Moving in Dubious Circles

Jim Schnabel. Round in Circles. Hamish Hamilton, 1993.

This book has already started fur flying amongst the crop-circle establishment who have been making accusations of unfairness, bitter personal attacks, blindness to reality and unspecified hidden agendas and conspiracies. Well, could it really be so good, I asked.

It is. Although Schnabel, if pressed for an 'explanation' for crop circles, would probably side with your reviewer in saying 'art', don't look here for a CSICOP-type debunking. Schnabel is more concerned with the sociology and personalities behind the crop-circle phenomena His book tells us more about the English class-system than it does about plasma vortices or superior intelligences.

It is clear that the controversies of cereology are based around the yawning chasm in English society between the country gentleman and the scientist. Echoing the old ufological disdain of the "white-coated godlings of the laboratory" (copyright 1969, J Cleary-Baker), the supernaturally oriented cerealogists pour scorn on the grammar-school types pushing the plasma theory

Not that the Meadenites come out of this as working-class heroes. Their reluctance to jettison the natural phenomenon explanation. even when it was seemingly producing designs which were clearly manmade, shows that pig-headedness was not the prerogative of either side in this controversy

Its hard to pick the comic highlight, there are so many. Revealed to outsiders for the first time is the details of the ludicrous threats of libel action which were being thrown around amongst some of the circle groupies. The idea that this case would ever have got to court is even more far-fetched than the idea that crop-circles are made by extraterrestrials. I had never before realised that being accused of working for Test Valley Borough Council in Hampshire was enough to bring you into 'hatred, ridicule and contempt'

Perhaps the funniest episode is from the Doug and Dave era. On one occasion Dave had had a couple of pints too many before setting out to make a 'pictogram': the finish result was a mess of wobbly lines and deformed circles. This was promptly described as an expression of the wounded sufferings of Gaia, or the creation of an unstable plasma vortex. The fact that it was done by someone who was-a bit pissed at the time was far too down to earth an explanation for the high-minded cerealogists!

Schnabel throws a good deal of light onto the impenetrable complexity of the crop-circle world in the early 90s when accusations of occult conspiracy and government cover-up were being thrown around. He is honest enough to admit that the incestuous, hot-house atmosphere was even getting through to him, and encouraging thoughts of huge conspiracies involving vast, sinister occult organisations involving the Knights of Malta, the Templars, and all the usual suspects.

The real moral of this book is how widespread is the will to believe. People who in most other aspects are quite normal, intelligent, well-educated people, are prepared to believe the most ludicrous things, whether it be deranged intelligences from another dimension, or artistically inclined meteorological phenomena, rather than admit that their belief, especially when it's a belief they have devised themselves, may be wrong. Nothing new in this revelation, of course, but it is extremely interesting and very entertaining, when this revelation is embellished with the names, 'ranks and serial numbers of people you know!

(Schnabel only mentions Magonia in passing, revealing how even we were being manipulated by one side in the controversy, so maybe we got off lightly. Can't wait for his forthcoming book on abductions!) -- John Rimmer, from Magonia 47, October 1993.

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