40 Years On

Hilary Evans with John Spenser (compilers and editors), UFOs 1947 – 1987, The 40-Year Search For an Explanation. Fortean Tomes, 1987.

Hilary Evan, and John Spenser (compilers and editors) Phenomenon, From flying saucers to UFOs - Forty Years of Facts and Research Macdonald, 1988.

These two volumes, edited by Evans and Spencer for BUFORA celebrate the fortieth anniversary of 'flying saucers', They mark an important stage in the maturing of ufology. For convenience in this review I shall refer to the Fortean Tomes book as Search and the Macdonald volume as Phenomenon, With 48 articles in Search and 47 in Phenomenon it is, even allowing for the duplication, impossible to review each satisfactorily. One must be content with general trends and impressions.

In general, Search was designed for the specialist and Phenomenon for the general public, however, to get an adequate overview of the subject one must consult both books, and the contributions to each range from the presentations of original research, to the trite to the frankly ridiculous.

The contrast is remarkable between the sophistication of Mauge, or Meheust, and the naive optimism of Stringfield, Prytz  or McCampbell, or the essentially pseudoscientific presentations by Behrendt, a dated anti-gravity theory far removed from the outlook and concerns of contemporary physics.

The opportunity is often given for readers to make up their own minds between contrasting views of particular aspects of the subject. For example Chalker and Verga on physical evidence; Devereux and Rutkowski on earthlights, or Hopkins and Rimmer on abductions, or between the editors themselves on the whole approach to the matter. On the other hand, treatment of individual cases is not the best. Perhaps getting a Danish writer to summarise overexposed classics (Search, p.48) was not the best approach, It may well be that the only individual case given sufficient treatment is Shough's excellent review of Lakenheath (Phenomenon, p.82),

The general trend of the two volumes is obvious, An extreme divide has grown up between US (or US raised and educated) defenders of the ETH, who invariably express their viewpoint in the most simplistic, ‘people of another shape’, ‘next century's technology’ terms, and the essentially European perception of the UFO phenomena as a psycho-social gloss on natural phenomena.

The 'European' camp is itself divided between those whose primary interest is in the core ‘real phenomenon' – largely seen as geophysically related lights and those whose interest lies in the psycho-social reactions to what may be regarded as the misinterpretations of fairly common objects or phenomena. Within this latter group, some viewpoints see the psycho-social reactions as the product of human culture and imagination, others detect the intervention of some supra-human intelligence (a.k.a. God?) in human affairs. All these groupings constitute a continuum of views about the reliability of eyewitness testimony and the relevance of technological solutions to human problems.

Readers of these books will find a good grounding in the relevance of physical traces, the cultural and psychological background, the historical background, media coverage, the role of photographic evidence, the use of computers, the earthlights debates and the abduction debates, Perhaps a general sophisticated study of the general occupant folklore would have been useful.

The contributions made by the editors to both books are especially valuable. Physically the FT volume is a large, handsome paperback which (despite some typesetting problems) does credit to Bob Rickard in his first venture as a book publisher. By contrast the commercially produced Phenomena; from the Robert Maxwell stable, appears to be printed on civil service lavatory paper. UFOs is required reading, and Phenomenon should also be of interest to many Magonia readers -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia 30, August 1988.

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