Mark Pilkington is a writer with a fascination for the further shores of culture, science and belief. He also publishes books as Strange Attractor Press. In Mirage Men Pilkington travels across America looking to explain his own UFO sighting. After scouring the subject’s history and meeting former air force and intelligence insiders, Pilkington concludes that instead of covering up tales of UFO crashes and alien visitors, the US military and intelligence services have been promoting them all along as part of their cold war counterintelligence operations.
“The UFO arena acts as a kind of vivarium for a range of psychological, sociological and anthropological experiences, beliefs, conditions and behaviours. They remind us that the Unknown and the Other are still very much at large in our modern world, and provide us with a fascinating glimpse of folklore in action. A tiny few UFO reports also still present us with genuine mysteries.
“The first book about UFOs as we know them was The Flying Saucer, a 1948 novel by British former spy Bernard Newman. I’m not sure how many UFO books have been written since then, but I’d guess that it’s well over 1000. Here, in chronological order, are 10 that I can recommend as either informative, entertaining, puzzling or all three at once.”
An insider’s account of the crucial, early days of the UFO story, by the man who headed the US Air Force’s official UFO investigation from 1951 to 1953. Ruppelt documents shifting Air Force attitudes to the phenomenon, which ranged from aggressive denial to apparent endorsement of alien visitation in an infamous 1952 Life magazine article. In a revised edition, published in 1960, Ruppelt was more dismissive of the subject. He died the same year, aged 37.
A charming glimpse into the early days of the UFO culture, when the lines between spiritualism, occultism and ufology were largely indistinguishable. The Reeves travelled the US in search of “the Saucerers”, meeting many key figures of the time before making contact with real Space People via the wonders of Outer Space Communication (OSC) and a portable tape recorder. Many important questions are answered: How do we look to the space people? Do they believe in Jesus Christ? Is this civilisation ending?
It was only natural that the Swiss mystic and philosopher-shrink, fascinated by anomalous experiences, should turn his attention to the UFO mystery. Considering UFOs as a “visionary rumour” and a manifestation of the mythic unconscious, Jung compares the perfect circle of the flying disc to the mandala, notes the dreamlike impossibility of many reports and presciently recognises the deep spiritual pull that the UFO would exert over the next half century.
Astronomer Hynek was an air force consultant on UFOs for much of his life, and over time transformed from something of a Doubting Thomas to a St Paul. He’s regarded as a saint in UFO circles, largely for this book, a sober yet sympathetic overview of the UFO problem that excoriates the US Air Force for their failure to treat the phenomenon seriously. Hynek devised the “Close Encounters” system for categorising UFO sightings, and has a cameo during the cosmic disco climax of Spielberg’s blockbusting film (that’s him with the pipe looking like Colonel Sanders).
Merging unconscious deceptions with deliberate fictions, many of the wilder UFO books would have even the most intrepid postmodernists cowering behind the sofa. Keel, however, was a two-fisted trickster who knew exactly what he was doing and this reads like Thomas Pynchon crossed with Philip K Dick channelling HP Lovecraft. In the late 1960s Point Pleasant, West Virginia was plagued by bizarre entities, UFO sightings and robotic, jelly-fixated Men in Black; Keel investigated only to find himself in too deep and the town doomed to real-life disaster.
An intriguing, disconcerting book from one of the field’s most progressive thinkers. Vallée, a French astronomer and computer scientist who worked with J Allen Hynek, became entangled in bizarre mind games while investigating UFO cults in the 1970s. Amongst others, Vallée encountered HIM (Human Individual Metamorphosis), led by “Bo and Peep” who would steer the Heaven’s Gate group to their collective death two decades later.
Whitley Strieber’s Communion is one of the 20th century’s great literary mysteries and Conroy’s spinoff is just as curious. A hard-nosed investigative journalist, Conroy examined Strieber’s alleged alien abduction experiences and odd life story while also researching the history of UFOs and its parallels in folkloric encounter narratives. In a testament to the power of UFOria and the allure of the Other, by the end of the book he’s being buzzed by shape-shifting helicopters and wondering whether he too has had contact with the Visitors.
One of at least 18 hardback volumes of anomalies collected by this modern-day Charles Fort. Ball lightning (miniature, giant, black, object-penetrating and ordinary), bead lightning, lightning from clear skies, pillars of light, glowing owls, luminous bubbles, oceanic light wheels, earthquake lights, marsh gas, unusual auroras, glowing fogs. And that’s just for starters. I love this book.
Hansen, a former professional laboratory parapsychologist, provides illumination, insight and perspective on the wider paranormal research field, UFOs included. Drawing on folklore, anthropology, literary theory and sociology, Hansen points out the integral, destabilising role of Trickster archetypes in human society. While dwelling predominantly amongst its esoteric fringes, the Trickster can also be seen lurking in the corridors of political, military and corporate power.
A rock-solid history of the UFO phenomenon in Britain by two of our most reliable and indefatigable researchers. Clarke and Roberts work from interviews and official documentation detailing everything from genuine aerial mysteries during the second world war (investigated for the RAF by the Goon Show’s Michael Bentine) to the cold war follies of 1980’s Rendlesham Forest incident. Serious UFO research as it should be done.