Tag Archives: ufo

Review: Encounters With Star People by Ardy Sixkiller Clarke

Encounters with Star People gives the UFO phenomenon a fresh new treatment, focusing exclusively on the experiences of modern American Indian people. Author Ardy Sixkiller Clarke, herself of Indian heritage, has personally collected and curated these stories. They are all presented here for the first time, having previously been held in strict confidence, known only to the experiencers, or other close members of their communities.

The 20-plus chapters each introduce a separate story, most of which focus on one or two specific individuals being interviewed by the author. She relates her experiences with each unique personality, and manages to portray a lot of character in her contacts in a relatively short amount of space. The nature of the events documented ranges from basic sightings of unidentified craft to alien encounters and abductions.

The skeptical reader will likely take solace in pointing out the myriad minor (or major) inconsistencies between the experiences related here. Inexplicable variation tends to be the rule in ufology, and the same apparently holds true within this community. Despite this, viewing the breadth of these accounts through the lens of a shared culture gives the whole thing a rather unique air of consistency. The believer may even find that the stories aren’t quite so wildly inconsistent after all, and that there seem to be at least a few themes which appear to underlie these otherwise independent events. It’s worth noting that some of the book’s later accounts take on a decidedly dark tone, and I admit to finding the cumulative effect of so many, not entirely dissimilar, experiences a bit disturbing.

My one substantial complaint with Encounters with Star People is that all accounts have been made anonymous. This is a point the author is very clear about, and we’re told, rather understandably, that it was a hard and fast condition of being able to publish much of the information she was given. I certainly understand why someone would desire not to be openly associated with fringe topics which could easily be used to threaten their job, relationships, or general quality of life. Having said that, as a reader one is forced to recognize that an anonymous account is also an unverifiable account, and as such provides zero evidentiary value. Some of the stories here are fantastic, but for the skeptically minded, they may as well be out right fiction. Assuming many of the items here are true, at least in some quantity – as human experiences if nothing else – then it’s a shame that such great material will likely be diminished and overlooked for the lack of a name. Even just one such story, backed up by confirmed and credible sources, might carry more weight than dozens that can never be traced beyond these pages.

With that in mind, if you can look past the anonymity and appreciate the material at face value, then Encounters with Star People is undoubtedly a ufological gold mine. Dr. Clarke should be commended for the effort she has put into this research over the years, and for bringing the culture of the star people to the general public. This work has added more new reports to the canon of ufology than possibly any other in recent years, if not decades. At times amusing, confusing, and even alarming, it was a hard book to put down.

 

Rating: 4/5

Review: Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Philip J. Imbrogno, and Bob Pratt

Night Siege documents a very large and unusually persistent unidentified flying object over the Hudson Valley region of the northeast United States in the 1970s and 80s. (The current version of the book is amended to include additional reports up through the mid 1990s.) Sightings of the object were investigated first hand by a small team of researchers, three of whom went on to produce this text based on their data and experiences.

The book is largely a walk-through of the most significant encounters with the UFO, presented chronologically as the events unfolded. It relies heavily on eyewitness testimony gathered first hand by the authors, including statements from police officers, scientists, engineers, and other members of the general public. Overall they do a good job of setting the scene, and creating a mildly suspenseful yet informative narrative. There is little in the way of any conclusion, although the authors clearly lean in the direction that the object does not appear to be a traditional man-made craft.

As is par for the course in the UFO arena, the Hudson Valley object left no apparent physical traces. Its reality cannot be proven in the scientific sense, and those of a permanently skeptical bent will not find any more irrefutable proof of the unearthly here than elsewhere. That said, I found Night Siege to be a fascinating entry, and an outstanding read as far as these cases go.

One of the foremost difficulties faced by anyone evaluating a sighting of something unusual in the sky (or for that matter, on the ground) is overcoming the problem of the credibility of the witness. Most encounters with the unknown involve only a small number of people, maybe one or two in any given incident. Even the most honest and well meaning individuals are human, and all humans are prone to accidental misinterpretation. Dreams, hallucinations, intoxications, and just being deceived by ones own eyes are all potential causes for concern. Just because someone thinks they’re seeing spaceships (or Sasquatches, the Loch Ness monster, etc.) doesn’t mean they really are. This is evidenced by the substantial number of UFOs that become IFOs (identified flying objects) upon further review and investigation. Hoaxers are far from the only threat to the research. Honest mistakes happen all the time, but it muddies the waters and makes it difficult to accept witness testimony of an extraordinary event at face value.

With that in mind, what really stood out about the Night Siege phenomenon was the raw volume of consistent and often simultaneous sightings. During some of the more notable incidents, the Taconic Parkway clogged with cars pulling over to view the UFO. Police phones were overwhelmed with calls and dozens of officers saw it. The UFO even famously hovered in restricted airspace over the Indian Point nuclear reactor. The authors estimate over 7000 people observed the same object or objects during the time period in question! And the numbers do not appear baseless, given the hundreds of reports compiled by the investigators, along with the corresponding police activity and media coverage.

These are, simply put, not events that can be casually dismissed as civilian or government aircraft, the planet Venus, street lights, or swamp gas. The witnesses were not drunk or dreaming. Whatever it was, it was big, it was unusual, and a lot of people saw it. It left so many witnesses that by the later chapters, the text almost begins to drag with the repetition of encounter after encounter. How many people need to see something before it becomes, in some sense or another, very much real?

We may only be able to speculate as to what the Hudson Valley UFO really was, but unlike other strange sights that only manifest in isolation, it’s hard to argue that something bizarre wasn’t hovering around the night skies over the north east. In my opinion, it makes for one of the most challenging UFO incidents from a skeptical perspective, and it is definitely some fascinating reading.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Chariots of the Gods by Erich von Däniken

Chariots of the Gods is a book needing little introduction. The ideas introduced here launched author von Däniken to a certain degree of fame (and infamy) around the world. The concept of alien gods intervening in the early development of man would live on for decades in the numerous books, films, and documentaries that would follow.

Having been first published over four decades ago, there are parts of Chariots which have not aged well. Some bits are downright depressing: It turns out that not only did we fail to land on Mars by 1986, as was once a “certainty,” but we’ve seemingly given up the quest entirely. The writer’s optimism toward man’s progress, anchored in the early achievements of the space age, simply did not align with a future written by politicians and tax payers. That said, despite becoming dated, a discussion of technology was essentially unavoidable given the nature of the material.

If I have one fault to find with the writing, it would be that the author tends to dwell on the refusal of the scientific community to consider his proposals. He tells us, continuously, how historical dogma is accepted without questioning, and how we must not be closed minded to alternatives. It’s hard to fault the man, as he was essentially predicting (rather accurately) the shunning and dismissal his writing would receive in scientific circles. Still, as the reader, I’m already effectively committed as his audience, and I don’t find it entirely necessary to beat the poor horse quite so badly.

Ultimately I highly recommend this book. The key, I think, is to focus on the questions posed in the content, rather than the conclusions. It’s the questions which are fascinating, and it’s the questions which, more often than not, continue to stand the test of time. How did ancient civilizations query and transport boulders so massive they would challenge even modern machinery? For what purpose were giant structures and drawings that could only be viewed from space? Why did religions spanning the physical earth, and without regular contact with one another, share such similar stories of origin? How did ancient cartographers gain knowledge of seemingly “undiscovered” lands, and ancient astronomers of planets and galaxies only recently observed with modern optics?

It’s amazing how little we know about our own past. Whether or not one is able to buy in to the proposal of visitation by extraterrestrial intelligences being a plausible conclusion, any sufficiently curious person should be taken in by the mysteries which modern doctrine tends to gloss over.

Rating: 5/5

Review: In Alient Heat (The Warminster Mystery Revisited) by John Ries and Steve Dewey

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.

Rating: 4/5

Review: Invisible Residents by Ivan Sanderson

Ivan Sanderson is something of a household name in the realm of paranormal research and publishing. Invisible Residents was my first foray into his writing, and my expectations were fairly high. The topic of Underwater Submersible Objects certainly struck me as intriguing. It’s not something covered as frequently as the more familiar aerial UFO, and with so much of the planet’s surface being covered in water, the possibilities for interesting investigations seemed great. Regrettably, I have to report that this read did not fully live up to my expectations.

First off, the author’s writing style was probably the root of much of my overall dissatisfaction. Sanderson’s prose comes off as particularly long-winded, belaboring even the more interesting of chapters. Not only does he verbally embellish, but he often wanders far into tangents, leaving the reader wondering just where we are, where we could possibly going, and how the current direction is relevant to the overall theme.

Early on Sanderson claims to be of purely scientific mind, giving no quarter the likes of UFO nuts, yet I was not entirely convinced of his rigor. An entire chapter (“A Sixth Mystery”) is devoted a single Colombian artifact which the author states looks like an airplane, thus supposedly proving that the ancients were familiar with modern aircraft. He goes on to present the artifact to several aircraft engineers who confirm that the object does look sort of like an airplane (but also sort of not). At no point does he apparently think to approach anyone in the field of Colombian history or anthropology to discuss more prosaic interpretations of the little sculpture in the context of the people and the culture that created it (or if he did, it didn’t make the book). The chapter reads as if the author had immediately assumed it to represent an airplane and simply sought out corroborating testimony to confirm it. The Egyptians drew plenty of people with animal heads in their day, but it still makes more sense to discuss their culture and artifacts with an Egyptologist; not your local zoo keeper.

Although I chose to single out the above chapter, it really highlights what I felt was an ongoing theme, particularly in the later sections. The author is too quick to make a leap of faith, and treat conjecture as reality. In some points, he appears to string several such leaps in succession, becoming downright hard to follow. Reporting incidences of the paranormal is all well and good, but entering the arena of explanation is always dangerous. I found the final section (Part III) to be the least readable as a whole. Sanderson jumps around from wild guess, to crazy hunch, to bizarre supposition. It’s hard to tell what he’s offering up as fact, what he really believes, and what is just random tangential speculation. Combined with the general wordiness of the entire book, it became a chore to get through the final wrap up, and in my opinion, it greatly detracted from the whole experience. I would have preferred the author stick to reporting events as they happened, and leave the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Having said all that, it’s not all a bad read. Certain chapters, mostly early on, focus on unidentified object sightings, ghost ships, phantom subs, and mysterious lights. These are the heart of the subject matter, and what I imagine one would expect from a book on USO phenomena. Aside from the aforementioned verboseness and occasional directional tangent from the author, these parts read well enough.

The book cover of Invisible Residents is boldly subtitled “The Reality of Underwater UFOs.” While I don’t honestly expect anyone can provide the full reality of such a complex subject, I do think it would have benefited greatly from a bit more reality, and a bit less of everything else. What could have been a fascinating look into a rather obscure side of the paranormal was ultimately bogged down by a difficult writing style, a lack of focus on the data, and too much random speculation.

Rating: 3/5

Review: On the Trail of the Saucer Spies: UFOs and Government Surveillance by Nicholas Redfern

Nick Redfern’s On the Trail of the Saucer Spies takes a revealing look at the behavior of the British and American governments in relation to their observation of and interaction with prominent figures throughout the history of modern ufology. The book draws upon an excellent and well referenced combination of declassified documents and first hand interview material to shed new light on historically secretive government operations in these areas.

The book is well paced, enjoyable, and exceeds at balancing intrigue and information. The text proceeds roughly chronologically, taking us first to the Federal Bureau of Investigation as it monitors UFO believers in the midst of communist tensions. As the chapters progress, we find ourselves crossing the pond and being introduced to the British analogues of our own American government agencies and facilities, spending significant amounts of time discussing the operations of MI5, RAF Rudloe Manor, and Porton Down, among others. A random sampling of the topics covered as we criss-cross the Atlantic include Project Beta, the sad story of Paul Bennewitz, hacking Hanger 18 and Wright Patterson Air Force Base, the destruction of NICAP, and the long and twisting tale of the organization known as APEN. The book also includes several black and white photographs, as well as duplicated documents intermingled within the chapters.

Part way through the reading we meet the “Sandman” who quickly becomes a linchpin character in the novel. This otherwise nameless figure is supposedly an ex-member of England’s Metropolitan Police Special Branch who has chosen (or been chosen) to reveal information regarding the British government’s historical “watching of the watchers.” Sandman’s frequent direct quotations throughout the latter half of the book serve extensively to validate and confirm various theories our author and his associates have put forth based on prior research. The Sandman is truly one of those “too good to be true” types when it comes to his apparently uncanny ability to put the puzzle pieces in place. In fact, he seems to have a hand in just about every European incident Redfern discusses. Regardless, for those readers who manage to suspend paranoia and suspicion long enough, his claims make for some highly engaging and revealing reading.

When it comes to following the UFO phenomenon, straight answers are a virtual impossibility. Everyone chooses their own particular degree of paranoia, and credulity is something often in short supply. The fantastic thing about Saucer Spies is that its contents, if they are to be believed, give many answers regarding government activity surrounding UFOs in a spectacularly elegant and cohesive package. First hand accounts are corroborated to the “T” by recently uncovered documents, government informants, and Redfern’s “Sandman” contact. Of course, as the author is quick to point out in the closing of the novel, nothing is guaranteed. In the end, we still don’t know if some UFOs are extraterrestrial, we don’t know who or what some men in black may be, and we certainly don’t know just how open and truthful our respective governments are really being. That said, if you can bring yourself to withhold distrust and paranoia long enough to read through these pages, I highly recommend it. Nick Redfern has done the UFO community a great service with this book, which would appear to be as revealing and honest as it is fascinating.

Rating: 5/5

The Field Guide to UFOs by Dennis Stacy and Patrick Huyghe

I can honestly say I was pleasantly surprised by The Field Guide to UFOs by Dennis Stacy and Patrick Huyghe. At first glance, the book looks rather meager compared to many other works of the genre. It is also tempting to dismiss the book, which features many illustrations, as your garden variety rehashing of some old stories intended to make a buck for the authors. In retrospect I feel these initial impressions were misleading, and that this piece was an enjoyable, worthwhile read.

The theme of this book is, as the title suggests, a field guide to unidentified flying objects. In the introductory chapter, the authors outline previous attempts to classify UFOs throughout modern history. They also point out what they feel are fundamental flaws with said systems, and that they will now attempt a new system of classification: grouping sighted objects by shape or appearance. This brings us to the core of the text: chapters which center around the different classes of objects (Spherical, Light, Triangular, etc.) Each chapter is subdivided into specific entries. Each entry comprises a singular real-world reported sighting of a specific “variant” of that class. Each entry is roughly one page in length, with an accompanying illustration on the mirroring page. Following the “field guide” chapters, the authors wrap up the text with a lengthy chapter which summarizes the data presented, and attempts to draw some basic conclusions. They also present information about the UFO phenomena which does not fit with the field guide model: information on windows, flaps, and scientific theories.

Overall, I found this book very pleasantly readable. It was well edited, and the english was clear, thoughtful, and well presented. I felt the authors did an excellent job sticking to the facts in the Guide, and avoided the ever present temptation of including opinion or bias. The guide entries were also well paced.

There is always a tradeoff between providing raw data and readability. Some books get carried away with data, which is so dry it borders on being unreadable. Thankfully, the Field Guide does not suffer this fate. I found the single page entry length to be plenty terse to keep the material from being boring, yet it was just detailed enough to grab the reader’s interest. The inclusion of illustrations was also a boon, as it really aided one in visualizing the classification system as it was being presented.

Furthermore, the authors did an excellent job of collecting data from a variety of times and places. There are entries which span many continents and over 100 years time. Finally, it seems the authors made a genuine attempt to include only credible, and often well regarded sightings, shying away from likely hoaxes (which many authors may resort to as fluff).

Despite all the good things I have to say about this book, there are a few flaws I must acknowledge. Firstly, the black and white illustrations leave a lot to be desired, especially considering many of the witness descriptions in the book include color! Color illustrations, or even photographs where available, would have been excellent. Also, the size of the book is rather small at around 170 pages. The topic of ufology has generated tomes of data, and I can’t help but feel the Guide could have been easily fleshed out with a bit more detail without compromising integrity. Furthermore, the length of the individual entries, at a single typed page, just doesn’t do justice to some of the cases sited. There is much more information available on some of the world’s most famous UFO cases, and I can’t help but feel some of what was left out must have been relevant. If you’re a seasoned UFO investigator, there is probably very little to see here, short of the classification system being offered.

In summation, I was surprisingly happy with The Field Guide to UFOs. It was more well written and analytical than I had expected. It was indeed rather short, but had good high-level coverage of many well regarded incidents in UFO history. The classification system presented by the authors adds an extra dimension of value that may not be apparent on the surface. I would recommend this to anyone who is a novice or moderate reader in ufology. To the more expert members of the audience, the material is probably too terse to be of much interest, but to the rest of us, it may offer some surprising enjoyment and value.

Rating: 4/5