Monday, July 25, 2011

William R. Corliss (1926-2011)

Primarily known for his Sourcebook Project since the early 1970s, and author of numerous science-based books and publications long before that, physicist William R. Corliss confronted the scientific community simply by throwing peer-documented ticking anomalies back in its face, accompanied by his own sensible commentary. With depth, detail and patience, Corliss' Sourcebook Project churned out book after book, each crammed with newly formatted reprints from, generally, older scientific journals. While Charles Fort was usually considered a journalist commenting upon strange and bizarre accounts often found in newspapers of his era -- topics which might force little more than a chuckle out of stuffy scientists intent upon dismissing things outside of their realm -- Corliss' approach involved digging up respectable literature regarding subjects that science can't exclude or run away from, such as human and animal enigmas, antiquities which (logically?) shouldn't be, planetary and celestial oddities and a wealth of other sticky brain-teasers and conundrums. His own philosophy was eloquently summed up via a quote from William James (see image) which appeared at the front of many of his books. The Australian human head illustration and caption shown appears in the volume whose cover appears here.

Sitting in the lobby of a federal government institution back in the eighties, I was thumbing through a stack of magazines when I noticed an old government-issued booklet about nuclear energy authored by Corliss in (I think) the fifties, but wasn't too surprised because I had already been purchasing and reading his Sourcebook Project volumes since the seventies. In fact, during the latter seventies and then the eighties, Bill Corliss kindly began sending along copies of his new releases which I frequently had the honor of reviewing for Pursuit, journal of the now long-departed Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained. During my years reviewing books, I wrote about Corliss' volumes more than any other author's works, and every one was a winner. Turning the tables a bit, Corliss eventually used a quote or two from my reviews in brochures advertising his new releases, and I felt humbled by his reference. Whenever he felt it necessary to send a brief note about something, usually written informally on a mere scrap of paper, each note was always signed simply "Bill," lacking any hint of self-importance or the arrogance that one might occasionally or even routinely expect from people of his scientific and editorial stature. For me, the charm of his commitment and honest nature merely reinforced the importance of his project.

Those aware of Corliss' immense contributions and reminders about what science was intended to be will miss his labors, and we hope family members or others with similar dedication will carry on the Sourcebook Project's ideals with pride.