I’ve always felt that occurrences of the paranormal necessarily present us with a cause for study. It’s not that I believe claims of extraterrestrials, for example, are likely to be accurate. Yet many people have had strange experiences in which they firmly and honestly believe, yet which cannot necessarily be explained. This leaves us with the question of how such events -real or imagined- manifest. The truth in any given case may turn out to be physical, psychological, or sociological. Here we have a book which does justice to this line of thinking in the form of an in-depth analysis of a UFO flap over Warminster, England in the 1960s.
In Alient Heat is a rather unique and special offering in the field of ufology. Rather than addressing extraterrestrial claims, or analyzing a list of specific cases in detail, the authors take a primarily social approach. How did the Warminster flap start? Who spread the word? How did the extraterrestrial connection occur? How did the phenomenon evolve over time? What leads some people to see UFOs when other people observe street lamps or airplanes? What role did the media play? We read along as the “Thing” of Warminster morphs from unidentified noise into full blown alien invasion.
The majority of the story comes to revolve around one man, Arthur Shuttlewood. A local news reporter with connections, he becomes increasingly involved in the ufological goings-on as time progresses. After becoming a “believer” in the phenomenon, he winds up promoting and hosting local sky watches, making “contact” with aliens, and eventually authoring several books on the topic from his own perspective. Many chapters are devoted to analyzing the life and times of this man: his experiences, his activities, his personality and character, and so on. The authors go a long way to demonstrate that most of what became known as the flap at Warminster were to be shaped one way or another by Shuttlewood.
The authors sew everything up quite nicely in making the argument that it was the people involved, rather than any physical events, that made the Warminster case what it was. The whole affair gives the reader quite the impression that a similar series of occurrences could explain any number of other paranormal outbreaks around the world.
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s that it honestly just felt longer than necessary. There are only a handful of actual “cases” which are quickly out of the way, and the relatively small cast of characters is easily managed as well. The remainder of the proceedings keep coming back to center on Shuttlewood time and again, often repeating the same assertions previously made (he wrote colorfully if not always accurately; he prided himself on integrity; he was honest and firmly held his beliefs; he was not a hoaxer). I realize that the authors went above and beyond to make a thorough presentation, and they certainly succeeded in this way; I was just left feeling that they probably could have sold me on their thesis in 100 or so less pages than was ultimately used. That said, if you do finish the main body of the text, read the Appendices as well. I found them at least as engaging as some of the later chapters, if not more so.
Length aside, I do recommend this book as a first rate case study of the sociology behind a widespread UFO flap. Dewey and Ries have clearly done their homework, and the entire text is thoroughly referenced. The effort and objectivity apparent in this work is sorely needed in all aspects of paranormal research.