Tuesday 7 April 2020


I'm really excited to be posting about this. Another fantastic edition for #IndieApril, but not one of mine. I'm a huge fan of the Unexplained podcast. I've posted about it before. Exploring strange phenomenon with cautious realism. 
Based on the 'world's spookiest podcast' of the same name comes Unexplained: a book of 10 real-life mysteries which might be best left unexplained....

Demonic possession in 1970s Germany.

UFOs in Rendlesham forest.

Reincarnation in Middlesbrough.

Richard Maclean Smith delves into these mysteries and many more, with a supporting cast bringing to life the unexplained occurrences in this special immersive audio edition.

Based on one of the most successful paranormal podcasts ever, with over 10 million streams and downloads to date, Unexplained consists of 10 chapters focusing on a different paranormal event, from Australia to Germany, the UK to Zimbabwe, using the stories as gateways to a journey beyond the veil of the uncanny, exploring what they reveal of the human experience.

This special immersive audio edition is narrated by Richard MacLean Smith and features full cast re-creations of the unexplained events.

Taking ideas once thought of as supernatural or paranormal and questioning whether radical ideas in science might provide a new but equally extraordinary explanation, Unexplained is The Examined Life meets The X-Files

One thing you would think would be booming during the COVID-19 lockdown is podcasts, but unfortunately the next series of Unexplained has been delayed. Apparently, sponsors have been disappearing during these tough financial times. As this is his full-time job, host Richard MacLean... Smith can't launch Season Five without monetising it. Fully understandable, but a real shame given the captive audience.

Anyway, as I picked this up on Audible, it was just like having an extension of the podcast. Each chapter broken down into one-hour mysteries. I really enjoyed it, and it was nice to hear cases from Africa.

People often say we live in uncertain times, but it has always been uncertain. We are, in a sense, always careering into the unknown with no idea about where things will take us or what we truly know. Or, indeed, to what extent we can ever really know anything. This is why it's as important as it's ever been that we don't retreat from the dark of the unknown but, instead, embrace it whilst we still have the light to which we can return.

It was also nice to hear a bit more about Smith's own interests and influences. As a kid, he gravitated towards TV over books, because he felt books were unwelcoming and aloof, always with 'their backs turned to you.'  Really interesting way of looking at it. To me, books were always my friends. I loved them. But he's right, they do always have their backs turned to you. I never thought of it like that.

I think we probably grew up in the same era: Dungeons & Dragons, Nightmare and Neighbours. Definitely sounds like the 80s to me. Also, couldn't help smiling at the mention of San Junipero. It's impossible to pick just one favourite Black Mirror episode because it is an utterly outstanding series, but I do think this might be mine. I cry like a child every time I watch it. It's fabulously devastating. 

He also slipped in a nice thought on the way in which the invention of writing changed the world and our place as individuals in it:

Here was the chance for anyone to be able to exist in print. You would know we existed because it said so, right there. It equipped us with the tool with which, even in the most forgotten and marginalised of corners, like a New York graffiti artist of the 1970s, you could scream your refusal to be ignored, in fire and thunder, emblazoned on the side of subway carriages as they rolled out of the Bronx.

I think that might have been in the chapter on modern folklore, which also introduced me to the concept of the Gutenberg Parenthesis. I had to think about it for a moment, but once I understood, it was quite a fascinating concept. The idea, as I think I understood it, is that Gutenberg, with the invention of the printing press, was an interruption, rather than an evolution, in the way in which people communicate.


Before the invention of copyright and printing, which showed ownership of work, knowledge was mostly communal and shared within societies. As a society, we tell stories, swap information, wives' tales, folklore - nobody really owns it and we're not entirely sure what's true and what's made up. (Then comes Gutenberg with his printing press and, for the first time ever, the content of each copy of a book is identical, the information is immutable, and sources can be traced and referred to. People respect the written word. Publishers are the gatekeepers who ensure content is factual and of a certain standard. Scholars study it. Print becomes authoritative. Once the ink dries, it's as good as set in stone.)  Because we don't know what's true and what's not, and nothing really belongs to anybody anyway, we're free to borrow what we like and shape stories and information to suit our tastes... and that's how the internet was born.

So, either side of the printing press, the flow of information within communities and societies is much looser. Ownership of an idea is secondary to the idea itself (think memes), information is usually imparted in bite-sized chunks in a language most people can comprehend and stories and ideas - as well as 'facts' - are constantly mutating with the collective. In between ye olde methods of communication and the hyper-modern internet was Gutenberg's printing press - which tried to formalise, factualise, standardise and consign to ownership thoughts, ideas and the written word in general.

We usually think of the invention of the printing press as an evolutionary leap forward. But what if it was just a hiccup? Certainly something to contemplate.

Another word I learned was nocebo. With a placebo, people have been shown to think themselves better because they believe that the treatment they are receiving will work. Apparently, the nocebo effect is the opposite of that. People think themselves sick because they have an adverse mental reaction to the idea of medication or treatment. The power of the mind is a truly fascinating thing.

I do highly recommend getting hold of a copy, and if you haven't already started the podcast it's a great way to pass the time in lockdown. If you've been in lockdown for a while, it might help you feel a little less weird about talking to the furniture.

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