Out of This World

Recently I’ve been reading a lot of books about aliens. No, not the “aliens” that are so much in the news lately, the other kind, the kind that used to visit in flying saucers. Wait, wait – before you click away, hear me out because this isn’t a post about aliens; it’s a post about us.

This isn’t an “off the shelf” entry because I haven’t read any new books about aliens – at the risk of inviting trolls, there really isn’t much new to say about aliens. I’ve actually been re-reading older books that I have about aliens and about what believing in flying saucers says about us.

I’m not sure what triggered this reading binge (five books in three weeks). Maybe it was all the speculation that the odd-shaped asteroid with the weird trajectory was really an alien ship. (It wasn’t; as one column I read put it – or maybe it was DeGrasse Tyson on Colbert, ‘It looks like a ship in those pictures that you’re looking at, but those are an artist’s rendering of what they speculate it might look.’)

Or maybe it was the uncertain world that we live in. A couple of books suggest that interest in aliens and flying saucers increases when people feel afraid of what might happen (as opposed to what is actually happening). Back when people used to report seeing flying saucers (more on this in a minute), sightings would go up during election years, or when there was a possible threat to the future such as the Bay of Pigs or Watergate. But when there was an actual event, they went down. When you’re worrying about the solidity of the ground under your feet, you don’t have time to worry about what might come from the skies. Perhaps that’s why some people perform better at the last minute – the sense of urgency brings clarity of purpose and lets them focus on one thing.

People don’t report seeing flying saucers much anymore. Back in the 40s and 50s, they didn’t talk much about alien encounters, they just saw lights in the sky or crafts that they didn’t understand (there was a brief spike recently when a Space-X rocket took off over California I think, and people didn’t know what it was). Now the talk is mostly about alien abductions instead, abductions independent of spacecraft, aliens that sneak into your bedroom and kidnap you repeatedly and torture you for no plausible reason. Often victims don’t even realize that they have had these experiences on their own, they just feel uneasy or have strange dreams, and discover/uncover/recover memories of their abduction under hypnosis. The fear associated with the abduction is real, which is what got John Mack in such trouble: to deny the perceived cause of the fear is to deny the fear itself.

Nowadays, when not remembering abduction, people are focused on the cover-up, the great conspiracy between the aliens and the secret government that seeks to delude us all. You know, the stuff that the boring X-Files episodes were about. I like reading about a good conspiracy theory as much as the next person – well, okay, a little bit more than the next person – but I’ve always found theories about the trilateral commission or MJ-12 boring. As one of my friends once said about Stephen King’s writing, “The books are pretty good at scaring you but it’s always a let down when he reveals the Ultimate Evil and the worst it can do is kill you.” It was like watching Watergate coverage – All the President’s Men did a great job dramatizing it, but the hearings themselves were like watching paint dry.

If the theories about what causes spikes in interest in alien activity are right, then it seems like now is the perfect time for some kind of peak. With Trump in office, the amount of unspecific anxiety is very high. There’s no telling what he’ll say or do next — whatever he wants to, apparently. (Personally, I think he’s building up to shooting someone in the face on Fifth Avenue, just to prove that yes, he can get away with it and the Republicans will still back him up. All this earlier stuff is just boiling the frog slowly.) We’re all waiting for the other shoe to drop. You can sense the impending hysteria when listening to the media and politicians who are trapped in the DC bubble: everything, left and right, takes on far more importance than it really has. A text message between two coworkers becomes a link to a secret society. Tweets from Trump get parsed a million ways to Sunday.

And the alien conspiracy theories have been co-opted by the edges of the spectrum, merged into their theories of the world, and fear of an “other” that is threatening them, whether that “other” is illegal aliens or a grand left-wing or right-wing conspiracy. It’s become more about the cover-up than the aliens themselves.

One of the most intriguing books in which aliens make an appearance is one that I can’t remember the name of. I read it only because my husband told me to because I was on vacation and had run out of other things to read, and I do not plan to reread it as part of this binge. Most of the book is a history of cutting edge aviation, the kind of “dark” development programs that produced the Stealth-bomber and other aircrafts that men seem to recognize instinctively and I have no interest in. From what I could tell, the book seemed well-grounded in reality and was an unremarkable history of a topic I have no interest in until the last chapters, when the author suddenly revealed that the government has reverse-engineered alien technology. Wha? What were aliens doing in that book?

Later: So after I wrote that paragraph I asked my husband if he could remember the title. As an appropriate demonstration of how fallible human perception is, I remembered reading the book as a hardcover and that it was named something aeronautical. My husband couldn’t remember the title either but remembered reading it electronically. We both remembered that the author was a woman. A little Googling, and I discovered that it was called Area 51 – which makes no sense because that means there’s no way that my husband read it first. He restricts his reading to facts, although maybe he deceived by an interview on Morning Joe (and now it’s coming back to me that is probably what happened because I have a vague, non-hypnosis-induced memory of being surprised that he wanted to read it). And maybe the aliens at the end weren’t aliens but Russian children.

Ok, now I have to re-read it, just to remember what it was about and see what else I mis-remembered.

Or maybe I’ll just reread the Hitchhiker’s Guide instead. If that flying rock comes back, it might be a good idea to have a Go Bag with a towel and my paperback edition pre-packed and ready to go.

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