The History Men

  • Ken Hollings. Welcome to Mars: Fantasies of Science in the American Century - 1947-1959.  Strange Attractor Press, 2008 £11.99.
  • Rob Simone. UFOs in the Headlines: Real Reporting on a Real Phenomenon. Headroom Publishing, 2008.

Ken Hollings traces the parallel developments among ufology, space science,science fiction (including movies all the way down from B to Z-minus), general popular culture, the growth of suburbia and psychedelics, the coming of the Beat Generation, psychoanalysis, hypnotic regression and Dianetics, the fears of nuclear war and much more in the 'greater 50s'. He does a remarkable job of drawing all these disparate strands together into a narrative history of a future past.

Hollings does not see the UFO legend as some kind of aberrant side branch of history but central to the understanding of the decade and its hopes and fears, as are the long forgotten Z-minus movies. If one could draw a meta narrative out of all this, it is one in which the safe little habitat of the new shining clean, domesticated suburbs are sensed as being under threat from forces from the outer wilderness of space and the inner wilderness of the atom and the unconscious. As we seek to explore into the those realms they are in return entering our own safe little world.

The core of Rob Simone's book is a major nostalgia fest, a large collection of UFO stories from British newspapers covering the period 1950-1954. Here are the first UK news reports of loads of those cases that ufologists of my age read in the old books we got from the public libraries. The Nash and Fortenberry Story, the Nairobi Cigar, the Topcliffe Saucer, Captain Howard and the BOAC Stratocruiser, the story of Mr Potter and his "Adamski type saucer", the Darbyshire photograph, and UK press reaction to the great French wave of 1954 (early versions of the story of Marius Dewilde etc).

The coverage contains about equal measure of 'believer' and sceptical material, most of the latter one must say being of a rather careless nature. Of course many of the actual UFO stories covered would receive fairly short shrift from today's more savvy ufologists; many are obvious meteorites for example.The rest of the book is much weaker, being just oddments of clippings from the USA and elsewhere, with transcriptions, and in some cases, translations, by the author. It would have been a lot more interesting to have had more French clippings and translations from the 1954wave, and the selection of untranslated material from Turkey serves little purpose. -- Peter Rogerson

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