Great Books from The Dalenberg Library:
In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space, by Douglas Curran (Abbeville Press, originally published 1985; updated and expanded 2001)
Mr. Curran started out as a photographer with an interest in snapping pics of the various roadside rocket and UFO replicas he came across on his travels. But his photography project grew into an exploration of modern UFO mythology and all the various subcultures that it has spawned. What is great about Curran’s book is that it does not judge or analyze or condemn. Curran merely recounts all the goofiness he has encountered in his travels in a deadpan, non-judgmental way. It is not that he takes this stuff seriously—he often lets his subjects talk themselves into corners or shoot themselves in their feet. But he leaves the reader to decide the merits of their extra-terrestrial theories, their UFO sightings, and their alien abductions.
In the pages of this remarkable book you will encounter entire UFO cults, kooky loners, outer space listening stations, and wackos building spaceships from alien plans. A few themes emerge. For instance, the notion that we Earthlings are on a path to self-destruction but that the aliens are on a mission of peace to shepherd us into a new era. The atomic bomb detonations of 1945 are widely believed among UFO-believers to have touched off renewed extra-terrestrial interest in Earth. It is universal dogma that the government is not to be trusted, and the truth about the UFOs has been covered up.
Most of us have heard about the Raelians, who made the news in 2002, over their claim to have cloned a human. They are in the book (which mentions their belief in cloning, but the publicized incidents hadn’t happened yet when the book was written.) Also featured are a host of smaller, less-well-funded, but no less bizarre organizations, cults, and societies based on UFO mythology. These include The Unarius Foundation, the New Age Foundation, the I AM sect, the Aetherius Society, Project Starlight International, and others. Plus, there is a smattering of individual self-proclaimed UFO researchers, alien abductees, and people selected by aliens to have received outer space visitations.
The Dalenberg Library has a large science fiction collection, but we have always had an interest in the stuff on the fringes of science fiction. For instance, we have Immanuel Velikovsky’s “Worlds in Collision.” And we have Erich von Däniken’s “Chariots of the Gods?” filed right next to a book that vigorously refutes von Däniken. When John Campbell, famed science fiction editor, re-invented Astounding Science Fiction Magazine as Analog Magazine in the late 1950’s, he was well aware of the cross-fermentation between science fact and science fiction. What Campbell knew that was visionary was that the crossover between fact and fiction was a two way street. Science fact leads to speculative science fiction as the facts are amplified, expanded, and extrapolated into the future. But, less well recognized is that science fiction leads to science fact as people with creative ideas develop research projects and use their imaginations to guide science into the future. At one time or another, Campbell’s magazine included an arrow between the words fact and fiction and indicated fact morphing into fiction and fiction morphing into fact.
Douglas Curran’s book does not shed much light on whether UFOs are science fiction or science fact. Curran is mostly interested in taking photographs and recording what his subjects have to say, leaving us to judge his subjects on their own merits. But Curran does uncover a number of common motifs that appear over and over in UFO mythology. If UFOs are not extra-terrestrial visitations, then at least the topic of UFOs makes for a good forum to discuss late 20th Century concerns, anxieties, dreams, fears, hysterias, fantasies, et cetera. In another era, we might have been discussing angels, witches, demons, ghosts and séances. The 20th Century gave us flying saucers, alien visitations, alien abductions, and Roswell, New Mexico.