UFOS
   A common item of terminology, both inside and outside sf, UFO is an acronym for Unidentified Flying Object. In the 1st edn of this encyclopedia, the subject of ufology was discussed under the heading "Flying Saucers". The change of title reflects the fact that ufologyitself has changed over the past couple of decades, to the extent that it must now be thought of almost as 3 separate disciplines, one of which (concerning flying saucers) is a straightforward PSEUDO-SCIENCE, one ofwhich is a hybrid of aspects of geology and meteorology, and one of which deals with psychology.The term "flying saucer" was born in 1947 when the US businessman Kenneth Arnold, while flying his private plane near MtRainier, Washington State, saw what he perceived as 9 disc-like objects flying in formation nearby; he described their flight as being "like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water". Sightings continued through the late 1940s and the 1950s, becoming ever more elaborate and intimate, and still continue today, decades later, albeit not at the same feverish frequency as during the height of the Saucer Craze. Reports came, and still come, from all over the world. Early books on the subject include The Flying Saucers are Real (1950) by Donald E. Keyhoe (1897-1988) and Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953; rev 1970) by George Adamski (1891-1965) and Desmond LESLIE. The latter book marked a new development,in that Adamski claimed not only to have seen flying saucers but to have interacted with their ALIEN occupants.However, it would be wrong to think that flying saucers are solely a 20th-century phenomenon. During Winter and Spring 1896-7 there were widespread reports of an airship being sighted over North America: it crossed the USA roughly west to east over a 5-month period. The situation was complicated by hoaxers making falsestatements and even sending up appropriately styled hot-air balloons, but this cannot account for the bulk of the sightings; nor can it explain why this particular flap started. It ended only when Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) firmly denounced the whole affair as a farrago. Clearly thiswas a flying-saucer flap in every respect except that people "saw" airships rather than saucers; moreover, they did so at a time when the airship was at the cutting edge of TRANSPORTATION technology and had for a time featured plausibly in sf stories. Spaceships, although not as yet in operation, occupied a similar position in the public consciousness by the late 1940s. In earlier centuries, otherwise inexplicable aerial phenomena could be attributed to whatever seemed indicated by the TECHNOLOGY of the day: witches on broomsticks were for a long time popular.That people see unexplained "objects" in the sky cannot be denied. The vast majority of such sightings can be confidently put down to misidentifications of perfectly normal phenomena: oddly shaped and illuminated clouds, the image of VENUS refracted in the atmosphere, ball lightning (itself only quite recently recognized as a naturally occurring, though rare, phenomenon), etc. The remainder have been regarded as simply inexplicable; or attributed to flying saucers piloted by aliens (variously supposed to derive from other planets, other DIMENSIONS, the future, or the inside of the HOLLOW EARTH; whichever, this is dubbed the "extraterrestrial hypothesis"); or to rare geological/meteorological circumstances involving processes that are explicable in terms of current scientific knowledge. The branch of ufology investigating what it prefers to call by such termsas "transient atmospheric phenomena" ("TAPs") has scored some minor successes, notably in demonstrating that stressed granite can, as a result of the piezoelectric effect, produce dancing lights in the air overhead.The psychological school of ufology accepts that people who report encounters with aliens are recording genuine experiences - in the sense that, say, a dream is a genuine experience - and seeks to find objective explanations for subjective events. Here again there is much to interest the cultural historian, for there are astonishingly close similarities between modern descriptions of encounters with aliens and historical ones of meetings with the Little People. As withbroomsticks/airships/spaceships, it would appear that the "contact" experience is interpreted by the human mind in terms of the state of technology of the age. Modern "contactees" seem to be involuntarily basing their interpretations on contemporary sf, a hypothesis buttressed by the fact that there was a noticeable qualitative shift in "contactee" accounts after the colossal success of the film STAR WARS (1977) - for example, cute little 'bots were more frequently reported.If sf feeds ufology, how does ufology feed sf? Most GENRE-SF writers are hostile to the notion of flying saucers; that is, to the extraterrestrial hypothesis. The hostility is fuelled by the infuriating public assumption that sf writers are deeply interested in ufology. Early on, sf writers did indeed quite frequently assume the reality of alien-piloted flying saucers, but this was almost always for the purposes of story, irony or symbolism. There are exceptions: Adamski himself, some time before his famous experiences, wrote Pioneers of Space (1949), and Dennis WHEATLEY's Star of Ill Omen (1952) seems to be the work of a believer. Novels rooted in theextraterrestrial hypothesis include: Shadows in the Sun (1954) by Chad OLIVER; I Doubted Flying Saucers (1958) by Stan Layne; The Flying SaucerGambit * (1966) by Larry MADDOCK in the Agent of T.E.R.R.A. series; Brad's Flying Saucer (1969) by Marian Place (1910); The Mendelov Conspiracy (1969; vt Encounter Three 1978) by Martin CAIDIN; The Gismo (1970; vt The Gismo from Outer Space 1974 chap) by Keo Felker Lazarus (1913); Fade-Out (1975 US) by Patrick TILLEY, by a very long way the most interesting of the books in this list; Alien (1977) by George H. LEONARD (not to be confused with the film tie Alien * [1979] by Alan Dean FOSTER); Close Encounters of the Third Kind * (1977) by Steven SPIELBERG, a film tie; TheMelchizedek Connection (1981) by Ray Fowler (1930-); Majestic (1989) by Whitley STRIEBER; Alintel (1986; no English trans to date) by Jacques Vallee (1939-), the famous French ufologist (the model for Lacombe, played by François Truffaut, in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND [1977]) and winner, as Jerome Seriel, of the 1961 Prix Jules Verne; and the UFO Conspiracy sequence by David BISCHOFF: Abduction: The UFO Conspiracy(1990), Deception (1991) and Revelation (1991). An anthology is Encounters with Aliens (anth 1968) ed George Earley (1927-). The Strieber and Bischoff titles concern themselves with the notion of the "cover-up", aCLICHE of ufology: the paranoid belief that the US Government (or other authority figure) possesses the physical proof that aliens are visiting us but chooses to keep the information secret. In Strieber's story the case concerned is the Roswell Incident of 1947, in which a flying saucer is claimed to have crashed in the New Mexico desert; a story predating this incident and bearing some resemblance to it was "Mewhu's Jet" (1946) by Theodore STURGEON. Cover-ups feature also in ufological sf that does notsubscribe to the extraterrestrial hypothesis. In W. Allen HARBINSON's Projekt Saucer series - Projekt Saucer \#1: Inception (1991) and Genesis(1980; vt Projekt Saucer \#2: Genesis 1991 US) - based on UFO reports during and just after WWII, the flying saucers are human artefacts, the Nazis being largely responsible. (Some wilder ufologists have claimed thatflying saucers are indeed piloted by ex-Nazis, who fled into the Hollow Earth at the end of WWII.) A Secret Property (1985) by Ralph Noyesenjoyably focuses on secret experiments trying to harness a natural/supernatural (depending upon viewpoint) force, one side-effect of which is the manifestation of UFOs; the alien myth is a cleverly engineered disinformation campaign mounted by the US Government, which has even built phoney dead aliens which are occasionally, in order to spread the disinformation yet further, shown to ufologists with strict instructions never to breathe a word of what they have seen.A number of sf writers have exploited not ufology itself but the social phenomenon of the widespread interest in it. C.M. KORNBLUTH used the Saucer Craze slyly in "Silly Season" (1950), in which Earth is invaded but nobody pays attentionbecause the newspapers have cried wolf too often. Henry KUTTNER used a flying saucer as a device for a moral parable in "Or Else" (1953), as did Theodore Sturgeon in "A Saucer of Loneliness" (1953). Robert A. HEINLEINexploited saucer fears (as he exploited communist-conspiracy fears) in his invasion novel The Puppet Masters (1951), and he later used a UFO in his entertaining juvenile, Have Space Suit - Will Travel (1958). Gore VIDAL's Messiah (1954; rev 1965) opens with an analysis of UFOs as portents, whichin some ways anticipates the theories of the psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) in his Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen inthe Skies (1958; trans 1959). The made-for-tv film The FLIPSIDE OF DOMINICK HYDE (1980) and its sequel use a flying saucer from the future asan enabling device. Very small flying saucers feature in Richard FRANCIS's Blackpool Vanishes (1979) and in the films LIQUID SKY and *BATTERIES NOTINCLUDED. An Account of a Meeting with Denizens of Another World, 1871 (1979) by David LANGFORD (presented as being written by William Robert Loosley) is a spoof.Saucer enthusiasts have themselves been the subject of sf stories, as in the tv series KINVIG. J.G. BALLARD's "The Encounter" (1963; vt "The Venus Hunters") leans heavily on Jung, and Fritz LEIBER'sTHE WANDERER (1964) deals in part with the reactions of various ufologists to an actual celestial visitor.The best novel about the UFO experience is undoubtedly Miracle Visitors (1978) by Ian WATSON; it is widely loathed by those readers who expect UFOs to be flying saucers. Watson instead envisages UFOs and "contacts" in terms of altered states of consciousness and the dichotomy between objective and subjective reality - much as do ufologists of the "psychological school", in fact. His book, with its surreal inventiveness and loose link with ordinary causality, is understandably offensive to determined rationalists, who find it a nonsense; exactly the same could be said for "contact" experiences themselves, which is perhaps the mark of Watson's success.
DP/JR/JGr
   Further reading: The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry(1972) by J. Allen Hynek; UFOs Explained (1974) by Philip J. Klass; The UFO Enigma: The Definitive Explanation of the UFO Phenomenon (1977) by Donald H. Menzel and Ernest H. Taves; The UFO Encyclopedia (1980) by Margaret Sachs.
   See also: PARANOIA.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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