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A fine catalogue and reference book, but few new perspectives: PtM2? No.
on July 28, 2011
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.