John Rimmer. The Evidence for Alien Abductions. Aquarian Press, 1984.
Of course, it could be one big hoax, the whole lot of them... But that's a paranoid idea, as cranky as what John Rimmer calls the ETH (Extraterrestrial Hypothesis). No, I'll accept that there are hundreds of people who truly believe that they have been kidnapped by things from space. Whatever the facts, and whatever it means, this is itself a Phenomenon.
John Rimmer gets us quickly past the first hurdle of they're-all-liars-or-nuts, and on to the mind-stretching stuff beyond. His great virtue is to be sensible without being a wet blanket. The subject has the appeal of a detective story, and JR is a model detective.
He picks over the evidence, and find nothing conclusive: no telltale debris,, no abandoned extraterrestrial lunch-box (although in one encounter a man is left holding a cold but earthly pancake.) He examines the witnesses, and finds them pretty ordinary - not suspiciously ordinary, just average - and sane. He lines up the pros and cons most scrupulously.
I must admit my own prejudice. If there really are superior intelligences out there, why don't they do something important? It's a bit like Uri Geller: who needs a force unknown to science to bend a teaspoon? The messages these aliens impart to their guests are about as exiting as that cold pancake.
For me the book takes off where it stays most firmly on this earth. JR points back to folk-tales of children stolen by fairies to a land where time stands still and they are fed the food of paradise: the same story without the space-age props. I remember the thrill of first hearing those tales. Where does that come from?
He points to the shamans of primitive tribes: again, intriguing correspondences. And, from a whole stable of psychological interpretations, he leads out the favourite: the Birth Trauma Hypothesis. Is it coincidence that these aliens so often have the features of the foetus? Is the spaceship a womb?
It's a seductive theory I'd like to credit, but... Life-before-birth is an area that has attracted other explorers. There is a whole school of therapeutic 're-birthing' that uses similar techniques of regression to those described in this book. And the 'memories' they find are different, strongly physical and difficult to put into words. The accounts of abductees sound more like an adult's eye-view of the womb - precisely because an eye-view is what they are.
Besides, it seems too neat. I don't want there to be a simple answer, whether ETH or BTH. 1 think these abductions are a fairy story. But don't get me wrong. Real fairy stories are important, rich and never quite explicable. They come from somewhere in us as mysterious as Alpha Centauri. -- Reviewed by Philip Gross