch was lost in transit in or about 1971 whilst en route to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum whilst Buzz was attempting to loan the item for display. Its current whereabouts are not therefore known. It may well be the first watch worn on the moon. Buzz recounted in his autobiography that, during the EVA, Neil Armstrong left his own Speedmaster in the Lunar Module as a replacement for the in-cabin timer which had malfunctioned.”
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    Steven Savile on Writing Across Genres

  • Tuesday, March 25, 2014
  • by
  • Dave
  • Steven Savile, author of the Ogmios thrillers, is a guest on the Nook Press blog:

    I suppose I should start by introducing myself. So imagine we’re sitting in a smoky bar in Cuba with the music playing and the far-too toned dancers shaming us slightly out of shape writers as we smoke our cigars and sip a nice single malt in the sweltering heat. What? That’s not how you imagine a writer’s life? Okay how about a garret in Soho with a wire-framed bed and a typewriter straight out of Naked Lunch perched on the windowsill, filthy curtains filtering the sunlight, the pasty-faced writer hunched over the keys bleeding onto the white page? Better or a bit too noir? Depending on how we’re meeting I’m Steve, though I could be Alex, or Aaron, and pretty soon to a whole new generation I’ll be Matt...

    Read the rest on the Nook Blog
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    The World Beneath by Rebecca Cantrell

  • Friday, February 14, 2014
  • by
  • Dave
  • The World Beneath (A Joe Tesla Novel) is the newest thriller by author Rebecca Cantrell. While I've read her collaborative efforts with James Rollins, this was my first foray into her solo fiction, and it did not disappoint. Tesla is a millionaire whose agoraphobia forces him into the New York City underground. While this is a setting that's been explored in other thriller novels (Chaos by David Meyer and Reliquary by Preston and Child come to mind) there are always new depths to plumb (pun intended) and new discoveries to be made. Thus, it's one of my favorite places about which to read.

    Tesla and his service dog Edison are soon on the run from the bad guys and the "good" guys. Twists and surprises abound in this entertaining adventure story! I particularly enjoyed Tesla's character and the way in which his major flaw impacts the story. Cantrell has done a fine job with what I hope is the first in a series.

    Here's a little more from the publisher:

    Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell drops you into a vast, dark world: 100 miles of living, breathing, tunnels that is the New York City underground. This subterranean labyrinth inhales three million bustling commuters every day. And every day, it breathes them all out again... except for one.

    Software millionaire Joe Tesla is set to ring the bell on Wall Street the morning his company goes public. On what should be the brightest day in his life, he is instead struck with severe agoraphobia. The sudden dread of the outside is so debilitating, he can't leave his hotel at Grand Central Terminal, except to go underground. Bad luck for Joe, because in the tunnels lurk corpses and murderers, an underground Victorian mansion and a mysterious bricked-up 1940s presidential train car. Joe and his service dog, Edison, find themselves pursued by villains and police alike, their only salvation now is to unearth the mystery that started it all, a deadly, contagious madness on the brink of escaping The World Beneath. 

     *I "read" the audiobook version, which is very well done. It's narrated by the superb Jeffrey Kafer, who has worked with many of my favorite thriller authors, including Jeremy Robinson, Bob Mayer, and that David Wood guy. Great work!


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    A "Thrilling" Social Media Experiment

  • Monday, January 27, 2014
  • by
  • Sean Ellis
  • As an author, there are no words I hate writing more than "buy my book."  Oh sure, I want you to buy it, but I don't want to come across as desperate.  I may post a link to my latest release, but by and large, using social media to advertise my books is the Internet equivalent of standing at the freeway on-ramp with a cardboard box sign that says "Will Write Books for Food!"
    There's no denying that social media is a powerful platform, but I'll admit to being a little stumped when it comes to figuring out new ways to make good use of it.  Whenever somebody figures out a new way to get a little publicity, pretty soon everybody does it and suddenly it doesn't work anymore.  I call this "the supermarket checkout line effect."  You know, when you're waiting in a long line at the store and a new checkout lane opens.  Unless you're the first person in that new line, your situation won't change that much.
    I've been pondering how to use various social media platforms for a while now, trying to come up with something unique and interesting to say, and one idea that I've been kicking around is finally about to bear some fruit.
    Now, when I say social media, I'm referring to interactive platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so forth.  Technically, people have been socializing on the Internet since it began, instant messaging with IMC chat and posting back and forth on newsgroups and forums, but these dedicated social networks have thrown the doors wide open.  Initially, this was a great way to get the word out about a new book, but it's become a very crowded room, and unless you've got something distinctive to say, no one really listens very closely.  And unless you can say something interesting every day, you aren't going to make a very deep impression.
    A couple years ago, I had the idea of telling a story in daily Twitter posts.  If you aren't a Twit (as I lovingly call my fellow Twitterers) then all you need to know is that Twitter posts are limited to 140 characters, including spaces and punctuation. How long is that?  Well, this paragraph hit 140 with the "s" in the word "Twitterers."
    As I pondered this idea further, I realized that this limitation might give me the opportunity to explore a new kind of storytelling.  Much like the daily comics in  newspapers (not Cathy or Andy Capp...I'm talking about the superhero strips and daily dramas) where a story advances only a frame or two at a time, I would have to devise a way to tell the story in a brisk, precise fashion, with no words wasted. 
    I'm pleased to announce that I'm finally ready to launch God Dance, a Twitter adventure.
    Here's how it will work.  Every weekday, starting today (January 27, 2014) I will post the latest "frame" of the story on my Twitter page @thrillersean .  I will post a few times throughout the day, and probably on  my Facebook wall as well.  Every Friday, I will collect the week's progress together and archive it on a Tumblr blog where I will also post additional material relating to the story. In fact, you should visit it right now to learn about the hero and get an advance look at the mystery at the heart of God Dance. http://twitteradventureseries.tumblr.com/
    I hope you'll join me for this unique experience.  I don't know how it will turn out, but I can guarantee it will be an adventure.


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    Interview with David Sakmyster

  • Friday, January 24, 2014
  • by
  • Dave
  • 1-   You've recently released your Morpheus Initiative series in a single omnibus edition. Tell us about the series.

    The Morpheus Initiative series was really born out of a phase in my reading where I was obsessed with all the mysterious structures around the world and the apparent clues as to lost wisdom and technology… And then I came across a book about modern day psychics – and the CIA program using ‘remote viewers’ to spy on enemies and foreign locations.   That got the ball bouncing around in my brain – what if there’s this team that could actually see into the past, albeit with difficulty and often unpredictably? From there I took as my first target (or in the field’s lingo, ‘objective’), the Pharos Lighthouse – one of the ancient wonders of the world. There are all sorts of legends about it housing the treasure of Alexander the Great and being full of traps and puzzles.  So that was the basis for the first book – and of course I worked in a neat angle on government conspiracies and an ancient society determined to protect the secrets.  And from there, I wanted the team to tackle other mysteries – Genghis Khan was next, and that was a lot of fun speculating on his tomb’s location, since there are several multi-million dollar expeditions going on right now to find him. And from there, the characters set their sights higher – and I  worked in secrets of NASA and the Spear of Destiny, among other quests.  There are also two short story prequels in the omnibus that help fill in the blanks about some of the major characters, and allow them their own adventures (one involving the Taj Mahal, and another the Grand Canyon).
      

    2- Kevin J. Anderson described your work as Indiana Jones meets the X-Files. If you had to choose one, would you be Indiana Jones or Fox Mulder?

    I’d love to say Indiana Jones, because I look good in hats, but I’ve always associated with Mulder, feeling like we share a common crusade to discover the truth, no matter where it takes us or how many enemies we make along the way.


    3- You write the sort of globe-trotting adventure I really enjoy. Of the various places you've researched and written about, which is your favorite and why?

     My favorite would have to be Mars, because I somehow doubt I’ll get there in my lifetime.  But if I had to choose a terrestrial location, I would stick with the first one, the Lighthouse of Alexandria.  As a premiere model of engineering and architecture, a beacon of hope and light, a symbol that influenced so many later designs including our Statue of Liberty (see my book 3), the Pharos was really the most compelling and fun research subject.  And to read so many varied descriptions of it, trying to sort through the legends and word of mouth descriptions after its collapse, and then speculate on what may have been its true purpose, was a great experience.


     4- What's next for you?

    I’m currently finishing a standalone thriller about modern-day druids and environmental warfare.  I may also work in a collaboration about zombie dinosaurs, and then, in the not-so-distant future – possibly a return to the Morpheus team. Got some new mysteries needing to be solved...

    To learn more about David and his work, visit him online at www.sakmyster.com.
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    Desecration by J.F. Penn

  • Wednesday, January 22, 2014
  • by
  • Dave
  • Desecration is a dark mystery-thriller by author J.F. Penn. Best known for the ARKANE thrillers, a series
    that blends action-adventure with DaVinci Code-style history and mystery, Desecration represents a slight divergence from Penn's established path.

    In Desecration, detective Jamie Brooke and clairvoyant Blake Daniel investigate a grisly murder, with a single artifact left as the only clue. As Brooke and Daniel race to solve the crime and stop subsequent killings, they stumble across even more mystery and intrigue. Penn explores the subculture of body modification, as well as issues of grave robbery and genetic engineering. 

    Though I love the ARKANE books, which fall right into my reading "wheelhouse," Desecration pulled me in from the get-go. Penn has crafted a perfectly paced, meticulously  researched mystery that is sure to please. I hope we haven't seen the last of Brooke and Daniel!

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    White Fire by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

  • Sunday, December 22, 2013
  • by
  • Dave
  • There are only a few authors for whom I'll drop everything and read when a new book comes out. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child top that list. I enjoy their solo work but am addicted to their Agent Pendergast series. 

    Over the course of the first twelve books in this series, Preston and Child have, on occasion, carried certain story arcs over three books, creating trilogies within the overall series. Book twelve completed a three-book cycle relating to Pendergast's wife, Helen. The books incorporated several recurring characters and covered a great deal of territory, both literally and figuratively. 

    White Fire narrows the focus down to Agent Pendergast and Corrie Swanson, a character whom we first met in Still Life with Crows, and who has grown in importance in recent installments. Corrie travels to a Colorado ski resort to conduct forensic research and finds herself on the wrong side of the small town powers that be and in the crosshairs of a serial killer.

    White Fire immediately became one of my favorite Pendergast novels. It's tightly plotted and has just the right mix of contemporary and historical mystery. Highly recommended!
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    Natural Born Thrillers!

  • Sunday, December 15, 2013
  • by
  • Dave
  • One of the most exciting things about being a reader is that moment you discover an author whose work you love. I remember my first Clive Cussler book (Inca Gold), my first Preston and Child book (Riptide), my first Matthew Reilly (Ice Station), my first William Dietrich (The Rosetta Key) and so many more of my favorites. For me, that moment of discovery becomes a lasting memory because it's the beginning of a long relationship between me and the stories and characters that author crafts. 

    I'm pleased to be a part of a special publication that will give readers the opportunity to experience that moment twelve times over. Natural Born Thrillers is an e-book bundle of twelve complete novels by top-notch thriller authors. The bundle features works by Jeremy Robinson, K.W. Jeter, Sean Ellis, that David Wood guy, and many more. What's more, for a limited time, you can get the entire bundle for 99 cents! Don't miss it!


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    Time Travel – Maybe they’re here now.

  • Thursday, December 5, 2013
  • by
  • Greig Beck
  • "Man can go up against gravitation in a balloon, and why should he not hope that ultimately he may be able to stop or accelerate his drift along the Time-Dimernsion, or even turn about and travel the other way."  H.G.WELLS, The Time Machine

    In countless books, movies, and now even in many physic’s dissertations, time travel has been a subject of wonder and possibility. Is it because we would have the opportunity to rectify past mistakes made by ourselves or someone else? Or perhaps be able to leap ahead to see what the future holds, and then jump back with either great news or a warning. For whatever reason, it is a fascinating subject that is fast moving out of science fiction. 

    I love the idea of time travel, and have used it twice recently – once in the Valkeryn series where Arn is thrown forward into a world where humans don’t exist anymore. And then again in a short story written for SNAFU (coming soon), where a team has to ‘clean up’ past mistakes. Time travel – I want it to be true - and perhaps it is. 

    From a physics perspective, if someone can travel faster than the speed of light, then theoretically, someone could travel in time. In 1905, Albert Einstein published his special theory of relativity. According to Einstein, space and time are one, and therefore, time travel is a possibility. Albert Einstein realized that if you move faster, the ticks on your clock actually change. If you can travel close to the speed of light, time will slow down for you – so, potentially, a single moment for you, the time traveler, might be years in reality time. 

    The time travel concept dates back thousands of years. In India in the ancient Indian text of the Mahabharata, written in the eighth century BC, King Raivata is described as
    traveling to the heavens in a chariot to meet with the creator god Brahma, only to return to Earth hundreds of years in the future. Some researchers believe this Hindu tale may be one of the oldest records of successful time travel in the ancient past. In the story, a king called Raivata is taken into space to see the gods, when he returns to the Earth he finds that many hundreds of years have passed. For him, it has seemed days, but for his kingdom, it has been centuries. This is the exact kind of thing that would happen to space/time travelers.

    Also, in Japan in the 15th century during the Muromachi period, there is the legend of Urashima Taro. It describes the tale of a fisherman’s visit to the protector god of the sea – Ryūjin, in an underwater palace for what seemed like only three days. When he returns to his fishing village, he finds that it’s been 300 years that he’s been gone. Everything that he knew of was long gone, his family, friends and his way of life, everything had changed in what seem to be for him only a few days. 
    In the story, a young fisherman named Urashima Tarō is fishing when he notices a group of children torturing a small turtle. Tarō saves it and lets it to go back to the sea. The next day, a huge turtle approaches him and tells him that the small turtle he had saved is the daughter of the Emperor of the Sea, Ryūjin, who wants to see him to thank him. The turtle magically gives Tarō gills and brings him to the bottom of the sea, to the Palace of the Dragon God. There he meets the Emperor and the small turtle, who was now a lovely princess, Otohime. Tarō stays there with her for a few days, but soon wants to go back to his village and see his aging mother, so he requests Otohime’s permission to leave. The princess says she is sorry to see him go, but wishes him well and gives him a mysterious box called tamatebako which will protect him from harm, but she also tells him never to open it. Tarō agrees and takes the box, jumps on the back of the same turtle that had brought him there, and soon is at the seashore.

    When he gets to his village he is confused, as it looks different. He asks if anybody knows a man called Urashima Tarō. They answer that they had heard someone of that name had vanished at sea long ago. He discovers that 300 years have passed since the day he left for the bottom of the sea. Struck by grief, he absent-mindedly opens the box the princess had given him; from which bursts forth a cloud of white smoke. He is suddenly aged, his beard long and white, and his back bent. From the sea comes the sad, sweet voice of the princess: “I told you not to open that box. In it was your old age …” The bottom line is; if a turtle tells you to do something – listen! 

    We have all seen the pictures of modern looking people in ancient photographs – some clearly faked, but others inexplicable. There have been strange inscriptions on pottery, or images carved into stone as rock art, and I think just about everyone has seen the strange clip from Charlie Chaplin’s premier of The Circus in 1928 at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Two individuals walk across the screen behind a zebra.
    But one of them is talking on a small device jammed to her ear – it that a mobile phone? But in 1928? Watch the clip from about 1min 20sec, and you decide - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DRvVN39ZwtM

    There are many who refuse to believe time travel will happen, or has every happened, due to the paradoxes it would creature. Paradoxes such as: 

    The Grandfather Paradox: The grandfather paradox is described as if the time traveler went back in time to the time when his grandfather had not married yet. At that time, the time traveler kills his grandfather, and therefore, the time traveler is never born when he was meant to be. If he is never born, then he is unable to travel through time and kill his grandfather, which means he would be born, and so on. This paradox concept is the major plot line in the Terminator movies – the robot
    goes back in time to kill John Conner, his mother, his first wife, his dog, etc (and still failed!). An equivalent paradox is known as auto-infanticide – going back in time and killing oneself as a baby.

    Kill the Science: Another paradox example would be using scientific knowledge to invent a time machine, then going back in time and (whether through murder or otherwise) stopping a scientist's work that would eventually lead to the very information that you used to invent the time machine (once again in Terminator). An equivalent paradox is known as auto-infanticide – going back in time and killing oneself as a baby. 

    The Hitler Paradox: A variant of the grandfather paradox is the Hitler paradox or Hitler's murder paradox, in which the protagonist travels back in time to murder Adolf Hitler before he can instigate World War II. Rather than necessarily physically preventing time travel, the action removes any reason for the time travel to occur, along with any knowledge that the reason ever existed, thus removing any point in travelling in time in the first place. 

    However, a number of hypotheses have been suggested to avoid the paradox, such as the idea that the past is unchangeable, so in the above grandfather paradox, the grandfather must have already survived the attempted killing – paradox averted! And let’s not get into the concept of alternate timelines and parallel universes. 

    And my view? Well, if a person/race was clever enough to create time travel, then they’d also be clever enough to avoid the paradoxes. And even if there was an anomaly event where an accident happened, then what would stop them from going back and correcting it? So what if they did make significant changes along the time line that altered our current reality – how would we know? There would be no occurrence of, one day
    I’m in a blue sedan, and the next I find I’m driving a chariot – your memory would be altered to reflect the new reality. As far as I was aware, I always drove a chariot! 

    For all we know, time travelers might already have come and gone, or be here right now. You might have passed them on the street or in the hallway – time travellers going about their business, perhaps with a purpose in mind – and perhaps something is about to change.

    My Favourite Time Travel Movies:
    1. The Time Machine (Original).
    2. Loopers.
    3. Terminator 2.
    4. 12 Monkeys.
    5. Time Travellers Wife


    With thanks to Wikipedia and the ancient-code.com 

    Time Travel – Maybe they’re here now. By Greig Beck for ThrillerCentral 06Dec2013

    Greig Beck is the multi-award nominated, best selling author of Beneath the Dark Ice, Dark Rising, This Green Hell, Valkeryn, Black Mountain and The First Bird. Today, his books are published globally in ten languages in print, and online and in audio format.

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    Spontaneous Human Combustion – burn baby burn!

  • Tuesday, November 12, 2013
  • by
  • Greig Beck
  • Spontaneous human combustion (SHC) – death by fire – but a fire that has no apparent
    source of ignition. Is it a chemical reaction, the work of angels, or just a collision of other obscure
    factors? The only thing everyone agrees on is it is extremely rare.

    Even today it is a phenomenon that is heavily debated as to whether it is real. It certainly sounds like the work of a science fiction writer… until we start to look at the evidence and delve into the historical records. It seems it’s not as rare as we thought, and actually occurs when we least expect it – eating dinner, watching television, or quietly reading a paper in ones favorite armchair. All that can remain (if anything) in the aftermath of an SHC event is shoes, a tuft of hair on top of a scorched skull, or a blackened couch. 

    When did we first hear about it? A hundred years ago? A thousand? What about references in the Torah and the Bible to the Fiery and Holy Display of Divine Wrath? And then this: When God is displeased with a sinner whose existence is so grievous and a danger to all creation, then He sends forth His Angels of Death who purify the sinner with a Great and Fiery Consummation! So many references, but so long ago and impossible to verify.

    But there is more reliable historic evidence of SHC. It appears from the year 1673, when Frenchman Jonas Dupont published a collection of incineration cases in a book titled: De Incendiis Corporis Humani Spontaneis. Dupont wrote the book reading about the strange case of Nicole Millet, in which a man was acquitted of the murder of his wife when the court agreed that it was spontaneous burning that had taken her life. Nicole was found reduced to ashes in her bed, leaving just her skull and finger bones. The straw matting was only lightly damaged. Dupont's book on this strange subject took it from being a myth to something to be debated in the courtroom. 

    One hundred years later, on April 9, 1744, Grace Pett, 60, an elderly woman from Ipswich England, was found on the floor by her daughter like a log of wood consumed by a fire. Her clothes nearby were undamaged. Getting back to books, the phenomenon gained wider exposure in the 19th century after popular author Charles Dickens used it to kill off one of the characters in his novel “Bleak House.” When critics accused Dickens of legitimizing something that didn’t exist, he pointed to research showing numerous historical cases. 

    In St. Petersburg, Florida, 1952, one of the most startling cases of SHC occurred – Mary Reeser, 67, spontaneously ignited while sitting in her favorite armchair. When her neighbor tried to enter her room, and touched the doorknob, she burned her hand. On finally entering, it was found that Mary Reeser had been reduced to a length of smoking backbone, and a scorched skull shrun
    ken down to the size of a softball. All this occurred within a circle just four feet in diameter. There was one part of Mary that escaped the incineration – one of her feet, still inside a black satin slipper rested just outside of the burn circle. The police report stated that Mary potentially caught fire when her highly flammable synthetic nightdress ignited. But another medical examiner refused to agree the findings, saying that with the 3,000-degree heat required to reduce the body to ash then the entire apartment should have exploded as well. Outside of the four-foot burn circle, the damage was next to insignificant. Most importantly, no chemical accelerants were ever found.

    Henry Thomas, a 73-year-old man, was found burned to death in the living room of his council house on the Rassau council estate in Ebbw Vale, south Wales, in 1980. His entire body was incinerated, leaving only his skull and a portion of each leg below the knee. The feet and legs were still clothed in
    socks and trousers.

    In December 2010, the death of Michael Faherty in County Galway, Ireland, was recorded as "spontaneous combustion" by the coroner. The doctor, Ciaran McLoughlin, made this statement at the inquiry into the death: "This fire was thoroughly investigated and I'm left with the conclusion that this fits into the category of SHC, for which there is no adequate explanation." 

    Just recently, in August 2013, Rahul, a two and one half months-old infant from Tamil Nadu, India, was admitted to the Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital in Chennai. Reports that the boy may be suffering from SHC, resulting from gases being excreted from his skin. Dr Thenmozhi, Assistant Professor in Pediatrics Department, Kilpauk Medical College and Hospital said this was the first time that he has come across such a case. "It's a very rare case, it can occur in any age group. It is the spontaneous explosion of burning material from the sweat," he said. Doctors had recommended a series of sweat, urine and blood tests to check whether Rahul has inflammable substance in his samples. 

    Natural explanations Almost all cases of SHC involve persons with low mobility, due to advanced age or obesity, along with poor health. Victims show a high likelihood of having died in their sleep, or of being unable to move once they had caught fire. Cigarettes are often seen as the source of fire, as the improper disposal of smoking materials causes one of every four fire deaths in the USA.
    Natural causes such as heart attacks may lead to the victim dying, subsequently dropping the cigarette, which after a period of smoldering can ignite the victim’s clothes.

    The "wick effect" hypothesis suggests that a small external flame source, such as a burning cigarette, chars the clothing of the victim at a location, splitting the skin and releasing subcutaneous fat, which is in turn absorbed into the burned clothing, acting as a wick. This combustion can continue for as long as the fuel is available. This hypothesis has been successfully tested with animal tissue (pig) and is consistent with evidence recovered from cases of human combustion. The human body typically has enough stored energy in fat and other chemical stores to fully combust the body; even lean people have several pounds of fat in their tissues. 

    Science always has the answers – or does it? 

    Just when you thought science had shed light into yet another dark corner, along comes adherents of SHC who point out that the human body has to reach a temperature of roughly 3,000 degrees in order to be reduced to ashes. Unless SHC were a genuine factor, it would be impossible for the surroundings not burn as well. Other suggested causes include bacteria, static electricity, and obesity, stress and, most often, excessive booze consumption. But yet none have been substantiated by science so far. One recent hypothesis comes from British biologist B. J. Ford, who in August 2012 described his experiments with combustion in the magazine New Scientist. According to Ford, a buildup of acetone in the body (which can result from alcoholism, diabetes or even a specific kind of diet) can lead to spontaneous combustion. 

    I can, and does, happen. Unfortunately, it seems to take people when they are alone, as if it the victims are randomly selected. My view is that there are no answers yet – so this stays firmly in the ‘open mind’ file form now! 

    So remember, it's better to burn out than fade away. Kurt Cobain 


    Spontaneous Human Combustion – burn baby burn! GREIG BECK, 13 November 2013.

    Greig Beck is the multi-award nominated, best selling author of Beneath the Dark Ice, Dark Rising, This Green Hell, Valkeryn, Black Mountain and The First Bird. Today, his books are published globally in ten languages in print, and online and in audio format
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