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Flying Saucer Jamboree

I’m getting the feeling there’s a renewed interest in UFOs, so I’m doing a jamboree post. For my text, I’ve taken some excerpts from (a) the introduction and text of my novel Saucer Wisdom, (b) my part of a postcript essay that Marc Laidlaw and I wrote for Stephen Baxter’s novel Alien Contact, (c) my novel Million Mile Road Trip, (d) some tales in my Complete Stories, and (e) an unpublished history of UFOlogy that I wrote up when doing research for Saucer Wisdom. In that resarch, I drew heavily on Curtis Peebles, Watch The Skies! A Chronicle Of The Flying Saucer Myth, Smithsonian Institution Press 1994.

To make the post lively, I shuffled the excerpts, and for the illos, I’ve used about 25 of my paintings that include a flying saucer of some sort—placing the illos at random, as is my wont.  See my Paintings page for more info on the paintings, many of which are for sale.

Here come two more flying saucers, hefty guys, the size of a big car and a very big truck. One of them has a green dome and a yellow rim, the other one is done up in shades of dark purple. Rich, painterly hues. The saucers make a low, intricate hum, a drone with subtle curlicues within. They hover above the wrecked car. The tendrils of their telepathy comb through the crannies of Villy’s mind.

“I want my daughter,” booms the green saucer. “They call me Pa Saucer.” He has no visible mouth. His deep voice emanates from the resonant vibrations of his disk. He’s twenty feet across and he must weigh over a ton. And he’s the smaller of the two.

Pa Saucer’s companion, a large bruise-colored saucer, stabilizes himself, bracing his thick, muscular rim against the steady wind. And then he sends down a beam. It’s not a cute, wiggly, green beam—no, man, this four-ton dump-truck-sized saucer has a beam that’s a brighter-than-white industrial laser that Villy can barely stand to see.

One of the most famous early UFO sightings is known as Ezekiel’s Wheel. It’s enshrined in popular culture via an African-American spiritual. I’d always had the impression that the prophet Ezekiel wrote about a single flaming wheel which hovered above him like a flying saucer. But in fact Ezekiel saw four creatures riding on spinning wheels.

Ezekiel saw the wheels;
Way in the middle of the air.
Ezekiel saw the wheels;
Way in the middle of the air.
And the big wheel run by Faith, good Lord;
And the little wheel run by the Grace of God;
In the wheel in the wheel good Lord;
Way in the middle of the air.

Typically the extra-terrestrials we expect to find are creatures something like ourselves. Lizards, sure, or squids, or bugs or rats, maybe—let’s not be simian chauvinists—but at our imagned ET saucer pilots are expected to be about our size. Science fiction is filled with planets full of these guys, building their cities, fighting their wars, mating, eating, and so on. No one has written more entertainingly about these kinds of aliens than Robert Sheckley. The kicker in Sheckley’s alien stories is always that the aliens are some kind of inversion or caricature of human beings. We have no real idea about what actual aliens would be like.  Writing stories demonstrating this is tricky.

Around 1946, an eccentric science-fiction editor named Ray Palmer began pushing the notion of extraterrestrial visitors in his magazine, Amazing Stories. The modern concept of the flying saucer was born on June 24, 1947. A private pilot named Kenneth Arnold spotted some strange, darting objects in the sky near Mount Rainier. Here is the AP press report.

Pendleton, Ore. June 25 (AP) — Nine bright saucer-like objects flying at ‘incredible speed’ at 10,000 feet altitude were reported here today by Kenneth Arnold, Boise Idaho, [a] pilot who said he could not hazard a guess as to what they were … Arnold said that he clocked and estimated their speed at 1,200 miles an hour.” Arnold said they skipped along like saucers on water.

Over the years many of the great silvery saucers had grown to a size of over fifty feet across—yes, grown. The metal saucers were living things that grew and learned and eventually died. The saucers’ silver surfaces were intricately chased with filigreed coppery lines that branched and intertwined as a saucer grew. No two saucers were the quite the same.

With exercise, polishing, and plenty of sunshine, a flying saucer could grow for many a year, perhaps as much as two centuries. When a saucer got quite old, its skin would thin out to nothingness and the whole thing would suddenly crumble into a drifting dust like mushroom spores.

Where did the saucers come from? They spawned on the ribs of planet X herself. Every few years in some deep cave of planet X—and never twice the same cave—a few baby saucers would be found stuck to the walls like limpets.

One of the emperor’s flying saucers rested in the dirt of the peasants’ yard; the saucer was a young twenty-footer, still but lightly filigreed. All the peasants from the neighborhood had gathered, or were still gathering, to watch. None of the emperor’s saucers had ever landed here before, and none of the peasants had ever been inside a saucer.

In the mid-1950s there were a series of striking UFO sightings in France. The French UFOlogist Aime Michel published a book with some fascinating accounts of the sightings. Here’s a lovely long quote from a French farmer describing what he saw on September 14, 1954.

It was about five in the afternoon. Emerging from the thick layer that looked like a storm coming up, we saw a luminous blue-violet mist, of a regular shape something like a cigar or a carrot. Actually, the object came out of the layer of clouds in an almost horizontal position, slightly tilted toward the ground and pointing forward, like a submerging submarine.

The luminous cloud appeared rigid. Whenever it moved, its movements had no connection with the movements of the clouds, and it moved all of a piece, as if it were actually some gigantic machine surrounded by mist. It came down rather fast from the ceiling of clouds to an altitude which we thought was perhaps a half-mile above us. It was an extraordinary sight, and we watched it intently. All over the countryside other farmers had also dropped their tools and were staring up at the sky like us.

All at once white smoke exactly like a vapor trail came from the lower end of the cloud. Aster the smoke trail had vanished entirely, could we see the object that was sowing it — a little metallic disk, reflecting in its rapid movements flashes of light from the huge vertical object. The little disk … went down toward the ground again, this time moving away.

For quite a few minutes we could see it flying low over the valley, darting here and there at great speed, sometimes speeding up, then stopping for a few seconds, then going on again, flying in every direction between villages that were four miles apart. Finally, when it was almost a mile from the vertical object it made a final dash toward it at headlong speed and disappeared  into the lower part. A minute later the carrot leaned over as it began to move, accelerated and disappeared into the clouds in the distance.

—Aime Michel, Flying Saucers And The Straight-Line Mystery, Criterion Books 1958., quoted in Jacques Vallee, Revelations: Alien Contact and Human Deception, Ballantine Books, 1991

The great carrot and the little disk above the villages! How charming, how French.

In September, 1967, a horse named Snippy was found with the skin and flesh gone from his head, and his owners formed the idea that Snippy had been deliberately mutilated, perhaps by aliens. This was the first report in a wave of livestock mutilation reports which peaked in the 1970s. Some cattle mutilation accounts claim that the mysteriously butchered cows have legs which are broken as if the cattle had been dropped from a great height (i.e. from a satiated saucer). Like the notion of saucers near power-lines, the concept of cattle-mutilating aliens took a deep hold on the public consciousness. There is a comfortable notion that the supernal saucers maight have some of the same needs as humans.

Wimp ‘n’ Dweeb hunch over a large computer screen, faces lit by the flickering light. “What do you mean, you can’t exit this program?” asks Wimp. “How about if I cut the power?” Wimp touches the switch and a surge of electricity turns his head into a smoking black skull. The machine’s speaker crackles. “Listen well, flesher, to what you must do for the saucers.” Dweeb’s glasses glint as he nods his fealty.

The most significant UFOlogical event of 1967 was the appearance of John Fuller’s book, Interrupted Journey. This tells the story of Betty and Barney Hill, a couple who under hypnosis had come to believe that they were abducted by aliens on September 19, 1961. Their experience was not a pleasant joy-ride such as the jaunts around the solar system which other contactees described. The Hill’s experience was the first example of the negative, psychosexual kind of alien contact experience. Betty said that aliens with big noses had undressed her, poked her with needles on wires, and had then stuck a needle into her navel.

High in translunar orbit floats an inconceivably ancient craft. Klaatu and Tuulka, the craft’s sole inhabitants for lo these three thousand years, hang watchfully in the weightless cabin. They have hugely domed craniums and tiny little hands with no fingernails. Their cabin walls are lined with TV monitors, all showing scenes of everyday Earth life. Politicians, office-workers, lovers. “They are fools, Tuulka,” hisses baleful Klaatu. “Yes,” singsongs happy Tuulka, “but they are beautiful fools.” “I think it is time we put an end to these beautiful fools,” rasps Klaatu, and presses a button. The screens flare…

A TV movie called “The UFO Incident,” based on the abduction stories of Betty and Barney Hill account was shown on October 20, 1975. This film was of key historical significance, as it was the first time that aliens were depicted in the canonical modern way: as short, gray-skinned, hairless, and with big, almond-shaped eyes. These so-called Grays are about the size of children, thin and spindly, with big bald heads and enormous slanting eyes. Their noses, ears and mouths are rudimentary. It is as if they think and see, but do not taste, smell, speak, or listen. The slanted-eye alien image has become so pervasive that it is hard to grasp that this tedious, reductive icon is only some fifty years old. It’s not a necessary truth.

Our flying saucer consisted of a shallow chassis approximately as big as a modest hot tub, with side and rear vanes for aerodynamic maneuvering. Half the interior space was occupied by the shielded drive mechanism. A transparent dome rested atop the passenger space. A few failsafe controls clustered around a small steering wheel. Maybe comfortable for Wiggleweb elves, but two humans could barely fit side by side on the padded bench seat, with their legs folded and knees up around their ears.

My basic feeling about alien contact is that every minute of every day is a veritable fugue of alien contact. I think other people are aliens, I think animals are aliens, I think objects are aliens, I think the laws of nature are aliens, and I even think that thoughts are aliens. I’ve always been a very alienated guy.

I had an unhappy childhood. I was having such a bad time growing up in Louisville, Kentucky, that my parents sent me off to a boarding school in Germany for a year. I didn’t know German. In the spring it rained a lot and all the puddles were full of yellow dust. I thought it was fallout, I thought there had been a nuclear war and nobody had told me. I didn’t mind. Maybe now a saucer woud come to pick me up.

Bombo the enormous saucer is still here, hovering above the high-school gracuation ceremony. He’s vibrating his body like a bass speaker, pulsing out dark notes and subsonic vibrations that you can feel in your gut. Sparks are crackling from Bombo’s edges towards the great red eye at the center of his mile-wide underside, like he’s a wheel on a science-fair spark machine. His gaze sweeps back and forth across the lawn. His freaky throbbing rises to a crescendo.

Ka-raaack.

Oh my god, there’s a fifty-foot-deep crater in the place of the Los Perros High front steps. The result of Bombo’s zap. And now—creak, creeak, creeeak—oh shit, the school’s elaborate, columned, pediment-topped facade is wavering, leaning, looming, and…falling forward in a slow-motion collapse.

Ricky roams a night meadow with his dog. Big light solarizes him; something like a giant chandelier is right overhead! A mothership! The dog barks like crazy while a magic beam draws Ricky up into the ship. He’s met by lipless big-eyed folks in silver overalls. One of them has long hair. His/her name is Symphony. S/he takes Ricky off into a little room with a bed and pulls down his trousers. Ricky’s face blurs in ecstasy as he delivers a semen sample into Symphony’s three-fingered hands. Later he wakes, alone at home in sticky sheets.

In the early 1990s, some fringe-thinkers began claiming the U.S. Government and MJ-12 had sold out the humans to the aliens. According to them, human abductions and cattle mutilations are covered up in exchange for alien technology, and a secret base for the aliens has been built at a secret military test site north of Las Vegas named Groom Lake, a.k.a. Area 51, a.k.a. Dreamland. The modern power-obsessed ufology exudes a trapped, hopeless feeling of impotence. A literate and oddly humorous presentation of these ideas can be found in John Shirley’s 1996 science fiction masterpiece Silicon Embrace.  A key work, curiously neglected.

An offbeat but relevant work here is my story with Bruce Sterling, “Colliding Branes,”  which is set in Area 52. You can listen to Bruce reading the story on the audio page of our joint collection Transreal Cyberpunk.

[Okay, those little lavender Mandelbrot-set type scraps don’t look like regular flying saucers, but they’re in the Hollow Earth, so it’s okay.]

Looking out past the tree he’s leaning on, the boy sees a decent-size flying saucer cruise by. This one is gold with a pale purple rim. It’s fleshy and alert, like a round stingray, six or seven feet in diameter. There goes another and another, each of them a different color. Like tropical birds heading for their roost. Each of them seems to have a red eye or a black eye—not something often mentioned by human saucer fanciers. And their bodies’ diversity of form is also something that’s not well known.

Yes, many have the classic sombrero shape, but he also sees one like a lime-green pyramid, and one like a flying snake, and yet another is shaped like a short flight of stairs. “Saucer” is a catch-all category, it seems, with varying contents.

Modern ufology’s obsession with political power is absurd. Mesmerized at the thought of so vast a political conspiracy, pinheads engage in a never-ending discussion of amateurishly forged “top secret government documents” that supposedly describe high-level contacts with aliens. Xeroxed pseudo-bureaucratic gobbledygook—instead of  flaming wheels from the sky. Or a meaty flying manta rays.  Why would the “government” ever know anything useful about saucers?

It seems obvious that flying saucers would be living beings in their own right, and not machines with aliens inside them.  I work that routine in Million Mile Road Trip.

One can readily regard things like the sun or the galaxy as alive in their own right; and intelligent as well. But if the sun is intelligent, why doesn’t talk to us? Well, we’re intelligent, but we don’t talk to ants. The problem is that we, ants, and the sun have no common interests. We have nothing to talk about.

Like you’re on a double date with an ant, the sun, and maybe a tree—what do you talk about? The ant waves its feelers, the tree opens blossoms, the sun sends out a solar prominence, and you…you say, “Where do you want to eat?”

In the 1950s there was a widespread feeling that the saucers were here to bring some kind of solution, perhaps to the then-paramount problem of the Cold War. As the great thinker Carl Jung wrote in 1958,

The UFOs…have become a living myth. We have here a golden opportunity of seeing how a legend is formed, and how in a difficult and dark time for humanity a miraculous tale grows up of an attempted intervention by extraterrestrial ‘heavenly’ powers…

For Jung, the circular UFO is a mandala symbol, representing an integration of the individual psyche with the forces of the cosmos. The flying saucer is thus a projection of the human desire for wholeness and unity. This insight of Jung’s is simple and deep. The fact is that it makes people feel good to look at images of flying saucers, there is a feeling of safety and completion in these round, hovering entities.

These positive feelings are undoubtedly connected to our very earliest life experiences. Look back to the early edges of your life, back when you were part of, or very nearly part of, your mother. Your mother’s breast is the very first “round, hovering entity” that you encounter. Your mother is the original whole of which you were a part. The common use of the phrase “mother-ship” for large UFOs is no accident.

Let’s do another hit of Jung. He noted that the sexual instinct and the drive for power readily tend to obscure the reality of the quest for wholeness. Jung puts it this way in his indispenxible Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies, Princeton University Press 1978, (Originally published in 1958).

“The most important of the fundamental instincts, the religious instinct for wholeness, plays the least conspicuous part in contemporary consciousness because…it can free itself only with the greatest effort…from contamination with the other two instincts. These can constantly appeal to common, everyday facts known to everyone, but the instinct for wholeness requires for its evidence a more highly differentiated consciousness, thoughtfulness, reflection, [and] responsibility…The most convenient explanations are invariably sex and the power instinct, and reduction to these two dominants gives rationalists and materialists an ill-concealed satisfaction: they have neatly disposed of an intellectually and morally uncomfortable difficulty…”

In modern times, the notion of UFOs as symbols of wholeness was supplanted by notions of sex and power, and the UFO stories became accordingly unwholesome and paranoid. On the one hand, the mythos was tainted by concepts relating to society’s pervasive, icky concern with sexual molestation and the politics of reproduction. And on the other hand—as I mentioned—humorless amateur ufologists dwell on infantile fears that an all-powerful government has been hiding saucer contacts from us. Just as Jung warned, concepts of sexuality and power have utterly eclipsed the concepts of higher consciousness.

The saucers around them are, variously, like sombreros, donuts, serpents, soup tureens, battleship turrets, and lemon meringue pies. Their tints include, to name only a few, crimson, chartreuse, magenta, gold, and ultramarine. Their color designs are solid, spotted, blended, striped, or zigzag. Their skin textures are metallic, slimy, leathery, scaly, warty, bristly, and more.

A large gray saucer begins nudging Yulia the flat-cow saucer. He nips at the flat cow’s long tail with big, stony teeth. He bumps her from below and from above. And then, how horrible, a waggling tube emerges from the blocky, square-jawed saucer’s underside.

A reproductive organ? A feeding siphon? Whatever function the unwelcome tube is meant to serve, the brutish monster thrusts it against Yulia’s body, feeling around with the tip until—oh hell—he locates the coin-purse slit along Yulia’s edge and manages to pry it open.

The word “person” comes from the Latin per + son, meaning through + sound. A “person” was originally a mask through which an actor would speak, so by extension, a person is any entity through which a mind speaks. Each and every aspect of the world can be imaginatively regarded as a “person,” and any person can be imagined to be “alien.” the characteristic feature of our fictional aliens is that they are acting on plans and purposes wholly other than ours. The alien mythos is a dramatized restatement of the basic existential fact: others exist. A childish person is barely able to grasp that there is any consciousness other than his or hers. But one day, with a terrified snort of surprise, Birgit (say) realizes that Sylvester is actually a person. A conscious entity. A startled grazing cow snaps up her head. Snort?!?

In fiction we like to add a second, yet more alarmed snort of surprise—Birgit realizes that not only is Sylvester conscious, he is in fact interested in goals wholly other than she. Perhaps he is a flesh-eating zombie, or a cunning robot simulacrum. Snort! He has a mind. Double snort! His mind is unlike mine.

Snort! The lamp on my table has consciousness! Double snort! But it’s not human! Do I now flee from my lamp? Or shall I worship it?

Fear or worship of aliens are both false solutions. Fear of aliens stems out of a self-centeredness so strong as to produce a terror of the other. And worship of aliens is a self-abasing, masochistic response stemming from a desire for annihilation and a terror of the self.

The lampshade quivers gently. Sharing in the undivided Divinity operating within everything, my lamp is surely alive. It knows things. It knows how to turn on and off, and it knows how to fall off the table. It knows knows gravity and it knows electricity. Dear lamp, it’s nice to have you here. Thank you for existing.

Snort! It’s conscious! Double snort! It’s other!

I’ve come to like thinking about aliens; I sometimes even imagine that I really did spend a few minutes in a saucer that night by Devil’s Tower. It’s a fresh, spaced-out way to look at the world. A conceptual high. I often think of a UFO perched watching at my shoulder, and it makes me feel glad.

And no, I haven’t been stopped from telling this True Story, and you reading this, no, you aren’t letting anyone stop you either, you’re in on the secret now, you’re in the Big Time, you’ve learned Saucer Wisdom.

The aliens are all around us, and you can learn to see things as they do.

God is everywhere, and if you ask, God will help you.

Wisdom enough.

One Response to “Flying Saucer Jamboree”

  1. Failrate Says:

    Holy heck, Rucker, you managed to fit about a hundred little stories in there. Good read.

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