High Strangeness

Jerome Clark (Ed.) High Strangeness: UFOs from 1960 through 1979 (UFO Encyclopedia, Volume 3) Omnigraphics. 1996.

With this title, Jerome Clark concludes his titanic overview of the UFO phenomenon. As well as 600 pages of reference entries, nearly all penned by Clark, there is a 100 page cumulative bibliography to all three volumes, and a 70 page cumulative index to the entire work. By any standards this is a remarkable achievement, and probably represents the greatest single compilation of UFO information ever written by one person, certainly of any written to reasonable standards of scientific and historical rigour.

The era covered by this volume represents the period during which the nature of the UFO phenomenon, and the attitudes of those engaged in its study and promotion, changed radically. In 1960, although the naivete of the first contactees had been discredited, little else had happened which would challenge the supremacy of the ETH amongst ufologists. It was either spacecraft, or a rather limited sceptical viewpoint, of which Donald Menzel was a proponent, which looked solely at physical phenomena such as 'sun dogs' and temperature inversions. By 1979 these certainties had crumbled with Keel and Vallee leading the demolition crew, the New Ufologists were in charge of the asylum, and, even in America, the psychosociologists were on an upward track.

By any standards this is a remarkable achievement, and probably represents the greatest single compilation of UFO information ever written by one person

Outside the narrow world of ufology the two decades embraced massive social changes too. America had moved from pre-assassination certainties to post-Watergate paranoia. And one of the people who'd been swept along in this tide of social change was one Jerome Clark. Hard to remember now, looking at the short-back-and-sides, business-suited figure above the editorial page in International UFO Reporter, that a younger, longer-haired Jerome was writing for Flying Saucer Review articles which seemed at the cutting edge of New Ufology. One such was 'Experiences and Observations' in FSR 15,6, 1969. It contained observations which seemed to sum up the ethos of the times in their exciting iconoclasm, intended to shock. the old-time ufologists and sceptical physical scientists: "It is not as if the UFOs were intruders into our sphere. They are no more (and no less) than one manifestation of a Reality that has many manifestations. It is this reality to which New Ufology must turn its attention. Those who hold to the Saucer Cult, who have taken to UFO buffery to escape the problems of this world, will find this idea distasteful and offensive, but let them, for they have nothing to offer us or anyone. The rest of us, our attention long on the distant stars, must now draw our attention slowly earthward, where the answers are and always have been."

Fine words, and splendidly enlarged upon in The Unidentified, co-written with Loren Coleman, the pivotal, but now largely forgotten, New Ufology book. How I treasure my copy inscribed by the author: "To John Rimmer, for writing that stunning and perceptive piece 'The UFO as an anti­scientific symbol'. With much admiration, Jerome Clark".

Well, time moves on, hairstyles grow shorter, skirts lengthen and trouser flares narrow. And now Jerome Clark is a leading proponent of 'back. to basics' ufology. Away with psychosocial waffling, bring bock the radar-visual cases.

Perhaps this is reflected in some of the entries in this encyclopedia. There are certainly one or two obscure cases which seem to have been included to emphasise the physical nature of the phenomenon, the Wakefield NH, 'hole in the ice' case for instance, or the rather better known Coyne case, where Clark concludes his summary of the events with the words "It is hard to imagine any kind of conventional explanation for this incident". The Harris (Salt Lake City, 1961) sighting seems to have been included to provide an unsensational daylight-disc report:

"By any reasonable standard the Salt Lake City sighting remains 0 puzzle". Even some of the more exotic cases are firmed up with the suggestion that there is a basic UFO phenomenon underneath the New Age tosh. He concludes his summary of the Andreassen case with the suggestion that "we may reasonably speculate reasonably [that there was] a core UFO experience (or perceived UFO experience) at the bottom of a mountain of confabulation". Maybe, but isn't it more likely that it's just confabulation? And of course, no indication of what a 'core UFO phenomenon' might actually be, especially as the best candidate for one, earthlights, gets fairly comprehensively dismissed in Volume 1 of the Encyclopedia.

Like the other volumes in the series, this book. suffers from on absurd over-emphasis on the phenomenon in America. There is a good 30-page overview of ufology in Australia and New Zealand by Bill Chalker, although it is not clear why he should be included in this particular volume. But a book on ufology in the 60's and 70's which does not include any discussion of Warminster? In fact apart from Scoritton (an easily dismissed hoax, however fascinating it may be as a study of the motives of ufologists) there in nothing from Britain, and the lively French scene is confined to an entry on Valensole. This limited viewpoint is perhaps the ultimate demonstration of the problems inherent in creating an encyclopedia which is almost entirely the work of one man.

Despite its horrendous price this is a book which many ufologists will want to have. Apart from its omissions and, to my mind, significant bias in selecting cases for coverage, this is a work which demands admiration. Where I have been able to check on cases, or referred to material I have previous knowledge of, I have come across no inaccuracies. The entries are detailed and comprehensive, and each carries an impressive bibliography, allowing the reader to access the original source material. It will remain, for some considerable time to come, the definitive reference work on ufology. Perhaps Jerome Clark should now consider staring work on volume four: Ufology; the International Perspective? -- John Rimmer. from Magonia 57, September 1996.

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