High Strangeness

Thursday, August 25, 2016

It's a Good Time to be a Space Geek

Wow! Only 69 cents when new!
I recently came across this little gem of a book at an antique store in Antioch, IL, and I had to buy it. "Space Flight: The Coming Exploration of the Universe," published as a part of the "Golden Library of Knowledge" in 1959, was a very special part of my childhood. When I was growing up, the complete "Golden Library of Knowledge" was laid out on a book shelf in my house, along with the World Book Encylopedia and the companion "Childcraft" junior encyclopedia, for me and my many brothers and sisters to use when we doing our homework or just wanted to expand our little minds. I don't know about my siblings, but I read those books a lot.

I could barely contain my excitement when I found this original copy of "Space Flight" in near-mint condition for just $4.00. I snatched it up and read it the minute I got home. The book, written by science fiction author and editor Lester del Rey, and beautifully illustrated by John Polgreen, describes in spare but dynamic prose exactly how the human race will break away from the earth's gravity and send rockets to the moon, to Mars, and beyond.

Amazingly, del Rey even makes the case for women traveling in space! "Girls will also want to go out into the Space Service," he wrote. "They will probably do at least as well as men. For long and difficult trips, women may be preferred, since it has been proved that they are able to stand monotony better than men." 

Ouch.

It's ripping good reading, but I'm pretty sure that I was more attracted to Polgreen's amazing illustrations of astronauts floating about in space, assembling giant space stations and zooming around in bottle-shaped "space taxis." And, yes, female space ladies can be seen in one amazing illustration of the command center of a space station... While man astronauts in business suits do all the important thinking and pointing and stuff, two lady astronauts in dresses and heels sit at futuristic desks and answer the space phone. Imagine a scene from "Mad Men" set on a space station and you get the idea.
In case you forgot what an Encyclopedia looked like...

Anyway, it was pretty cool to reconnect with this artifact from my youth just as astronomers in Europe announce the discovery of an earth-like planet orbiting Proxima Centauri, our nearest neighbor in the galaxy. Not only is it an astounding discovery on its own merit, it also means that "Lost in Space" was right all along! Who can forget that the space-faring Robinson family from Irwin Allen's cheesy 1960's science fiction series was trying to reach the Alpha Centauri system in the hopes of colonizing an earth-like planet? Crazy. I mean, how could "Lost in Space" be right about anything??

So, yeah, it's a pretty good time to be a space geek. And you know what else? We seem to keep on having times when it's good to be a space geek all the time now!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Ozzy and the UFOs

Lately I've been beginning to turn my attention to my upcoming "Roswell Debate" with Donald Schmitt ("The Children of Roswell"), to be held this October 15 at the Milwaukee Paranormal Conference.

I probably shouldn't say this, but I've been contacted over the past few months by people who want to give me "ammunition" to use against Schmitt in the debate, and while I appreciate the gestures of support, I honestly don't think I'll need the help. I actually don't even want the help; this debate is between me and Schmitty, and I don't want to be seen as being anyone's mouthpiece. And, really, how hard is it to find ammunition for a Roswell debate with Don Schmitt?

Case in point: the host of the Paranormal Conference, who, I must say, is a marketing and PR demon, just sent out a link to a recent TV show in which Don Schmitt put in an appearance and talked up the so-called July, 1947 "Roswell Incident," and boy is this show full of ammunition. The series, "Ozzy and Jack's World Detour," is on the so-called "History Channel" and features heavy metal monster, family man and "history nerd" Ozzy Osbourne and his son Jack visiting historical sites. In this particular episode, the father & son team travel to New Mexico in an RV to see the "Roswell Crash Site," and it's a hoot!
Where will those Osbournes turn up next?

I had never seen any of the Osbourne's TV shows, and I'm not a fan of Ozzy's music, so I was prepared to dislike the hosts, but they won me over pretty quickly. Ozzy and Jack have a great relationship, and they are naturally charming and funny on camera. Which is good, because about 80% of the show consists of them being goofy and screwing around and apparently forgetting what the show is supposed to be about.

Because of all the goofing off, they don't actually get around to talking about Roswell until the final 10 minutes or so of the hour-long show. When they do, Jack reveals himself to be a true if somewhat tentative believer in the Roswell saucer crash mythology, while Ozzy is a die-hard skeptic. At one point Jack says, with a straight face, that there are "over 400 witnesses" to the Roswell Incident, but, of course, offers nothing to back up that claim. 

"It's all bollocks, if you ask me," Ozzy says.

When Ozzy and Jack meet up with Don Schmitt and Roswell science teacher Frank Kimber to drive to the top-secret "crash site," both Jack and Ozzy have hilarious reactions: Jack comments on how weird it was to pull up beside Schmitt's and Kimber's truck, "and they were like, eyes forward, 'Follow us,'"; Ozzy at first dismisses Schmitt and Kimber as "f**king aliens," then later worries that the two UFO guys could be serial murderers who plan to lure him and Jack into the desert and kill them. Honestly, that was my favorite moment of the show.

Ozzy predicts that the top secret "debris field" to which Schmitt and Kimber are leading them will be just an empty field, and he is, of course, right. It could be any field, anywhere in the world. "This is history," Jack insists. "This is stupid," says Ozzy, for once not needing his mumblings to be subtitled.

But son Jack persists, and soon Schmitt is pointing out the physical features of the "debris field" and speechifying about how Bill Clinton still agonizes over the fact that he was not able to get to the bottom of the Roswell mystery while he was president. Next up, Kimber shows Jack and Ozzy some artifacts that he keeps in a super-special top-secret case. He describes the tiny fragments as being somehow unearthly, but Ozzy isn't having any of it:
"This is phenolic epoxy resin," Kimber says of one fingernail-sized fragment. "It shouldn't be here. They didn't have it in '47." 

"How do you know it's not recent?" Ozzy asks. Kimber's excited smile vanishes and he physically shrinks to about two inches high, right on camera! "This, I don't," he admits with a shaky voice. "It hasn't been tested."
So, there you have it. On national TV, a Roswell "expert" in league with Don Schmitt presents an artifact as being evidence of a flying saucer crash, then, when asked one simple question, immediately admits that he's completely full of shit. Where have we seen this before?

Ozzy sums it all up by telling Jack, "They haven't proven anything."

So, yeah, I think I'll have plenty of ammunition for the big Roswell Debate this October. I think I'm at least as sharp as Ozzy Osbourne, and he didn't even break into a sweat knocking down the Roswell myth.

There is one thing I worry about, though... Is anyone contacting Schmitt to offer him ammunition to use against me?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Man, Do I Have a Lot of UFO Books

I have a lot of UFO books.

I guess that'll happen when you've spent four years researching and writing a book about UFOs. And while I'm staggered by the number of books I've purchased and read over the past four years while researching UFOs for the book, I am also kind of entertained by the crazy collection of titles on my bookshelf and on my kindle. Basically, I've been keeping Amazon afloat for the past few years, and now I think I could open up a UFO and paranormal lending library, or make a killing at Half Price Books.

Below is a list of many, but not all of the books I've amassed in the course of writing my Hynek bio. Some of the books are fantastic. Some are crap. Some I would happily read again; others I would gladly toss in the trash. But even the bad ones have served a purpose, because in many cases they've helped me see a fascinating side of Hynek's story that I might have missed otherwise, or helped me to better understand the people in Hynek's life.

Here's a sampling of what's on the bookshelf in my office, listed in no particular order:
  • Billion Year Spree by Brian Aldiss
  • Flying Saucers by Donald Menzel
  • Picturing Extraterrestrials: Alien Images in Modern Mass Culture by John F. Moffit
  • The Invasion from Mars by Hadley Cantrill
  • Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace by Jodi Dean
  • Project Mindshift by Michael Mannion
  • Time-Life Books Mysteries of the Unknown: The UFO Phenomenon
  • Alien Creatures by Richard Siegl and J-C Suarez
  • The UFO Handbook by Allen Hendry
  • Unconventional Flying Objects: A Former NASA Scientist Explains How UFOS Really Work by Paul R. Hill
  • The Encyclopedia of Extraterrestrial Encounters edited by Ronald D. Story
  • The UFO Controversy in America by David Michael Jacobs
  • UFOs and Government by Michael Swords and Robert Powell
  • The UFO Encyclopedia, Volumes I & II by Jerome Clark
  • The Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction edited by Phil Hardy
  • UFOs Past, Present & Future by Robert Emenegger
  • Beyond Earth: Man's Contact With UFOs by Ralph & Judy Blum
  • The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel
  • Flying Saucers--Here and Now! by Frank Edwards
  • Situation Red: The UFO Siege by Leonard H. Stringfield
  • Anatomy of a Phenomenon: UFO's in Space by Dr. Jacques Vallee
  • UFOs? YES! by David R. Saunders and R. Roger Harkins
  • Incident at Exeter by John G. Fuller
  • The Cosmic Connection by Carl Sagan
  • World Famous UFOs by Colin Wilson
  • Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films by Patrick Lucanio
  • Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies by Carl G. Jung
  • The Invisible College by Jacques Vallee
  • Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience by Colin Wilson
  • Science Fiction of the 50's edited by Martin Harry Greenberg and Joseph Olander
  • Astrophysics: A Topical Symposium edited by Dr. J. Allen Hynek
  • Socorro 'Saucer' in a Pentagon Pantry by Ray Stanford
  • Starseekers by Colin Wilson
  • UFOs: Myths, Conspiracies and Realities by John B. Alexander, Ph.D.
  • UFO Contact at Pascagoula by Charles Hickson and William Mendez
  • UFOs: Generals, Pilots and Government Officials Go On the Record by Leslie Kean
  • Hollywood Vs. the Aliens: The Motion Picture Industry's Participation in UFO Disinformation by Bruce Rux
  • The UFO Files: The Inside Story of Real-Life Sightings by David Clarke
  • The Conquest of Space by Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley
  • In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space by Douglas Curran
  • UFOS and Popular Culture: An Encyclopedia of Contemporary Myth by James R. Lewis
And, of course:
  • The UFO Experience and The Hynek UFO Report by J. Allen Hynek
  • The Edge of Reality by Hynek & Vallee
And, a sample of what's on my kindle:
  • The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects by Edward J. Ruppelt
  • Captured! The Betty and Barney Hill UFO Experience: The True Story of the World's First Documented Alien Abduction by Stanton Friedman, MSc. and Kathleen Marden
  • The Interrupted Journey by John G. Fuller
  • Operation Trojan Horse: The Classic Breakthrough Study of UFOs by John Keel
  • Passport to Magonia: From Folklore to Flying Saucers by Jacques Vallee
  • E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces by Debborah Battaglia, Christopher F. Roth, David Samuels and Susan Lepsetter
  • Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
  • Earth; An Alien Enterprise: The Shocking Truth Behind the Greatest Cover-Up in Human History by Timothy Good
  • True Alien Invasion of the Sutton Farm--A Documented Case by Chet Dembeck
  • Danse Macabre by Stephen King
  • Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture by Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph O. Baker
  • Dragon in the Sky: Prophecy from the Stars by Ann Eller
  • Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings by J. Allen Hynek, Philip L. Imbrogno and Bob Pratt
What do you think? Keeping in mind that I haven't included every title here, and I haven't counted up any journals, papers or magazines, have I missed anything? 

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A UFO Bestiary

Now that I've sent the manuscript of my J. Allen Hynek bio off to my editor, it's time to get back to blogging at my favorite blog! For my comeback, I thought it might be fun to sit down and tally up all the UFO cases that I wrote up in the book, because now that I'm done with the book I suspect it may be a pretty substantial number.

Not every case gets a huge write-up, of course: some get entire chapters while others may only rate a small paragraph or even just a sentence. And none of them are safe from my editor's red pencil, so who knows how many may survive?

Many cases cited in my book come from the files of the Air Force's Project Sign and Project Blue Book (Hynek never worked for Project Grudge, the one that came between Sign and Blue Book). Most, but not all, were investigated by Dr. Hynek, either for the Air Force or as an independent investigator.

The first two cases that appear in the book are not surprising. First up are the Great Airship Mystery of 1897 (this involves multiple sightings but for convenience I will group them together as one), and the June 24, 1947 Kenneth Arnold sighting in Washington state, the one that kicked off the so-called "modern era" of UFOs.

Next up are a series of sightings reported in the summer of 1947: a June 28 sighting of a bright light zig-zagging across the sky, a July 3 report of wingless objects in the sky, a July 6 sighting of an object in the sky going 500 to 700 miles an hour, a multiple sighting of bright spheres and discs on July 7 and 8, and a group of objects in a triangular arrangement moving across the sky at a terrific speed on August 19 (the witnesses in those last two were army observers and police officers, not "nuts").

That gets us up to seven in short order.

Number eight is the January 7, 1948 Mantell case, in which an Air National Guard pilot crashed his plane and died while pursuing a gigantic glowing object in the sky. Number nine took place in July, 1947, involving a disc-shaped object moving at a very high velocity. Number 10 was a sighting of a yellow-orange oval over an Army Air Base in March, 1948. Number 11 took place in November, 1948, and involved a weather observer in Central America who watched spherical object in the sky for 40 minutes. An August, 1947 sighting in which a father and his two sons in Idaho saw a metallic disc fly past their house brings us to an even dozen.

In the first half of the book alone, there are 41 UFO events. And some of those, like the "Washington Merry-Go-Round" of 1952 and the case of the "Levelland lights" of 1957, and the previously-mentioned Great Airship Mystery, involve multiple sightings, so, technically, I could say there are more like 60 or 70 sightings. 

No wonder I'm so exhausted...

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Finishing a UFO Book

Wow, I'm down to the last chapter in my Hynek bio!

It's a weird feeling, let me tell you. I've been lugging this book around for 4 years, and in a matter of a few weeks I'll be sending it out into the world. Well, to my publisher, at any rate. And from there, who knows?
Dr. J. Allen Hynek (1910-1986)

When I look back on this project, several things amaze me:

  • I have found amazing people and stories that I never ever would have dreamed of getting into this book when I started out.
  • I have had to leave out mountains of material, but it's still a ripping good story (and all the material I couldn't fit in the book will make for a series of really wonderful podcasts).
  • I know more about J. Allen Hynek than I know about my wife.
  • My understanding and appreciation of the UFO phenomenon has been completely transformed.
  • There are some jaw-dropping surprises in Hynek's story.
  • Speaking of jaw-dropping, Hynek was either written up in or wrote articles for some of the finest titty magazines in the business. 
  • Also speaking of jaw-dropping, the bad guys in the story are very unexpected, and very, very bad.
  • Hynek could be an incredibly funny dude, a quality that is sorely lacking in many UFOlogists.
  • I did end up writing about Roswell, but only after finding some amazing quotes from Hynek about his true feelings about saucer crash stories.
  • A LOT of people loved and respected the guy.
  • People who took his astronomy classes decades ago still have fond memories of him.
  • I want to be more like Hynek.
Also, this:

That Juno probe that just entered into orbit around Jupiter? Should have been named after Hynek (and should have included a Lego Hynek).

Friday, July 1, 2016

UFO-curious?

The publisher's deadline for my Hynek book is fast approaching, and I am happy to say that the final chapters are coming together very well. There will be lots of surprises for both the UFO die-hards and the UFO-curious. Wish I could say more, but then you wouldn't need to buy the book!
Yes, this is still happening: the exact opposite of unique and fascinating.

Let's just say that I have found some very unique sources for information about Dr. J. Allen Hynek's work as a UFOlogists, and they have provided me with some fascinating material regarding everything from hypnotism to alien abductions to saucer crashes, and much, much more! The cool thing about these sources and this material was that a lot of it was right under my nose, hiding in plain sight the whole time, and the rest of it just came fluttering through the window and landed in my lap just in the past few weeks, at the exact moment that I needed it. Which, for UFO lore, is really quite appropriate.

Speaking of unique, fascinating takes on the UFO phenomenon, here's a brilliant article my son turned me on to this week, about UFOs, aliens, Roswell, Area 51, the atomic age and the American southwest. It should be required reading for anyone interested in the topic...


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

I Am Not Writing a UFO Book

It's true: I am not writing a UFO book.

I know that sounds a bit like Leonard Nimoy writing a book called, "I am Not Spock." Of course he was Spock, and he eventually realized that was a good thing and wrote a sequel called, "I am Spock."
Sometimes you just have to admit that you ARE Spock.

So, while I am writing a book about the world's best known UFO expert, I am not writing a UFO book. I am writing a book about a really interesting guy who was fascinated by UFOs and the challenge they presented to science. Like the subtitle of the book says: Hynek made it okay for the world to believe in UFOs, and how he did it is a hell of a story.

I've been thinking about this a lot lately as my publisher's deadline looms (T-minus 3 months and counting!) and I make my daily decisions about what to include in the book and what to leave out. More and more I realize that my book probably will not make a lot of UFO fans happy. My book will not prove or disprove anything. It does not have an axe to grind. It will not conform to conventional wisdom of the UFO community. It will not get me invited to "Contact in the Desert."

Not that I don't think UFO fans will enjoy the book. I hope they do. But I am not writing it just for them. I am writing it for a general audience that is curious about UFOs and wants to learn more about the phenomenon and the man who, in his words, made it "safe to utter the words 'flying saucer' at the dinner table without having to worry about getting your mouth washed out with soap.'"

Having said that, there are a LOT of UFOs in the book. I can't expect every reader to know the history of the phenomenon, and they have to have some grounding in it to be able to understand and appreciate Hynek's accomplishments. There's even going to be some mention of Roswell, something I swore a long time back that I would be avoiding. But it's not going to be your father's Roswell, if you know what I mean.

That reminds me, yesterday I was reviewing an interview I taped for the book, and at one point I asked the person a question about UFO history... The person started telling stories and suddenly he paused, sighed, and said something to the effect that "A lot of people in the UFO field just don't like each other very much."

Listening to that again made me laugh and then reflect, and admit that I know it's true because I don't like a lot of people in the UFO field very much. I don't like people who try to feed me misinformation for my book. I don't like people who insist that if I don't interview this person or that person for my book the book will be worthless. I don't like people who contact me without introducing themselves but expect me to just automatically know who they are and what they represent to the UFO community. I don't like people who contact me and insist that I just have to interview them for my book, and then send me dozens of links to things they've written "proving" Hynek was a fraud. Guess what? People who do that don't actually want to talk about Hynek; they want to talk about themselves. I know this from one excruciating hour-long interview with a UFO expert who wanted to tell me about Hynek, then proceeded to talk about himself non-stop. When he finally paused for breath, I asked him a question about Hynek. He gave me an incomprehensible answer that had nothing to do with what I had actually asked him, and then he said in a huff, "Now, can I get back to my story?"


Those people don't get into my book.

I will tell you about someone I do like, though. I recently interviewed James Oberg for the book, thinking it would be nice to get the skeptic's point of view on Hynek and his work. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I feared that the conversation might be difficult. Surprise! Not only was Mr. Oberg perfectly pleasant to talk to, I ended up thoroughly enjoying our conversation and liking him a lot.

So, that's my mission for the next three months: focus on the good people, filter out the bad ones. Wish me luck!