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Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times
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64 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on November 9, 2010
It's been a long time since Vallee's seminal Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds...I've long anticipated Jacques Vallee's latest book, and I do recommend it highly. That said, it is only fair to let readers know that this is much less of Vallee himself than I had hoped, the authors devoting most of the book to a chronology of 500 reports of strange events reported from ancient times to 1879, complete with sources and notes for each (Readers familiar with Vallee's Magonia Database will instantly recognize the format). The chronology ends in 1879, as this is the point at which manmade objects appeared in the sky for the first time. Vallee devotes much of his commentary to sections the precede and follow the cases, presenting his criteria for inclusion and standards of credibility, as well as a summary of his approach and mindset. This is a valuable introduction to the complex framework through which he views these "anomalies". Those unfamiliar with Vallee's thought will be brought up to speed quickly. The brief discussion of Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as it pertains to "anomalies" was very interesting.

The main thrust of the book is that these unexplained phenomenon did not appear suddenly with Kenneth Arnold's "flying saucer" sighting on June 24th, 1947, but have been with us since the dawn of recorded history. His thesis is that each generation views these events through it's own cultural filter and frames them in a context that is peculiar to its time and place. The bottom line is that the extraterrestrial hypothesis is not the only way to view these events; Vallee speculates that this view may simply be a product of our times, and explores alternatives. He also explains that his method is "fact based" rather than "belief based"; essentially refusing to filter events through our cultural lens to establish credibility, accepting an event as reported even if it defies "common sense".

The structure of the book is interesting, being divided into three main sections: 1.) A Chronology of Wonders, 2.) Myths, Legends, and Chariots of the Gods, and 3.) Sources and Methods. These three sections are preceded by an in Introduction and a Forward, and followed by a Conclusion chapter; these alone are worth the price of the book.

Part One - Chronology of Wonders...presents in chronological order, 500 recorded events of unexplained aerial phenomenon that predate man's ability to take to the air. These cases are those examined by the authors using criteria outlined in the book and found to be credible in terms of their sources and reliability. It is important to note that the events are reported as given by the source, and there is no discussion or evaluation of each case; you read what was reported and in most cases the report is a half page or so. This is not a bad thing, but one would love to have Vallee's thoughts on many of these cases.

Part Two - Myths, Legends, and Chariots of the Gods...is comprised of those accounts that seem to be questionable: blatant hoaxes, religious visions, and atmospheric effects. This is an effort to remove from the "canon" those cases which, on examination, should be dismissed, lest they cloud the more credible cases in Part One. Various accounts from popular ufology (such as the Dropa) are investigated and reasons given as to why they should be considered questionable at best. This is a rewarding exercise as we see the author's mind at work.

Part Three - Sources and Methods is a fascinating discussion of the methods used to judge the credibility of cases and an examination of sources of all kinds. This chapter presents the idea of fact based vs. belief based reporting and examines both the "ancient astronaut" beliefs, and the modern "extraterrestrial" hypothesis arising after the Kenneth Arnold sighting. Disgarding both "belief systems", he provides his own answers - which I will not attempt to paraphrase.

The Conclusion Section provides an analysis of what has been learned from an examination of the cases presented in the form of twelve questions and answers from the authors.

The entire book is a terrific one volume introduction to this seminal thinker, and an attempt to expand the range of possible explanations for these events beyond the extraterristrial hypothesis. For anyone interested in unexplained aerial phenomenon, this is a treasure trove of information. Vallee fans will be delighted; those unfamiliar with his work will learn much.

For some interesting thoughts on possible explanations for the "high strangeness" phenomenon, those with a bent toward particle physics and quantum theory will certainly enjoy the classic The Holographic Universe: The Revolutionary Theory of Reality. Talbot presents a chapter that is focused on events that have no seeming rational explanation in our current view of reality, and this chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on December 3, 2010
I am thoroughly enjoying this book. It's a nice change from the usual UFO history book that typically starts in 1947 and illuminates subsequent sightings. The book contains about 500 sightings that most people do not hear or read about in most UFO books. Sure, there is scant information on many of them, and most of them do not fit into the normal UFO report schema in that there are numerous accounts of armies in the sky, crosses in the sky, and other what appear to be other symbolic interpretations of what people witness that they cannot explain. It's interesting to see how witness accounts go from the Age of Reason to the Age of Enlightenment where such interpretations change with increased scientific knowledge. This book is one that all interested in the subject should read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
I read this as a follow-up to Leslie Kean's "UFOs: Generals, Pilots, and Government Officials Go On the Record". Until reading that, I had not paid much attention to UFO books, because there are so many lunatics and hoaxsters that it's hard to know who to take seriously.

I found this book partly fascinating and partly disappointing.

After a brief introduction, the bulk of the book is 500 short descriptions of accounts of observations of strange things in the sky, starting thousands of years ago and ending in 1879. Some of them are very well documented by people who were prestigious in their society at the time. It's fascinating how many of them are quite similar to today's UFO accounts.

But I was also annoyed by the inclusion of many accounts that I thought seemed obviously made up by the original sources. Accounts of UFOs coming to a king's coronation, or to a saint when he died, or to hover over a saint's grave or other church relics, just made me roll my eyes.

Even worse were the accounts of UFOs pointing out some "miracle", such as a nicely carved sculpture of the Virgin Mary in a cave, where a chapel was then built, attracting throngs of visitors who want to see the miracle for themselves while boosting the local economy. I don't understand why even uneducated people believe such obvious hoaxes.

Less annoying, but so common as to be wearying, were accounts that started out with a straightforward observation, then went on to interpret it in elaborate religious terms. For many people back then, it seems every unusual observation had to be a very specific "sign" from God. Of course, interpreting the sign could get tricky -- if a UFO hovered over the enemy's troops or city, did that mean the subject was doomed, or that the subject was under divine protection? Apparently even God couldn't decide, because sometimes it was one way, sometimes the other.

I would have left out at least a third of the accounts. I also would have left out religious interpretations, though to be fair, sometimes it's hard to tell exactly where factual observation stops and religious interpretation begins.

I noticed an interesting pattern: in very old accounts, UFOs were often very loud and very smoky, where today they are usually described as silent and leaving no trace in the air. Also, it seems they used to emit a lot more heat and radiation (people under a hovering UFO "fell on their own blood; none could stand"; in other cases people fled the unbearable heat), where today it seems, per Kean's "UFOs", they emit some radiation but little enough that they are safe to touch, and apparently no noticeable heat.

It was also interesting how they were described. In ancient times, they were often described as "shields". One person thought they looked like horses' hooves. "Umbrellas" was common in later times. In France, they said they looked like hats. In Asia, they saw a lot of metal "dragons". Also, where modern UFO accounts describe blindingly bright lights, in ancient accounts they were described as "fire".

On the other hand, one common ancient and premodern sighting was pillars of bright light or fire. That doesn't seem to happen much if at all today, without an attached flying saucer apparently emitting the light.

The authors don't say why they chose 1879 as an ending point, but I suspect it's because hoaxtering was becoming a popular and sophisticated pastime around then, probably making it more difficult to distinguish between sincere accounts and lies. Some of the accounts toward the end of the book I thought sounded a lot like hoaxes.

After the 500 accounts, they discuss methods and inclusion criteria. I would have liked a summary of that BEFORE the 500 accounts. Their rigorous methods and criteria aren't adequately obvious when we just start reading the accounts.

One of the authors in particular has put a huge amount of work into collecting these accounts, often from very obscure sources. I'm grateful for his (and his several collaborators') hard work. I'm also grateful for both authors' hard work in rigorously tracing accounts back to original sources.

An interesting part of the book is where they debunk several apparently popular UFO accounts that in other UFO books are passed on as fact. I'd never heard of any of them, but it was interesting to read of jokes and hoaxes going on to live lives of their own long after their creators had lost interest or died.

Aside from including some accounts that I thought seemed like obvious fakes, and some accounts that go on and on with the religious interpretation, this is a fascinating and groundbreaking book. If you're interested enough to have read this review, don't let the 1/3 or so silly accounts in it put you off. I'm very glad I read it, and I recommend it highly.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2010
An excellent and well-researched compendium of weird historical reports of aerial phenomena. Authors Vallee and Aubeck have compiled an analysis of sighting reports throughout most of human history and have done a magnificent job! Their intelligent analysis of the sightings and their impact on human culture and beliefs is enlightening. After reading book and after book of UFO dribble it is refreshing to read authors like Jacques Vallee, Edward Ashpole and Paul Hill. I hope more books come from this partnership! This book is on my top 5 list as of today!
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2011
Jacques Vallee is usually regarded as the "brilliant mind" of ufology or as some kind of "ufological" rebel after publishing his critically acclaimed Passport to Magonia: On UFOs, Folklore, and Parallel Worlds where he for the first time showcased parallels between folklore and so-called "Ufo reports" to a big audience. This was in 1969. Times have changed and things developed. Now, 40 years later, we have a great reference book which goes further.

Not only has Vallee an equally gifted, young researcher, Chris Aubeck, at his side. Now, this new book has a treasure of detailed and contemporary sources for each case it has collected. While "Passport to Magonia" made many open-minded people think a different way and opened a window, this book goes through this window and explores what's behind.

Aubeck, who according to Vallee "did the most work" for this book, stars as a great contributor with witty remarks, precision and historical awareness. You won't find any "personal research" or "anonymous source" remarks in this book. Every case is well founded as much as it was possible in regard to the many years which have passed by.

Those, who prefer to think Ufos are extraterrestrial visitors in their space ships, and those who prefer to think they are a representation of cultural, social, psychological and folkloristic influences of their current times, are both welcome to cut their teeth into the hundreds of cases and facts we get from this milestone of research.

Last not least this book received help by a network of international researchers, loosely connected through the internet, and led by Chris Aubeck, who added their wisdom to some of the cases. A highly recommended and welcomed book. Well done!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2013
I have read several reviews of this book which perhaps missed the point of the study itself. To write a book like this is not easy and takes years of research, looking through ancient manuscripts & documents, much of the time in many languages using libraries all over the world. Such a study, one funded by the researchers themselves must be lauded. We are clearly touching the surface of a phenomena that has influenced humanity since the time we stood up erect. What we see historically is the phenomena is always seen and described in the context of the time and place of the observer. For instance when a person tells us that UFOs must be alien in origin, this is an obvious suggesting for our culture now used to space travel in popular culture. When we ask, "why do they not make contact with humanity" the returning comment is often, "well they must have a law that forbids them from interfering with a primitive society", much like the federation prime directive of Star Trek. However there is an obvious contradiction here for our 20th century world. The sightings themselves have a huge impact of our culture anyway. If an alien race wanted to study us without being noticed, they certainly could. We could. The facts brought forward in Wonders in the Sky by Chris Aubeck & Jacques Vallee (and Vallee's previous book on this subject Passport to Magonia) show that the UFO phenomena, the occupants and the results of their appearance have created its own mythology which has influenced our culture and society since humans stood erect. This book is the tip of the iceberg and that surely this book is written to inspire scholars the world over to conduct their own studies and add to this remarkable and baffling phenomena.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2012
Jacques Vallee is well known for his unique viewpoint on the phenomenon known as UFOs, beginning with his groundbreaking book, Passport to Magonia, published in 1969. "Magonia" reviewed odd events from mythology, religion and folklore that resemble modern UFO sightings, visitations and abductions. In Wonders in the Sky, Vallee teems up with Chris Aubeck to again examine unexplained objects as reported in literature going back to BC and forward to 1890. The objective was to scour every available source and review each instance and eliminate those which cannot be traced to an original reliable source or which have a possible natural explanation, leaving a list of 500 historical sightings, which are truly unexplained.

Such a review is possible because of the Internet, which makes available many old documents, records and books for perusal by scholars and researchers. Vallee and Aubeck selected what they regard as the most credible sightings from a much larger pool. At first, I was a bit disappointed to see the book is mainly a list of mostly small paragraphs describing an item, with date, place and source, arranged by century. But once I started reading, I found the descriptions fascinating and could begin to see some patterns in the listings, which come from all over the world, but with a preponderance from the UK.

The authors confined themselves to mainly objects (some just balls of fire or lights) in the sky, with a smaller number of listings that include entities. It becomes clear as you read that people see things consistent with their cultural environment including how they interpret entities. During some periods, the entities are angels or messengers from God, other times they are fairies and "little people" and at other times they are devils and demons. In our own times, they are aliens from other planets, but this book does not cover the so-called modern UFO era dating from Kenneth Arnold's sighting of flying saucers in 1947.

The objects too have various descriptions. The Chinese describe most aerial phenomena as "dragons." Prior to the 18th century, objects were often described as ships sailing through the air. Witnesses describe ships consistent with their era and often with people on them. In ancient times, witnesses saw armies fighting each other in the sky. The "fighting armies" descriptions are especially puzzling. Did they really see people with swords and shields up in the air, or were these weather phenomena that looked like armies?

Speaking of shields, in historical times, witnesses often said the objects were "flying shields." In all times, witnesses describe both the appearance and the duration of the sighting in terms of their every day experiences. For instance, a sighting lasted as long as it takes to "say two Te Deums" or the time to sing "six sharakans" or the object was the color of "heated iron" or it looked like "a big man's hat." Their comparisons are often to things we today do not use or know anything about. Is "shield" a similar description to "saucer?" Is a "flying hat" similar to a "flying triangle?"

The authors do not accept the standard reply of scientists that all aerial phenomena can be explained in a rational way as natural events. In the Introduction, Vallee takes a poke at Stephen Hawking, who has expressed his disdain for UFO research and has asked why UFOs only appear to "cranks and weirdoes." Vallee refutes this with evidence that many sightings are from very reliable witnesses, often pilots and military people, and further, that these unexplained events have actually played a major role in the history of humanity. Clearly, he feels the scientific community is only displaying arrogance in ignoring this phenomenon. The conclusion to the book states that "...the so-called `rational' explanations proposed by academic experts are often as delusionary as the most fanciful reports, and they fail to account for the observed facts in the same way."

However, Vallee himself is careful to keep separate his two big interests: his role in computer networking history and his role as a UFO researcher. He is currently a Silicon Valley investment capitalist and in that role, he does not promote his UFO books. I have recently read and reviewed his book (which I discovered by chance), The Heart of the Internet, and found it an excellent first-person account of early work at SRI that led to the Internet, and a fascinating other side of the man, Jacques Vallee. He wears both hats very well, but is even he afraid of being thought of as a "nut" for his work on UFOs?

The authors do not offer a theory contradicting the usual "aliens from outer space" explanation, but do have a short section at the end of the book that provides some minimal conclusions. The best we get from them in terms of what they think these sightings are is "We suspect that the data we have compiled in our Chronology indicates the presence of a previously unknown physical element." I guess we'll have to content ourselves with that for now.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Co-authored by Chris Aubeck and Jacques Vallee, `Wonders in the Sky' chronicles several hundred sightings of aerial phenomena (often reported by multiple witnesses), missing-time abduction-type events and UFO-related mystical weirdness throughout the world from antiquity up to 1879. This cut-off date has been chosen, the authors explain, because:

"1880 marked a turning point in the technical and social history of the advanced nations. We wanted to analyze aerial phenomena during a period that was entirely free of those modern complications represented by airplanes, dirigibles, rockets and the often-mentioned opportunities for misrepresentation represented by military prototypes."

The book runs to 491 pages excluding the index. It's basically a chronological catalogue of reported incidents, in three parts:

Part 1, divided into sections and containing 500 numbered reports, is titled `A Chronology of Wonders'

Part 2, titled `Myths, Legends and Chariots of the Gods' is shorter: the accounts are not numbered and many are admitted by the authors to be of questionable provenance
- though there seems to be some crossover in the types of reports found in the two sections

Part 3, `Sources and Methods' explains the methodology adopted to justify inclusion, and here the authors explain that at least 80% of historic accounts available to them were for various reasons excluded

Most of the heavy lifting seems to have been done by Aubeck, a young data compiler and co-founder of the Magonia Project, who since 2003 has done a thorough job in collecting old accounts of sightings/encounters and attempting to verify their authenticity.

Long sections of the book inevitably read like a laundry list; a numbered catalogue of reports through the ages to drive home the point (Jacques has made this point before, repeatedly, since `Passport to Magonia' in 1969) that these phenomena are not new but very ancient. The manner in which they were described in previous centuries, however, differs from the obvious technological framing of sightings and experiences in modern times, such as those related by the high-credibility contributors to Leslie Kean's exemplary 2010 best-seller and thousands of other essentially similar reports in the modern era.

Some of the reports in the chronicle run to a mere couple of lines, others are detailed narratives covering several pages, and there is everything in-between. Some are declared to be hoaxes, yet included nevertheless. Some are single-witness events, others more substantial: it's a mixed bag. Many of those from Japan and China are particularly intriguing. Some quaint b&w illustrations are inserted into the text, and (classic Vallee methodology here) there is an attempt to classify each entry with an archaic symbol so that the reader might easily ID the type: unidentified aerial light, abduction, entity associated with aerial phenomenon, and so on.

Vallee writes the introduction to the work, contributes to the section summaries and pens the conclusion in his usual formal and literate style.

Several missing-time/encounter-with-strange-beings events are chronicled in the book which the authors admit are similar to modern-day abduction accounts (i.e. since the 1940s). Now let me say that in general I am a big admirer of Jacques' work. For example I consider `Revelations' to be one of the best essays ever on the UFO `scene' and the manipulation of belief systems; it should be required reading for anyone interested in the history of how this field has been managed. Normally he displays diligence and thoroughness along with his high intelligence, thinks rationally without being unduly influenced by others and keeps personal emotion from clouding the issue. But when it comes to evidence for abductions, though he acknowledges their reality Jacques has something of a blind spot. So it's sad that once again, he can't resist having a dig at modern-day researchers, shooting his usual line - one example of many:

"...It is difficult to read ancient books such as the `Malleus Maleficarum' or Remy's later `De Demonalatriae' (1595) without coming away with the impression that today's leading abduction researchers, who abuse witnesses with dubious hypnotic techniques to extract information, would have enjoyed a successful collaboration with the chief inquisitors of yore" (p136)

A clue to Jacques' uncharacteristically vindictive personal attitude to abduction research might be found in his long investigative partnership with Barbara Bartholic, who ended said partnership in order to concentrate on investigation of abduction cases in Tulsa, and later trained as a successful regression hypnotist. Scores of other people on every continent would however qualify for inclusion in Vallee's group of "inquisitors". Snarky comments comparing these mostly careful and well-intentioned professionals, usually working for free, to the murderous Inquisition are surely unworthy of him, and devalue his research. The late Professor John Mack of Harvard University Medical School, Professor Leo Sprinkle from Wyoming University, Dr. Edith Fiore and others with medical-psychiatric credentials way beyond Vallee's own (he has none) would be included in his band of evil inquisitors. Where they all arrive at broadly the same conclusions, Jacques openly admits he himself has never been able to shed any useful light on what is going on with this pervasive phenomenon. Reporting similar-looking cases from 300 years ago and declaring `look - this has always been happening - it's not new' is all very interesting, but apart from confirming the phenomenon to be real and not some artefact of the modern age, adds nothing to our understanding about precisely what it might be, does it? It's like the oft-repeated mantra (not just from Jacques but from many people) `the extraterrestrial hypothesis may be incorrect' - sure everyone knows that, but where does that get us? The phenomenon doesn't tell us its origins - which might in fact be multiple, not singular. You might as well argue about the number of angels on the head of a pin, as mediaeval theologians were reputed to do. Is any more convincing hypothesis than the ETH available, which fits the facts as reported? No. (Mercifully, Jacques spares us another essay on his unconvincing 'control system' idea.)

Overall the book is a good effort employing mostly sound principles of scientific research, and worth having on the shelf as a work of reference. It's not, however, one of Vallee's better works - and certainly not `Passport to Magonia Book 2' as some have claimed: there is no real thesis, no new ideas, no extended discussion. It's just a catalogue of stories - admittedly a good and thorough one, carefully compiled, but at the end of the day just a catalogue.

Chris Aubeck shows promise as a careful and methodical researcher/compiler of data, and we might expect to hear more of him in the future.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 17, 2011
this is an interesting book co-authored by my favourite author on the topic (in fact, really the only one i still read on the subject).

jacques vallee's most important contribution to the field of 'ufology' was to change the debate from "are ufos real", as in, "are aliens and their spaceships visiting earth" to "there is a well-documented physical and emotional phenomena, with consistent characteristics that has been going on for much of recorded human history. what is it?"

he frustrates many of those inclined to believe the extra-terrestrial hypothesis (eth) but he's a scientist, and what anyone else thinks is not really his concern.

i quibble with the format of this book, and it is not necessarily required reading, but it has a place in your library along his 'trilogy' of dimensions, confrontations and revelations.

in the end, this book is really just one more in his 'call to arms' to scientists and researchers to ignore the noise of the eth adherents and start to treat this phenomenon as something worthy of serious study. sadly, almost 50 years into his work, it doesn't seem like we are any closer to this happening.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2013
Whatever UFOs are (and Vallee's theory differs from most American UFO researchers), there have definitely been anomalies seen in the skies around the world since humans first gazed at the heavens. It's fascinating to learn how these sightings were interpreted in different times: as shields, torches, globes, disks, pillars, angels, dragons, monsters, etc. This book collects hundreds of accounts from 1460 BCE in Lebanon to 1879 in Dubuque, Iowa. Each account is footnoted with its original source, if you're interested in looking for more information.
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