Monday, May 30, 2016

Book Review: Watch the Skies!

Watch the Skies! A Chronicle of the Flying Saucer Myth

© 1994 by Curtis Peebles

For the longest time – several years, really – I’ve had my eye on this book. A quick perusal long ago told me that Watch the Skies! spells out more the mythology of the UFO / flying saucer phenomenon than its history, usually fleshed out via extraordinary (as well as those bordering on the commonplace, it must be noted) eyewitness accounts.

This intrigued me to no end.

Now, every couple of years the flying saucer bug bites me. Sometimes seriously, as it did back in the early 2000s when, in a new apartment several hundred miles south of where I previously lived forever, I did some serious research into the subject in hopes that some great American novel would emerge from that granite block, a la Michelangelo chiseling away at the stone that become the Pieta. Well, that never happened, but I was able to put the sprawling beast into a user-friendly framework, a master catalogue of the nightmares and visions of the books I devoured as a youngling.

Anyway, I stumbled across the Peebles book about two weeks ago. Picked it up, and devoured it in a few days like it was one of those early gnarled paperbacks I discovered in the spookier sections of the local library where my mom worked.

And you know what? I liked it a lot.

The bottom line is that Watch the Skies! – the line taken, of course, from the final admonition from 1951’s The Thing from Another World – is skeptical toward the whole ETH (Extra-Terrestrial Hypothesis) explanation of UFOs. A skeptical book, but a gently skeptical one. A gentle book that treats its subject with soft, loving gloves, focusing on a more meta-psychological ever-evolving “myth” paradigm as opposed to the Grey aliens flying who-knows-how-many light years to get here to insert stuff up hapless victims’ butts.

Ahem. That was a low blow. Or maybe not. I look wistfully upon the whole “nocturnal lights” and “daylight disks” of the Dr. J. Allen Hynek era with genuine fondness, and consider the whole UFO thing taking a really, really bad misstep sometime in the 80s with Whitley Strieber and Budd Hopkins and the whole abduction thing.

But back to Peebles’ book.

The “history” ranges from Kenneth Arnold’s June 1947 sighting (though the 1897 airship ‘flap’ is mentioned) up to the predominance and preponderance of the abduction phenomenon in the late 80s / early 90s. The author attempts to show – fairly successfully, though I don’t know if I’m a hundred percent convinced – how flaps often coincide with national or global crises … i.e. the Korean War, the Soviet Union gaining the H-Bomb and the threat of mutual destruction, Watergate and Viet Nam. And through it all, as our history and history with conflict evolved, so did the Myth, which Peebles traces from flying saucers > contactees > conspiracy theories (and NICAP’s raison d’etra) > crashed saucers / cattle mutilations / abductions. At each stage the characteristics of the myth grow, change, develop new offshoots, thunk hard into dead ends. At the end of each chapter such morphings are spelled out for the reader.

Like I said, I liked it. It was a pleasant stroll down memory lane, a lengthy revisit with old friends on the porch with bottomless pitchers of lemonade, a thoughtful nighttime look out the bedroom window past the picket-fenced field onto the starry skies – with some stars moving quite unnaturally. All with a new friend at your side, explaining things to you from a different angle, and the more you listen, the more you nod your head and say, “Yes. This is the way I think it is. This makes sense to me.”

Grade: A-minus.

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