Tuesday 30 November 2021




birds dream of trees 
fish dream of tides 
toads dream of moist shady places 
ice-moons feel secure in the 
gravity-embrace of gas giants 
virus multiply in a 
nurturing bloodstream 
stars swarm in the coil 
of the galactic spiral arm 
earthworms slither in cool soil 
parasites feed deep within 
warm pulsating gut 
ants dissolve into the horde 
amoeba divide into 
the completeness of new wholes 
molecules cluster into 
ever-complexifying structures 
sperm and ovum conspire to ignite life 
phantoms convene in moonlight 
seeking the comfort of the crypt 
and I yearn 
for your touch…

from my book:
'Tweak Vision: The Word-Play
Solution To Modern-Angst Confusion'
(Alien Buddha Press, USA, 2018)

Monday 29 November 2021

The 'UFO' Industry: Flying Saucers Are Real



‘Watch the Skies’. They are here. And they are Alien. 
Never mind Mulder & Scully. Never mind Spielberg’s ‘Taken’
The ‘UFO Magazine’ was the cult Bible of UFO-watchers, 
an unlikely publishing success-story, and just possibly 
our connection with future worlds of fantastic tomorrows…


‘There’s a Starman, waiting in the sky 
he’d like to come and meet us 
but he thinks he’d blow our minds…’ 
(‘Starman’ by David Bowie) 

There are lights in the sky. The authorities say they are weather balloons, meteorites, falling space hardware, freak lightning. But maybe they’re something else? Something extraterrestrial? Something resembling the heart-stopping moment in ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ (1977) when the alien mothership appears over the mountain-top. 

George Wild, former Prison Warden and once-owner of ‘Leo’s’ second-hand bookshop off the Springs in Wakefield is quite matter-of-fact about UFO’s. Of course he’s seen them. It’s no big deal. They’re there. He leans up against shelving crammed wall-to-wall with well-thumbed paperbacks and tells whoever cares to listen. The Pennines form a UFO hotspot. He knows other people who’ve seen them. Some more than once. He’s not alone. NASA’s sixth moon-walking astronaut Edgar Dean Mitchell – who flew the Apollo 14 mission with Commander Alan Shepard, has repeatedly stated his certain belief that not only do alien visitors exist, but there’s incontrovertible proof of what he terms ‘an extraterrestrial presence’ that military and intelligence circles suppress with deliberate ‘misinformation and disinformation.’ Then there’s a previously-sceptical Noddy Holder, he was amazed to see a flying saucer from a midnight hotel window in Bournemouth. His story was supported by reported sightings from a flight-path tracked clear across the south of England, despite official denials. ‘There’s no way it was a meteor shower’ argues Noddy emphatically. 

To basics, the term ‘flying saucers’ was coined in 1947 by American newsmen, and soon became virtually synonymous with ‘unidentified flying objects’ – or UFO’s. After a rash of sightings in the late 1940s flying saucers became a craze, a global phenomenon. On 7 January 1948 a UFO was radar-spotted over the Godman U.S. Air Force Base at Fort Knox, Kentucky. An eager Captain Thomas F. Mantell took off to investigate, in hot pursuit. At 03:15pm he radio’d back that he’d climbed to 20,000ft… after which he vanished. Debris was later discovered. One of the first major books resulting from the craze was ‘The Flying Saucers Are Real’ (1950) by Donald E Keyhoe, a prominent UFO investigator, and it seemed for a time to be a science fiction concept come real. Kenneth Arnold, a man who saw the first ‘saucers’ in 1947, was induced to tell his full story in ‘The Coming Of The Saucers’ (1952). In the UK Associated Newspaper’s ‘Sunday Dispatch’ ran extracts from Frank Scully’s ‘Behind The Flying Saucers’ and Donald Keyhoe’s ‘The Flying Saucers Are Real’, declaring this extra-terrestrial threat ‘bigger than the Atom Bomb Wars’ during a period when the government was busy attempting to suppress such Cold War scare-mongering.

This, in turn, was reflected by the SF of the day, and particularly in magazine covers, paperbacks, movie posters and comic-book art, the characteristically inverted-saucer shape, which was the most popular conception of the UFO, became part of the iconography of media-dreams and fantasy. ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (1951) helped popularize them by showing a flying saucer landing on the White House lawn, particularly with its notion that they are piloted by morally superior aliens concerned at our civilisation’s drift towards atomic doom, playing to a popular fear that only a benevolent force from the ‘outside’ could save humanity from nuclear doom. 

Throughout the 1950s it was ‘The Flying Saucer Review’ – published every other month at the annual subscription rate of £l.1s.0d, asking ‘What was THE THING tracked over Paris by Orly Airport Radio? The materialised vision of science fiction writers... a ship from outer space... a flying saucer?’ But it was not just geeky cultists. The 19 November 1951 issue of ‘Time’ magazine reports sightings of Green Fireballs in the skies over New Mexico (p67 Derleth’s ‘From Other Worlds’). The sensational ‘non-fiction’ book ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ (1953, revised and republished in 1970) by a certain George Adamski with Desmond Leslie built upon this premise that the occupants of the saucers were not a threat, but Earth’s saviours. Allegedly, supposedly, on 20 November 1952 Adamski first encountered a Flying Saucer and conversed with its Venusian crew in the Californian Desert, (a story featured in the ‘Vargo Statten Magazine’ no1’ p17, as well as ‘Eagle Annual 1983’ p.62). His books details this, and Adamski’s further meetings with extraterrestrials. 

According to academic David Pringle (writing in ‘The Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction’) this ‘marked the end of the period in which UFO’s could be taken seriously, and the beginning of the more religious phase of UFOlogy which has persisted since. The Aetherius Society, founded in 1954, is an eccentric cult which believes that Jesus Christ is alive and well and living on Venus, but still day-trips to Earth on flying saucers every and now and then.’

In September 1961 Betty and Barney Hill were abducted by aliens from a ‘pancake-shaped’ craft while returning from holiday through New Hampshire. The first widely publicised abduction case, their story was serialised in ‘Look’ magazine, and recorded by John Fuller in his book ‘Interrupted Journey’, then the 1975 ‘fictionalised but based on fact’ movie – 1975s ‘The UFO Incident’. It began with their attempts to explain an unaccounted lost two-hour period. They were placed under hypnotic regression in which both of them were separately able to recall being taken aboard the spacecraft, undergoing medical examinations, and being shown a shimmering three-dimensional star-map by the aliens. She was able to replicate the map sufficient to identify the aliens’ home-system as Zeta Reticuli. 

Most SF writers are hostile to flying saucers and their strange advocates, a fact not generally appreciated by the public. Isaac Asimov, for one, wrote articles denouncing ‘saucer-mania’ and its more extreme manifestations. Indeed, when SF writers use UFO lore in their tales, they usually do so in an ironic, symbolic, or merely opportunistic fashion. CM Kornbluth uses the UFO fad in a slyly humorous way in his “The Silly Season” (1950), in which Earth is invaded but nobody pays attentions because the newspapers have cried wolf too often. 

More seriously, John Wyndham plays on UFO fears to set the scene for his ‘The Kraken Wakes’ (1953). Henry Kuttner uses a flying saucer as a device for a moral parable in “Or Else” (1953), as does Theodore Sturgeon in “A Saucer of Loneliness” (1953). Robert A Heinlein exploits saucer fears – as he exploits communist-conspiracy fears, in his invasion novel ‘The Puppet Master’ (1951). Gore Vidal’s ‘Messiah’ (1954) opens with an analysis of UFO’s as portents, which in some ways anticipates the theories of the psychologist Carl Gustaf Jung in his ‘Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth Of Things Seen In The Skies’ (1958, translated 1959). 

Other fictional routes have been provided by the saucer enthusiasts themselves, who became the subject of JG Ballard’s “The Encounter” (1963, in ‘The Venus Hunters’) which leans heavily on Jung, and Fritz Leiber’s ‘The Wandered’ (1964) which deals in part with the reactions of various UFO-logists to an actual celestial visitor. ‘Seed Of The Gods’ (1974) by Zack Hughes is a satire on the lunatic saucer theories of Erich Von Daniken, as expressed in his mass-popular ‘Chariot Of The Gods?’ (1968, translated 1969). A good non-fiction book on UFO’s is ‘The UFO Experience: A Scientific Enquiry’ by J Allen Hynek (1972).

‘CTA-102, we’re over here receiving you 
signals tell us that you’re there 
we can hear you loud and clear…’ 
(“CTA-102” by The Byrds) 

Dave Davies, of the Kinks has a fascination with UFO’s. ‘We need to get into this world of the unknown’ he tells me. ‘I did an interview the other week, and we were talking about UFO’s, I was talking about aliens and messages from outer space. This – that, and the other. And the guy thought I was crazy. Yet he probably goes home and watches the ‘X-Files’ on television. So that’s alright, OK? Because we’re detached from that. But the thought of us being attached to it, that’s a very different psychological process. I think that’s really strange.’ 

Steven Spielberg’s ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ propelled the quasi-religious perception of UFO-logy into the pop mainstream, just as Roland Emmerich’s ‘Independence Day’ (1996) and ‘Mars Attacks!’ (1996) deliberately reverts to 1950s-style Flying Saucer terror. ‘Little green strangers in saucer-shaped lights.’ Aliens with eyes like ‘aviator shades’ that go around the side of their heads. 

In March 2007 France became the first country to fully open its UFO files to the public when a team of space agency researchers from its national space agency launched a dedicated website documenting five decades of sightings, some ten-thousand documents including photographs, police reports and witness videos. Although other countries also collect UFO data, they continue to be less admirably open, in the UK files can only be requested via the Freedom of Information Act on a case-by-case basis. Now the French ‘Office Of Unidentified Aerospace Phenomena’ offer explanations for some of the sightings – for example when a thousand people reported seeing flashing lights in the night sky one November seventeen years earlier. They were able to prove it had been rocket fragments during re-entry. But it concedes that only about 9% of French UFO cases can be explained. And of the 1,600 cases registered since 1954, nearly a quarter are subject to the Category D classification – meaning that in spite of reliable data and witnesses, the sightings remain inexplicable. The online archive is intended to be open to on-going up-dates…

‘Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely 
mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way 
down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space…’ 
(‘The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams) 

Like most issues of vital global importance, there are at least two takes on the dawn of the UFO phenomenon. One centres on the late 1940s. This is where it begins. This is where sightings first proliferate. Foo-Fighting in WW2 perhaps present the irresistible spectacle of human’s predilection for mass slaughter on a global scale. While the coincidence of nuclear testing, H-bombs, Hiroshima, is not – according to this theory, purely chance. With the suddenly proliferating atomic fire-crackers alerting the local galactic community-watch that a planet previously categorised as ‘mostly harmless’ now worryingly warrants closer scrutiny. Of course, Roswell is central to this thesis. A major part of UFO-ology’s twentieth-century mythology, the saucer crash and subsequent Government cover-up has been sucked into just about every Sci-Fi context, from ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ in which the ditched starship belongs to errant Ferengi, through the inevitable ‘X-Files’, ‘Dark Skies’ – and ‘Roswell High’, before you even get to Spielberg’s ‘Taken’ mini-series, and ‘Independence Day’ where shadowy agencies attempt to retro-engineer from retrieved alien technology. 

Sentience, it says, attracts sentience. Technological markers even more so. The other take goes further. The halo’s on medieval saints? – crude visual representations of space-helmets. The Biblical Ezekial’s Wheel, voices from burning bushes? All signs of alien intervention confusingly reported by confused scribes. Because we are a technologically-based society we look at strange lights in the sky and furnish technological answers. Pre-technology societies would supply answers from within their own range of references, angels, dragons, portents from the gods. Further – Erich Von Daniken sold millions of pulps on the premise that not only did the gods come from the stars, but that they actively interfered – big style, genetically modifying and shaping the Naked Apes they encountered. Again, this is territory pretty well staked out by SF hacks by way of contra-logic archivist Charles Fort. But we see unexplained lights in the sky, and we decide they are machines. Vehicles. But if they do not originate from any know source, taking into consideration the possibility of covert experimental technologies or secret weapons-systems, and if we discount unknown terrestrial sources, and there has been speculation about hidden civilisations within the hollow Earth, visitors crossing over from some alternate-dimension parallel Earth, or time-travellers from some future Earth, by a process of logical elimination, sooner or later the only theory left involves some kind of space aliens. Once we said Venus, or Mars. But advancing science has virtually eliminated the other solar system worlds as abodes of advance life. Which leaves the stars… 

15 May 1963 Major Gordon Cooper begins his twenty-two Earth orbits – the last of the solo Mercury shots, but as the mission approaches its final stages he contacts the Australian Muchea tracking station to report a ‘glowing green object’ approaching his capsule. Machea radar systems confirm his sightings. Later ‘in 1964, the first unmanned Gemini flight was followed around Earth by four UFO’s, distinctly seen on radar’ writes Eando Binder in ‘Night Of The Saucers’ (1971), ‘Ed White, James McDivitt, Frank Borman, John Young – they all reported UFO’s. And Devitt took photos of the ‘bogeys’ following his spacecraft.’ Then ‘Lunar Orbiter Two, in 1966, photographed perfectly shaped domes on the moon, and also strange spires. The domes had moved when next photographed.’ But there was still more. Commander Eugene Cernan – of Apollo 17, told a 1973 issue of the ‘Los Angeles Times’ ‘I’ve been asked (about UFO’s) and I’ve said publicly I thought they (UFO’s) are somebody else’s, some other civilisation’s.’

This is the stuff of weirdos, nerds, and socially maladjusted obsessives. But it also connects directly into the most profound questions of existence. The kind of questions primitive peoples once invented religions to answer. The ‘why are we here’, ‘what’s it all mean’ kind of questions that has philosophy cul-de-sac’d into an existential quandary. Is life something that happened once, against impossible odds, here on this one lonely third-rock-from-the-sun? If so, why? In the ‘Star Trek’ universe every star system has an ‘M’-type planet. Every ‘M’-type planet has life, usually humanoid in appearance, and sufficiently close that – after a few initial problems, by the end of the episode, they’re exchanging ambassadors and setting up trade agreements. It’s not necessarily like that. Or even something vaguely like it. 

Or then again, just maybe it is. On a BBC2-TV ‘Earth: The Power Of The Planet’, a Dr Iain Stewart explains the contradictory ‘rare earth’ theory, that we’re not intelligently designed and handcrafted by deities, but just a chancy cosmic fluke. We only arrived here because we have a nice planet. There’s enough gravity to stop air leaking into space – just look at the state Mars is in, and there’s Jupiter which fortuitously assumes the role of the system’s fat kid, becoming a magnet for stray cosmic debris that might otherwise come hurtling our way. It was a chance in a trillion that all those random numbers came up to produce complex life as opposed to just algae. Or just… nothing. Perhaps it’s only the Jurassic extinction-asteroid that uniquely determined the course of life on Earth, and if it didn’t occur elsewhere, every other inhabited world in the galaxy could be dominated by reptilian dinosaur-evolved intelligences? 

Carl Sagan says ‘extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.’ So the reason it’s so important to find life on Mars… or even Europa, even microscopic spores of life, even microscopic spores of life which briefly flickered then died out in some lost window of Martian opportunity a thousand-million years ago, is down to odds. The odds of life appearing on a planet. To formulate a probability-equation you need more than just one base. The only world we know with certainty that has produced life, is Earth. To find that this occurred independently on two worlds in the same solar system would boost the odds that life is fairly common, and will arise whenever conditions are right. 

But even this could be deceiving. Two recent examples. The detection of methane in the Martian atmosphere which could only be the result of some kind of organic activity – or maybe not, it could be volcanic in origin. Nevertheless, tabloid front-covers follow. Earlier, a trace of supposed Martian fossil micro-biology was discovered here on Earth, within a volcanic meteorite projectile-vomited from Mars, and then attracted by terrestrial gravity. Prompting headlines. Yet that implied life within the solar system could be interactive, and arise as the result of cross-seeding across space. We could be Martians. Or vice versa. So any equation based on this premise would be skewed. But how else can we configure such a basic equation? And who – really, gives a toss, beyond geeky X-Files no-mates? Well, anyone who has ever paused to wonder briefly about what this thing called life is all about. 

People once assumed the Earth to be the centre of the universe, and everything revolved around it. Now we know better. We don’t yet know if the Earth is galactic central in that one significant sense of being home to life. It’s only relatively recent astronomical developments that have even begun to guess at the probable distribution of extra-solar planetary system. Close-scrutiny of winks and wobbles in the motion of stars indicate the presence of unseen companions that are assumed to be planetary in nature. Complex mathematics have worked out the mass and orbital distances involved. But no extra-solar planets have actually been directly observed, and the only ones so far detected have by necessity been those large enough to influence the motion of their primaries, hence most probably Jupiter-size gas-giants. Presumably, if there are gas giants, there must also be smaller rockier, more Earth-type exoplanets within the temperate ‘Goldilocks’ zone? But we can’t know for certain. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. 

The stars are a long way away. More distant than we can conceive. Perhaps there will never be Captain Kirk’s out there to bridge those vast gulfs of emptiness. Perhaps we’ll never escape the limits of the solar system. And after awhile, will no longer even consider doing it. As the cold inhospitability of space becomes more apparent, and matters on Earth take a more central urgency, we’ll look increasingly inwards, and away from the worlds of space. The opportunity will be lost forever, and the human race will live out its allotted span on this single warm planet. After all, Einsteinian science says there are certain limits that can never be exceeded. Except by some kind of hibernation-technology, or generation-ships that would take centuries to reach their destination. Others say that human will can transcend all limits. That if there are obstacles, sooner or later human ingenuity will devise a way of surmounting them. 

Either way, the future’s up for grabs. Other, older, worlds may have gone beyond those limitations already. Or they may have biology’s more adapted to centuries of travel between stars. Longer-living metabolisms given to periods of low-intake inactivity. Perhaps what we see as UFO’s are not machines, but are the organisms themselves? Astronomer Carl Sagan (9 November 1934 to 20 December 1996) co-founded the ‘Planetary Society’, a million-strong group with a worldwide membership, to promote the exploration of the solar system and the search for extraterrestrial life. But he also persuaded NASA to carry messages on its deep-space missions intended to be deciphered by any passing aliens who are curious enough to investigate the probes. There’s a gold plaque within the Pioneer-10 mission of 1972 that depicts the chemical symbol for hydrogen, a named man and woman, the position of the sun in our galaxy and a solar system schematic. Pioneer-10 should reach the star Aldebaran in about two-million years. Sagan’s interest in scouring the universe for other forms of life was crystallised in 1982 when he encouraged seventy eminent scientists to co-sign a letter to the journal ‘Nature’ making the case for SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), an organisation which sends out signals through radio telescopes, laser beams and numerous other media just in case someone out there is listening. 

David Bowie – as a student at Bromley Tech, worked with two other guys who edited a UFO-zine, claiming he’d seen alien spacecraft in the Watford area, ‘UFO’s came over Watford so regularly we used to time them’ he said, ‘I made sightings six, seven times a night for about a year when I was in the observatory. We had regular cruises that came over’. This, before the LSD had kicked in. 

Fact or fiction… men from another planet or an optical illusion? The riddle of the ‘flying saucer’ remains unsolved. And yet, for fifty years, every important government in the world has been trying to find the answer. Brilliant scientists, expert meteorologists, and top Air Force brass have worked on the problem of the ‘UFO’s – unidentified flying objects’, but remain baffled. Fiction? Well, let’s revisit some cold hard facts. Let’s time-shift back to that sunny afternoon of 7 January 1948, high up in the sky over Kentucky’s Fort Knox. Leading a flight of F51 pursuit planes, Captain Thomas F Mantell was climbing into the clouds on full boost to locate a mysterious object reported over the area. Suddenly a bright light flashed in front of his eyes, blinding him with an intense glare. Mantell knew there was no time to worry about textbook flying techniques. This was the crunch. Instant evasive action – or else…! Throwing his aircraft across the sky with brutal desperation, the pilot heard the tortured spars shrieking with strain as the Mustang fighter stood up on one wing. Sweat gleamed on his forehead as the mystery object flashed past, he could feel his hands trembling on the control column. This was the narrowest escape he’d ever had – and that included two years combat flying during the Pacific war against Japan. Reaching for his radio, he flicked the switch down – ‘Blue leader to base… the thing is definitely metallic. It’s enormous! I’m going up to 20,000 for another look. Over and out.’ Back in the control tower at Godman Base, Colonel Guy Hix listened grimly as the pilot’s laconic report crackled through the loudspeaker. He turned away from the window and joined a group of officers huddled around the radar screen. Two bright spots glowed on the flickering green tube as the giant scanner on the roof above swept across the sky. One of those spots was Mantell’s F51… but what was the other? 

‘Well, at least we know he isn’t imagining things up there’ the Colonel commented dryly as he turned away from the screen, ‘I want to hear his report immediately he gets back to base.’ But Mantell never returned. Not alive, anyway. His fighter disintegrated at 35,000ft and crashed in a million pieces. There was a full-scale investigation. Anxious newspaper-men besieged USAF HQ for details. But Mantell’s tragic death was now a top-secret matter. The journalists pressed for a story… could they see the wreckage? Officials shake their heads. Was it true the debris was radioactive? Air Force top brass refuse to answer. Every question was met with the same bland ‘No Comment’. And so the mystery remains. Over one-hundred witnesses saw the strange bright disc in the sky that day. Radar observations confirm that an unidentified object flew over Fort Knox. Captain Mantell, an experienced combat pilot, had tailed it and reported by radio on its ‘tremendous’ size. Had he flown too close and been blasted out of the sky by unknown weapons from an invading spaceship – or did he just black-out and crash through lack of oxygen? No-one has ever come up with an answer. 

Seven months later another ‘saucer’ was sighted, this time by the crew of a DC-3 airliner en route from Texas to Boston. Flying at night, the pilot suddenly saw a cylindrical object hurtling towards his aircraft on a collision course. Then, at the last moment, it jerked sideways and disappeared in a steep vertical climb. This time the object was not a disc. The pilot – Clarence S Chiles, described it as cigar-shaped with two rows of brightly-lit portholes along the side and flames belching from the tail. His co-pilot confirmed every detail of the story. Exhaustive checks by officials showed no other aircraft near the DC-3 that night and the USAF said it was not one of their rockets. Both men were experienced pilots with war-service – level-headed aviators who did not indulge in seeing fantasy objects in the night sky. Yet both persisted in their story. 

More facts? There’s no shortage when it comes to flying-saucers. In 1952 the USAF received two-thousand reports of UFO activity. Each report was checked out. The experts were able to account for 1,200 reports by known facts… but had to classify the remaining eight-hundred sightings as UNEXPLAINED. Take the case of Professor Clyde W Tombaugh. As the discoverer of dwarf-planet Pluto in 1930, the Professor was highly-regarded as an expert astronomer. Yet he saw a flying saucer on 20 August 1949, and so did two members of his family who were with him. Like the DC-3 incident, Tombaugh’s saucer was metallic and cigar-shaped, with two rows of port-holes. It remained in clear view for twenty-seconds before vanishing. 

But don’t imagine that saucers are purely an invention of the ‘Space Age’. Records reveal sightings back through many centuries of history, and they all show a remarkable similarity to recent reports. In 1873 the astonished citizens of Bonhem, Texas, watched a large torpedo-shaped object circle the skies over their town – and this was thirty years before the Wright brothers coaxed their first aeroplane off the ground. The very next day the mysterious visitor flew over Fort Scott in Kansas, starting a minor panic amongst the frightened soldiers. Only two years earlier an identical object was reported over Marseilles. Delve further into the past, Gregory of Tours mentions ‘globes of fire’ in the sky way back in AD583, and to top that, Roman writer Pliny refers to flying discs in his ‘Natural History’. British army officers saw them in the sky just before the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, and assumed it be a Napoleonic secret weapon. A famous English admiral watched a disc cross the Moon on 26 September 1870 – and there were four similar sightings that year, including one by Lord Brabazon in Berlin. In 1897 a Colonel HG Shaw described in Stockton, California’s ‘Daily Mail’ about how he and his friends fought off three tall, slender humanoids covered in fine, downy hair who were trying to accost or kidnap them. Many of these antique reports can be written off as legends and ignorance of natural phenomena. But the vast number of sightings and their strange similarity to modern observations leave a nagging suspicion that flying saucers have been seen over this planet right back to the dim and distant past. 

Fact or fiction? The balance seems decidedly skewed in favour of… something. Despite the sheer number of sightings there are few reports of landings. Most famous was the claim by George Adamski that he’d actually interacted with aliens. The incident took place in Arizona in 1952, and Adamski’s book subsequently revealed that the saucers came from Venus. French customs official, Jean Latappy, also saw a mysterious object resting on the ground at Marignane airport the same year. Experts questioned the man for hours and, although he did not claim that he’d seen a saucer, they were satisfied that he’d seen something… something which seemed inexplicable. The Marignane saucer was also cigar-shaped with four lighted windows. It made no noise and took off so rapidly that, within three seconds, it had disappeared. This is a world of anal-probes, where ‘AA’ stands for Alien Abduction.

Many theories have been advanced concerning the origins of UFO’s, and experts have spent many hours arguing about the motive-power that propels them. The most favoured is that of magnetic-force – a source of power that modern science is still investigating. If magnetic fields of force can be harnessed for the purposes of propulsion, many engineers consider that the fantastic speeds of the saucers could be achieved without the tremendous bulk necessary with rocket-technology. At present, mass is directly proportional to energy whenever acceleration is required – a fact that can be readily observed by the progressively larger rockets built during the Space Race. The use of retro-engineered magnetic force might be one way to break the mass-energy law. If saucers are powered by magnetic force – or some equally advanced system, they must come from some distant world where superior intelligences have already far surpassed human science and technology. But the fact that they’re here at all is evidence of that already… 

Or is there some other explanation? Perhaps they have come from Earth after all… but many thousands of years into the future? Are saucers, in fact, time machines? It’s an attractive, as well as an alarming, theory, but it could account for many conundrums. It could explain why saucers have been seen in the skies for many thousands of years. Surely, if they are visitors from Space they would have plucked up courage to say hello by now? But if, instead, they’re from Earth themselves they’d be able to obtain all the data they need by observation. The time-machine concept also explains why saucers have shown no aggressive intentions directed at intruders. They are here to learn – not exterminate. Many observers have been puzzled by the tremendous acceleration of the machines – but maybe that’s an illusion too. If they are time-machines then they would obviously disappear from sight as soon as they move into that dimension. In other words, the flying-saucers do not apparently disappear, they do disappear! It’s a fascinating thought. Men from the future flying back in time to watch the people on Earth, living history as it happens. See-it-yourself history lessons by flying saucer? Well, it’s an idea! 

Despite the conspiracy theorists darkest imaginings, there has been a degree of official opening up. President Jimmy Carter saw a UFO himself during a campaigning trip. It proved to be a transformational experience. He did pledge to open up the suppressed government UFO files.

(1977) Files previously held by the MoD’s special UFO department suggest that among the most credible reports was one made by an RAF pilot and two NCO’s at RAF Boulmer in Northumberland in 1977.

Sunday 28 November 2021





CD Reviews of: 
by BASS COMMUNION (Hidden Art Hi-Art 4) 

Life-changing events come in infinite varieties of form. Birth. Death. A sunset. A gunshot. A sequence of six correct numbers. Or sometimes even a CD. The common factor at the nexus of this diverse creative weirdness is Steven Wilson, first – with occasional collaboration from the likes of Robert Fripp (on “A Grapefruit In the World Of Park”), he is Bass Communion. He then gets a production credit on ‘World Of Bright Futures’, a side-project orbiting Tim Bowness – Steven’s co-conspirator with art-rock duo No-Man. And thirdly, with ex-Japan Richard Barbieri, he does Porcupine Tree’s frostbite-clean cerebral-psychedelia. ‘Bass Communion’ (plus its free 23:09 min EP) opens with 58-seconds of stabbing morse beeps before gliding into soundtracks for dark movies and slipstream fictions with only a bass-figure providing a pulse to its moveless landscape. And it’s like eavesdropping on eternity. A planetarium of spaced-out intergalactic chill with perspectives receding away forever without ever exactly getting anywhere. Synth-breaths in eastern scales, then solitary sonar echoes shimmer on hi-tech laminations into minimalist statements of magnificent desolation. 

Then, from Brian Eno or Terry Riley avant-reference points, into darkly-textured Arab Strap or Nick Drake terrain, Tim Bowness concocts more jazzy amalgams of Bowie vocal resonances so cool they’re chilled-out to the bone. There’s King Crimson’s “Two Hands” (Fripp again), Irish singer Sandra O’Neill augmenting Peter Hammill’s “Ophelia”, and wistful reflections on endlessly betrayed promise, those ‘bright futures, that always elude us’ where the ‘world cuts so deep.’ Samuel Smiles (with its free 5-track live EP) is both science, and fiction, at the edge of now. Finally ‘Stupid Dream’ – less experimental, more structured – but only by degrees, includes “Baby Dream In Cellophane”, “Pure Narcotic” and the single “Piano Lessons” showing the Brothers Gallagher precisely how phasing, distortion, twittering electronics, submerged sample-voices, death, birth, Christine Keeler, acoustic breaks and Floydian harmonies should be used to create hypnotically hallucinogenic Pop. Three albums. A prosthetic god immortalised in flatline rhythms. A genetically-correct mix resonating to the frequency of the digital zeitgeist. And hardcore Popcorn. Yes, CD’s can be life-changing events. 

Album Review of: 
by NO-MAN 
(Third Stone Ltd. Stone 035CD) 

Is this taking it all one sponsorship too far? The CD sleeve is a virtual outtake from the wonderfully weird cross-cultural multi-sexual ‘My Beautiful Laundrette’ (1985). It show Ray’s Sydenham Road Dry Cleaning establishment from whence derives the title. Or perhaps not. For No-Man’s nine-track follow-through to ‘Wild Opera’ forms a very strange and beautiful package indeed. It comes from those twiddly-trickery artisans Tim Bowness and Steve Wilson, but it’s the kind of product you’d expect from Mozart oozing cyber-cluster stuff on a cheap Casio and a Job-Seekers Allowance. Moving vaguely out of the intelligent end of that spreading and increasingly indefinable subworld of Dance, ‘Dry Cleaning Ray’ is an occasional contemplation on the nature of fame – ‘it’s the same old song, it’s the same old shit, thirty years without a hit.’ Perhaps it’s what Tim calls No-Man’s own ‘critical success/ commercial flop pattern.’ Perhaps not. 

But it’s broad enough to take in “Sweetside Silver Night” with its smooth Steely Dan jumpy jazz bass (‘to the souls of the failed old singers... and the dreadful songs they bring us’), the Bowie Ziggy strum of “Jack the Sax”, to the reverse tapes and echoey dub guitars of “Diet Mother” and the sensually brooding “Sicknote” which grows through the scrinch and screek of perverse electric delights like a time-lapse chrysanthemum. There’s some unrecognisably remixed edits from the afore-mentioned ‘Opera’ too, a metal-machine Muslimgauze collaboration, and a bizarre take on the godlike Serge Gainsbourg’s “Evelyn”, but the whole album sparkles and glitters like some pharmaceutically-inclined Tinkerbell has sprinkled each track with nuclear fairy dust. ‘In the heat of this pointless night’ Tim urges, ‘dazzle me.’ And it Dazzles. In such a context the Laundrette, located in hard Urban Disco, but surfing the cross- cultural multi-sexual cosmic vibrational energy waves lifting our planet into higher altered states, or some-such, suddenly it seems as cool as something very cool indeed.

Album Review of: 
by NO-MAN 
(Resurgence Hi-Art 1/2) 

“Housewives Hooked On Heroin”, No-Man’s current single, rams guest horn from antique Bopper Ian Carr through an ‘exclusive’ Scanner remix. It bridges worlds. It glides from stark glacial retro-ecstasy to sharp wide-screen slamming dance in three-minute 3D. But it’s never less than the dub and fader electrified alchemy of Tim Bowness and Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson. Now, taking time out from their on-going One Little Indian commitments, they indulge further along the increasingly liquid mix ‘n’ match outer rim of Progressive Dance – a zone that tunes into everything, sampling influences from ambient, ECM, and Symphonic Trance to Womb Music that begs to have its pulse taken for life-signs. But give Tim the correct truth drug and he’ll probably speed-spiel about sounds that shimmer like fabulous phantoms, machines with the gift of wings and lights that gleam hallucinogenic shining noises. And to this end “Long Day’s Fall” goes from senssurround playground noises and Hasidic violin through the dark psychedelic concoction of “Bleed” into the bongo’s and tinkling keyboards of Nick Drake’s haunting “Road”. Elsewhere – offsetting an occasional vocal flatness, they infiltrate a 21.19-minute “Heaven Taste” with ex-Japan luminaries Richard Barbieri, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn (on fretless bass and Dida), a “Why The Noise” with added soprano sax from King Crimson’s Mel Collins, and no less than Robert Frippertronic guitar noodling on “Angeldust”. When the world zigs, No-Man zags. Fusions slip and slither beyond definition. Their neo-Art Dance is further proof that the Club Mix is where the REAL creative moves are being made.





An interview with the New Progressive 
Rock band Porcupine Tree, about why 
Pink Floyd are obsolete, the fine art of sampling, 
the true meaning of Prog-Rock… and Japan

‘I think what we’re doing is actually very brave’ volunteers Steven Wilson. He’s an incredibly bleached-out white. His long blonde hair tied back in a blue sweatband. The only darknesses are the sleep-deprivation circles beneath his pale blue eyes. He’s of a paleness Fantasy readers might associate with Michael Moorcock’s albino sorcerer Elric of Melniboné. He’s pale in the way that Blues devotees might call whiter-than-white guitarist Johnny Winter pale. Or perhaps it’s just the unhealthy lighting here in the Leeds ‘Cockpit’ dressing room? 

Steven is sat forward on the black battered couch to emphasise that ‘Porcupine Tree is significantly more exciting and on the cutting edge now than – say, what Pink Floyd churn out these days, yet they sell millions of records. So why the hell shouldn’t Porcupine Tree be available to the same people who are out there now buying their records…?’ 

At that moment the door slams with the alarming abruptness of an amplified Motown handclap. A Roadie called Jasper with an ‘Ozric Tentacles’ T-shirt trails curly leads and jack-plugs through the interview space. 

‘Perhaps we should be sampling THAT’ Steven grins, hooking one leg over the couch-arm. ‘We could make an album out of this.’

This is the man who once told journalist Dave Simpson ‘our music has roots in seventies Progressive, but takes on recent developments such as sampling and ambient trance too… my mission is to give Prog Rock a good name and drag it into the nineties’ (‘Melody Maker’, 12 November 1994). Progressive Rock? Isn’t that Ozric Tentacles, Ship of Fools, Rustic Hinge, quasi-Roger Dean CD sleeves? Boring over-extended self-indulgence? Some comparisons are just too hard to bear – and listening to the seductive soundscapes flooding their current album – ‘The Sky Moves Sideways’ (January 1995, Delerium Records DELEC CD 028), Pink Floyd are the obvious one. “The Moon Touches Your Shoulder” begins like an acoustic Floydian “Us And Them”, accelerating through snatched samples of manic orchestration and huge choirs, leading directly into the brief instrumental “Prepare Yourself” with echoplexed guitar-hero extravagance. Porcupine Tree might avoid either Syd Barrett’s dotty whimsy or Roger Waters’ depressive paranoia, preferring poetically-stoned lyrical abstraction which steps ‘right off the map’. 

But Dry Ice & Flying Pigs? Naw. You can’t teach a new dog old tricks! 

‘To me, progressive bands are bands that you wouldn’t normally think of as progressive. People who are experimenting with textures and musical styles, anybody attuned to that can be regarded as progressive in the TRUE sense of the word, rather than in the accepted clichéd sense. Music can be ANYTHING. Some pieces by such classical composers as Steve Reich or Philip Glass take forty, fifty or sixty minutes to develop. I don’t see why Rock music should be any different. Music is a wonderfully rich and varied tapestry of sound, textures and inspiration.’ 

But the commercial element is not unimportant? ‘It’s not unimportant’ Steven confirms. ‘There can’t be many musicians who feel that what they do is very important, but at the same time don’t care if the audience out there feel the same. If you believe something is special then you want EVERYBODY to hear it. Every time we put a record out it does better than the last one. It hasn’t been, like, a spectacular quantum leap into the stratosphere! Yet – but it has been a steady word-of-mouth thing.’

--- 0 --- 

Steven birthed Porcupine Tree in 1985 as a one-man multi-instrumentalist project; ‘as technology improves there’s less and less reason to spend a fortune on commercial studios. I started collecting studio equipment as soon as I was earning money.’ The first CD/ double-album – ‘On The Sunday Of Life’ (May 1992), drew from previous cult cassette-only releases issued in that solo one-man form (‘Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm’ 1989, and ‘The Nostalgia Factory’ 1991). CD single “Voyage 34” followed, and charted – a half-hour fusion of ambient acid textures enveloped in staggering space-Rock, shot through with a neat LSD motif, then remixed by studio Trip-Hop demons Astralasia. ‘Getting radio play for eighteen-nineteen-minute tracks, and for ANYTHING that doesn’t have a strict dancebeat, is very difficult’ he admits. But Mark Radcliffe played Porcupine Tree. And as the band multiplied into a four-piece line-up for live – and later, recording work, two Radio One sessions took them to wider audiences. 

‘The Sky Moves Sideways’ works well beyond all previous parameters. It’s so up to date it’s already coming back from tomorrow. ‘Luckily I’ve been able to find three of the best musicians in the business’ he grins, ‘and in future it will be a case of continuing to make records, but with the band involved even more in the recording process… and in touring.’ 

--- 0 --- 

‘That’s TOO good. Don’t spoil it!’ yells dread drummer Chris Maitland behind his explosions of hair. The soundcheck rimshots ricochet around the cavernous emptiness of the Leeds ‘Cockpit’, placing beats into the mix like the bubblegum your fingers stumble upon, placed rebelliously beneath schooldesks by those imprisoned to boring academia. Fruit Salad lights crawl in spectrums of colour around Porcupine Tree. Switterations of keyboards ripple, conjuring spiral cavortings that burn where dolphin-headed women spit fire in tunnels beneath the oceans of Saturn. 

‘I want a nice sort of R-O-L-L-I-N-G delay’ instructs Steven. He gets it. Live, the music ignites with new momentum and monstrously trippy energies. 

Later, heading back from the soundcheck towards the dressing room I enquire after the group’s keyboardist Richard Barbieri, formerly a member of pioneering New Romantic chart ikons Japan. ‘Do you know him?’ asks Steven abruptly. 

No. But I’ve seen him once or thrice on ‘Top Of The Pops’. ‘Don’t say that’ he warns. ‘Whatever you do, don’t say that!’ 

He’s sensitive about questions concerning Japan? ‘Er… no.’ A pause. ‘That’s just a joke.’

Japan’s biggest heavenly Pop hit – “Ghosts”, reached no.5 in March 1982, beaten to the top spot by Goombay Dance Band’s “Seven Tears”, Bucks Fizz and Chas & Dave! With huge stadium tours and massive, if sensitively arty albums – ‘Tin Drum’ (1981), ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ (1980), the live ‘Oil On Canvas’ (1983) and beyond, there was a string of big singles too. A track recorded in 1980 – “I Second That Emotion”, failed to chart first time around, but later, when the New Romantic thing came along feeding off the early effete Japan postures, it was re-issued, and hit no.9. 

Richard Barbieri head-butts all your expectations. Mention the aftermath of Japan, and a slow smile overspreads his face. ‘Yes. I found out that over the past seven years I haven’t been making enough music. I haven’t been INVOLVED in music enough. And it suddenly became very important to me. After all – I AM a musician. I SHOULD be doing it all the time. I SHOULD be involved in things.’ 

Then, ‘Steven’s got another project, a band called Noman’ he explains carefully. ‘It’s basically himself and a singer (they record for One Little Indian, with one track remixed by Colin Angus of Shamen). And some time after Japan finished we – that’s Mick (Karn), Steve (Jansen, Japan’s sax player and drummer respectively) and myself were invited to go see a Noman showcase. They wanted to put together a group, for touring purposes initially, but also for recording. And we were really impressed with Noman. We don’t often get asked to do things, as a kind-of rhythm section, so it was appealing that we’d still be playing together, but within another context. That’s how it began. Then Steven’s enthusiasm for what he’s doing kind-of rubbed off on me a bit. So I got more involved. The Porcupine Tree thing evolved and progressed from there. Porcupine Tree is very natural for me to work within. It provides a certain amount of freedom, but it doesn’t impose the responsibility on me that I had with my other projects where I had to work out the direction and overall sound, the ‘what’s this and the what’s that’ of it. I can just kind-of be a pawn really. That’s quite appealing. Of course…’ a wary glance around the surrounding chaos ‘…it DOES entail touring around England. But it’s as important doing a good gig here as doing a good gig anywhere else. At the moment, THIS is where we’re at with this group. And this kind of tour is a bit of a learning experience. It’s a way of gauging what we want to do in the future, and what kind of audience is out there. Porcupine Tree is getting better and better on stage. A lot of the tracks on the album become more evolved through the shared contributions of everybody when we play live.’ 

The gig will commence at midnight. While we wait, Chris Maitland (drums, percussion, hum-wah) and Colin Edwin (fretless bass guitar) sit across the debris and the moveable feast from us. So far the dialogue has neatly sidestepped them. ‘We’re used to that ‘ smiles Colin amiably. 

‘Next time the group do an interview’ announces Steven, ‘you two can do it ALL!’

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“Moonloop” – title track of a UK Indie Top Ten EP, initially orbits a simple nagging guitar riff that sticks in you head as persistently as burrs, it orbits Orb as well as the Floyd. Then there’s a sampled Luna EVA while that spinal riff builds to epic proportions fed through demonic effect pedals. 

‘We had a few hours left in the studio one afternoon, and just improvised. It was quite natural the way it came together’ shrugs Steven dismissively. ‘So “Moonloop” is basically a forty-minute studio improvisation which we subsequently cut up, stripped down, built up again, and then put together in the way you hear it on the album. About ten to twelve minutes of it is an almost completely unadulterated untouched chunk of improvisation. While the closing section consists of the drums from another session – just the drums, I stripped everything else out to get a new piece of music from it. Yes, I’m very fond of that track. It was actually the last thing we recorded for the album. And in a way I see it almost as a pointer to the future. To the next album…’ 

Shine On You Crazy… Porcupine Tree…


‘On The Sunday Of Life’ (CD/ Double vinyl LP, 1992) tracks drawn from cassettes ‘Tarquin’s Seaweed Farm’ and ‘Nostalgia Factory’ 

“Voyage 34 Phase One” c/w “Phase Two” (Twelve-inch/ CD single, 1992) 

‘Up The Downstair’ (CD/ LP, June 1993) 

“Voyage 34 Phase Three” c/w “Phase Four” (Twelve-inch single, Astralasia mix) no.19 on ‘New Musical Express’ Indie chart 18 December 1993 

“Moonloop” (CD single/ Twelve-inch EP, 1994) 

‘The Sky Moves Sideways’ (CD, Delec CD028) no.15 on ‘Music Week’ Indie album chart 

Saturday 27 November 2021






Review of: 
Director: Fred F Sears. With Hugh Marlowe and Joan Taylor. 
Original Release: Columbia Pictures, June 1956. 
 DVD, January 2017. 80-minutes.


‘Since Biblical times man has witnessed and recorded 
strange manifestations in the sky, and speculated on 
the possibilities of… visitors from another world’ 
– Documentary-style voice-over 

The pre-credit sequence is loaded with gravitas. An FS-057 US jet is buzzed by a Flying Saucer. UFOs are glimpsed above the fields of Kansas, and the rice paddies of the Orient. While, to the airlines of the world, there have been sightings of ‘unidentified flying objects’… what we have come to know as ‘Flying Saucers’. In Dayton, Ohio – investigations carried out by the ‘Air Intelligence Command Headquarters’ show that ninety-seven percent of sightings prove to be of natural origin, but that leaves a teasing three-percent listed as ‘unknown’. ‘The Hemispheric Defense Command Headquarters’ in Colorado Springs issues orders to fire on sight when encountering unidentifiable flying objects. But will our technology be sufficient to repel hostile extraterrestrial visitors…? 

This is serious stuff. It was a strange time. Although the Soviet ‘Sputnik One’ would not happen until October 1957, sending shockwaves around the world, the idea of artificial satellites was not only in the air, but above the atmosphere too. With the superpower Cold War gathering momentum bringing the constant threat of imminent nuclear annihilation, there was also a nervy fascination with UFO phenomenon. A writer called George Adamski enjoyed huge commercial success with his 1953 book ‘Flying Saucers Have Landed’ and its 1955 sequel ‘Inside The Space-Ships’, graphically describing his own encounters with creatures from other worlds. Most people dismissed the idea of what was termed the great Flying Saucer mystery, but there was just that three-percent possibility that there might just be something out there that we don’t understand.

So this movie arrived exactly at the correct nexus of concerns. When it comes to interplanetary invasion most fans of movie Sci-Fi would nominate George Pal’s adaptation of HG Wells’ ‘The War Of The Worlds’ (1953) with its vivid use of Chesley Bonestell’s luminous matte paintings. But this low-budget production has the benefit of Ray Harryhausen’s effects, which are simply as good as animation gets until the advent of digital technology. You see those Flying Saucers spinning in formation across the city skyline. For a kid in short trousers up-close in the cheap seats at the local fleapit, or the teens at the Drive-In Movie Theatre alike, this was a spectacular vision snatched direct from all our wildest imaginings. There were other cheapo black-&-white shockers with nasty aliens lurking in ships conveniently hidden in the forest where all you get to see is the glowing airlock portal, or else they’re buried beneath the sandpit where the nasties lie in wait to snare unwary abductees. Here, no detail is hidden. It’s all clearly out in the open, and it’s there from the opening sequence. 

A single moving car on a vast desert road. Inside are newly-married rocket-scientist Dr Russell (Hugh Marlowe) and wife of two hours Carol Marvin (Joan Taylor), she drives as he talks and fiddles with a tape-recorder, dictating his report. ‘I thought intellectual giants were supposed to be backwards and shy’ she teases, claiming that without her ‘inspiration and untiring criticism this report could never have been written!’ It’s then that they’re buzzed by a UFO. They pull in to watch as it speeds away into the sky. ‘We saw what appeared to be a Flying Saucer’ Russell concedes cautiously to her, as he pulls out a crumpled cigarette pack, ‘that’s all we can say.’ 

They continue their interrupted drive to ‘the project’ where he has ‘a hot date with a three-stage rocket.’ The sign says ‘You Are Approaching Operation Sky Hook, Restricted Area, Department Of Defense’. There are impressive spliced-in footage of tense rocket-launch sequences and solar photography, as they prepare to launch the eleventh of twelve automatic observation stations into orbit, what they term satellites, or moons… or ‘birds’. It’s twenty minutes to launch when General Hanley (Morris Ankrum), who happens to be Carol’s father, returns from a trip to Panama to report the burned-out remains of satellite seven have been discovered there. Numbers one and three fell over Africa. Number five at the North Pole. Nine and ten along the Andes. The rest were lost at sea. Each satellite had blown up in outer space, despite there being no explosive content. Dastardly deeds were obviously afoot.

As a jobbing actor Philadelphia-born Hugh Marlowe – real name Hugh Hipple, had roles in ‘All About Eve’ (1950) as well as playing the suspicious ‘Tom Stevens’ who betrays Klaatu to the authorities in the original classic version of ‘The Day The Earth Stood Still’ (1951). Joan Taylor had an even more luminous career, working her way through a series of Western movies, then going on to appear in ‘Twenty Million Miles To Earth’ (1957) where she combats another Ray Harryhausen-animated extraterrestrial threat. She appeared in just about every TV Western series, from ‘Wagon Train’ to ‘Gunsmoke’, but found greater success as a writer and a power behind the ‘Hawaii Five-O’ franchise inherited from her late husband. They prove to be an engagingly adequate lead duo, with some screen chemistry… but it’s the special effects that are the movie’s real star. 

Nevertheless, they enjoy a family barbeque with Dad until they spot two electrical spheres hovering in the sky, and the falling star that is the hurtling remnants of number eleven. But they also discover that the tape recorder Russell was using in the car has inadvertently picked up distortion white-noise from the UFO encounter. The next and final launch will be equipped with TV pick-up, in more stock-footage sequences of technical preparation. Before a Flying Saucer arrives to interrupt proceedings. It hovers over the base. The first clash of interplanetary war is about to commence. In full Ray Harryhausen detail a column extends from beneath the hovering saucer and – protected by a wavering electronic screen, three metallic figures emerge. A squad of soldiers open fire and one of the aliens is felled, with massive retaliation. Soldiers with mortars are vapourised. The rocketship is felled and blows up. The robotic figures fire beams of flame that proceed to destroy the project.

The only two left alive, Carol and Russell find shelter in the bunker as the air turns toxic, and she’s scared of the dark. But as the power fails the tape that Marvin had recorded in the car, slows as it plays, revealing the gibberish to be a voice-message played at accelerated speed. Then, as the UFO ascends above the scrubby desert, General Hanley wakes to discover that he’s been snatched, and is inside the saucer itself – the interstellar conveyance, with a single screen and a white floating translating device. There’s an x-ray mind-control effect that envelops his head, so his brain becomes briefly visible. The voice demands to know why their message to Dr Marvin was not heeded… the message that the power outage is only now revealing. 

‘Sky Hook Wiped Out’ announces the Los Angeles Times headline, as the Federal Government convenes and the rescued duo are flown to the Pentagon Internal Security Commission. They play the time-adjusted tape, and Russell pleads to be allowed to make radio contact with ‘whoever they are’, but his audience is skeptical. Assigned a security guard called Frank and Hotel Room 312, Russell goes ahead and uses his own radio to answer the alien’s message on their own wavelength. They arrange a meeting at Chesapeake Bay ‘where the north beach road reaches the sea’ – conveniently using 11:00am GMT. He socks Frank and makes off at speed to meet the rendezvous deadline, hotly pursued first by Frank and Carol, then by a Highway motorcycle Traffic Cop too alerted by their excessive speed.

They arrive at the shore and set out along the beach to where the UFO is waiting. ‘Please come in’ says the alien voice as the saucer ascends sufficiently to reveal the column. The party of four find themselves in the chamber where the General woke earlier, with cosmic scenes on the screen. ‘We generate a magnetic field stronger than the gravitational field of your Earth’ the alien helpfully – but perhaps unwisely explains, ‘this is the principle by which we move through space.’ As the speeded-up tape indicates, they operate in a very different time-reference. Human pulses are suspended, all that happens within the ship is time-adjusted between the ticks of their watch, or the beats of their heart. ‘We are the survivors of a disintegrated solar system’ the alien voice reveals, and they’d assumed the Sky Hook missile launches were weapons directed against them, which is why they destroyed them.

The aliens have the means of accumulating information through their Infinitely Indexed Memory Bank. To test it out the cop asks which team won the World Series. When it correctly answers ‘the New York Yankees’, Carol recognizes the voice it is using. Yes, it’s Daddy Hanley, who emerges in an automaton-like state, all knowledge from his brain having been transferred to their machines. The outraged cop shoots, and in retaliation is subject to the same brain-revealing scan. 

But Dr Marvin and his companions are mistaken in assuming that friendly coexistence is on offer, instead the aliens demand a meeting with world leaders in Washington DC to negotiate Earth’s surrender terms, within fifty-six days. The UFO fleet is shown circling the globe. In a famous sequence there are saucers flying in formation over New York, over Westminster, and over Paris with the Eiffel Tower as a recognition factor. The Navy destroyer ‘Franklin Eddison’ opens fire on a saucer, and is vapourised by a single energy-beam projected from the saucer’s underside. Of course, with such weaponry they could invade Earth, but could not control a large hostile population. As the alien says, they would be masters of a ‘wrecked and hungry planet.’

‘Look to your sun for a warning’ comes a radio message broadcast to the people of Earth. People listen across the world. There’s a tremendous explosion on the solar surface, setting off nine days of meteorological disturbances, with storms and floods crippling the world. 

As Mark Gatiss and David Miller point out in their authoritative ‘They Came From Outer Space!’ (Visual Imagination, 1996), this movie features ‘without doubt, some of the best flying-saucer model work ever seen in the movies,’ UFOs which ‘dart and dip about the screen, crash spectacularly into several famous landmarks in Washington (and further afield) and generally behave exactly as we hope real flying saucers will behave.’ Harryhausen had studied George Adamski’s books, as well as ‘Flying Saucers From Outer Space’ (1953) by Major Donald Keyhoe, upon which the script supposedly derived its authenticity, in order to model and animate his spinning saucers. Producer Charles H Scheer had called the technique ‘Dyamation’ when they’d collaborated on the earlier creature-feature ‘It Came From Beneath The Sea’ (1955). The animation still look remarkably impressive, and the attacking aliens of Tim Burton’s ‘Mars Attacks’ (1996) knowingly spoof these flying saucers, with their retractable underside heat-beams.

Returned to the Commission the leaders debate their response. ‘We don’t meet them with tea and cookies, we fight back!’ demands one General. ‘To use nuclear power when they land would destroy our own cities’ suggests another. While Russell himself has an idea for ‘a new kind of weapon’ based on alien technology. His ultrasonic gun detonates a block of concrete, but requires much higher wave-frequency to be efficient. Instead, a scientist in New Delhi suggests taking advantage of information the alien’s had earlier rather foolishly revealed, by interrupting the magnetic field that is the saucer’s motive power. Trains and planes bring supplies as scientists work with slide-rules and blueprints in the concealed Belmont Labs, where they transmit flickering coils of energy in arcs through the air. Finally the weapon is ‘a functioning reality’, as a newer and stronger Interference Machine is being speeded from Aberdeen, but they’ve been observed by a hovering luminous sphere. A Major shoots and destroys it, but as they set out for Washington, a saucer is observing them.

They give the gun its first real trial when the UFO lands and three robotic UFOnauts emerge. The beam oscillates as they fire. There’s an aerial battle, the UFO shoots down a Foo-Fighter attack-plane then torches the Lab centre, setting up forest fires as the three make their escape. The saucer dumps two human bodies… the motorcycle cop, and Carol’s father, but one of the alien’s has also been shot. They rip off its ‘solidified electricity’ helmet, to reveal the ancient humanoid beneath, the suit replacing its atrophied flesh and muscle. Russell tries the helmet on, to discover that it amplifies the senses. While they adapt the translating device within the helmet, analyzing the alien language with the aid of banks of mechanical calculators. ‘The quality of mercy is not strained’ says Carol as a test of its ability. 

The scene is set for the final confrontation. Russell and Carol share a romantic parting in their hotel room, she’s supposed to go to Palm Springs as part of a general evacuation. Troops move into place, in incorporated stock-footage. Guns rise menacingly aloft. Planes take off – only to be vapourised. Rockets are launched, striking the saucers harmlessly. A fleet of saucers spin over Washington, causing panic. Russell scrambles into position and a saucer crashes into the Potomac. Carol dashes across the lawns and down a flight of stairs as soldiers circle the half-submerged saucer. She has stayed behind, as the real devastation begins. Flying saucers land on the White House lawn. Buildings are torched. Russell and Carol run as buildings collapse around them, as the fight-back uses the projector. Hit by the beam the saucers oscillate, crippled UFOs crash into city blocks and always take care to famously spin into iconic landmarks, snapping the Washington Monument, the Capitol building, and spectacularly smashing them in a recognizably Harryhausen way.

Once the ‘present danger’ is ended, Russell and Carol frolic on the beach. The Sky Hook project is to be resumed. ‘Will they come back again?’ asks Carol pensively. ‘Not on such a nice day’ he jokes, as they skip hand-in-hand into the waves. 

Of course, it’s a feel-good movie. The aliens are convincingly believably threatening, but their sinister plans are defeated by a combination of ingenuity and pluck. Earth is in danger, but is saved. Although, over half-a-century later, the fear of alien abduction and interference in human affairs has never completely gone away.



‘EARTH vs THE FLYING SAUCERS’ aka ‘Invasion Of The Flying Saucers’ or ‘Flying Saucers From Outer Space’ (June 1956, Columbia Pictures) Director: Fred F Sears. Producer: Charles H Schneer. Executive Producer: Sam Katzman. Screenplay: Curt Siodmak, George Worthing Yates, Bernard Gordon (credited as ‘Raymond T Marcus’), suggested by the non-fiction best-selling book ‘Flying Saucers From Outer Space’ (1953) by Major Donald Keyhoe. Technical stop-motion animation effects: Ray Harryhausen. With Hugh Marlowe (as Dr Russell A Marvin), Joan Taylor (as Carol Marvin), Donald Curtis (as Major Huglin), Morris Ankrum (as Brigadier General John Hanley), John Zaremba (as Professor Kanter), Thomas Browne Henry (as Vice-Admiral Enright), Grandon Rhodes (as General Edmunds), Larry J Blake (as Motorcycle Policeman), Charles Evans (as Dr Alberts), Harry Lauter (as Cutting, Kanter’s technician), Paul Frees (the uncredited voice of the Aliens). 84-minutes. DVD Sony, Universal, includes colourised and original black-&-white versions, 2008