A book can have an impact even though you first read it many years after publication. Ian Watson's Miracle Visitors was published nearly 40 years ago, and it had a major affect on some British ufologists at the time. Jenny Randles wrote about it in her book Mind Monsters, and noted a number of coincidences between the fiction events in Miracle Visitors and the UFO abduction that she was investigating at the time of its publication. She features it in her 1997 book Alien Contact, describing is as "the best attempt yet to dramatise the extraordinary complexity of alien contact without resorting to cliches of little green men and spaceships".Magonia contributor David Sivier gives his views on the novel after coming across it for the first time recently
This was first published in 1978, but reissued 12 years or so ago by Gollancz as an SF classic, along with Ian Watson's The Jonah Kit. I picked it up a year or so ago in one of the remainder bookshops in Cheltenham. It's an unusual book. It's heroes aren't the square-jawed conquerors of space of the space operas of Pulp SF, but ordinary mortals in the present day trying to grapple with the UFO phenomenon and its devastating effect on their lives. Several of the characters are university lecturers and students, so that it has something in common with the campus novels of Oliver Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury, if those authors had only had their characters whisked into space aboard alien craft, and then tried to muddle their way through the great secrets of this universe.
Which is what makes it weird.
Not because of its ideas - much of SF is about the ultimate nature of reality and the place of humanity in the cosmos. It's weird because it's a work of literary SF about UFOs, which actually takes its subject seriously. Despite the massive impact ufology has had on popular culture, literary science fiction, as opposed to the pulps and comics, has tended to avoid it. Some of the hard SF writers, who rooted their works in solid science, were particularly hostile to ufology. Arthur C. Clarke was horrified at one point when he was talking to Stanley Kubrick about making a science fiction film, when it looked like the great director wanted to make a monster movie, or one about UFOs. Clarke persuaded him against this, and the result was the classic 2001.
Miracle Visitors is also a novel of ideas, which shares that movie's interest in the achievement of cosmic transcendence. I found it an optimistic book. It deals realistically with the confusion and bewilderment experienced by UFO witnesses, contactees and abductees, and the fact that much of the phenomenon is indeed bewildering gibberish that you're probably best off ignoring and should get on with your life instead. But it also portrays the phenomenon as a genuinely transformative experience that can lead a very few - the elect initiates - to genuine cosmic knowledge and transcendence.
Like Clarke's and Kubrick's masterpiece, it's a work of techno-mysticism, which I found more compelling than the genuine UFO religions like Unarius and the Aetherius Society. Unlike them, the book isn't concerned with re-incarnation, and the 'Space Brothers' - the Gebraudi - don't belong to a galactic federation and aren't remotely humanoid.
It's also optimistic and positive in that it draws on elements of Islam, though incorporated into a non- but not anti-Muslim view of the universe's ultimate reality, without seeking to promote controversy. Its Sufi characters are modern, scientifically-literate Egyptians, whose ancient mysticism offers a clue to getting a handle on this most modern form of mystical experience. That comes from a time before 9/11, when instead of a 'Clash of Civilisations', the world was looking forward to a process of mutual enrichment from the encounters between its myriad cultures. If there is a genuine unexplained supernormal aspect to the UFO phenomenon, rather than a myth created by misperception, anomalous psychology and outright hoaxes, then it would be much better for it to be something like that depicted by Watson than the Manichaean terrors and malign tricks of the Abductionists and Keel.
The book is about a psychology professor specialising in altered states of consciousness reached through hypnosis, John Deacon, who takes on the case of a student, Michael, who had years before had his own intimate encounter with an alien seductress, Luvah, years before. He has subsequently forgotten this, but remembers it during his hypnotic session with Deacon. They are joined by Barry Shriver, an American Ufologist and former AAF pilot, who bears more than a little resemblance to John Keel. Following Shriver, they view the UFO phenomenon as part of the same force that has created angels, fairies and gods over the centuries.
They then encounter supposedly real aliens, the Gebraudi, who inform them that the Unidentifieds, as they call them, are the creation of Whole Planet Life - the sum of the consciousness created by all the organisms on Earth. Every planet has its own Unidentifieds, and they have been sent to Earth by theirs to correct and heal those of Earth. Humanity is the rational part of the web of consciousness created by Earth's ecosystem. Due to humanity's aggressive, destructive nature and decimation of the environment, Earth's unidentifieds too have become mad and destructive. This poses a danger to the local civilisations around Earth, who could be overcome and destroyed as humanity expands into the Galaxy.
The Gebraudi themselves are ecologically aware herbivores with a strong ethic of altruism, whose technology is based on harnessing the consciousness inherent in plant life as a kind of vast sensor and computer network. Their civilisation is also powered by ley lines and the dragon energy from sacred sites.
Deacon's own researches lead him to appear in Egypt, following a fugue episode, to seek the advice of an academic colleague, Muradi, who is a Sufi sheikh, the head of a mystical order called the Fihi'iya. He receives from the sheikh a copy of the grimoire, The Little Key of Solomon, whose sigils he recognises as part of a general map of the deep consciousness at the heart of reality. The novel includes speculations about UFOs being a kind of cosmic control mechanism, a kind of teleological explanation for evolution as successively complex forms of organisation in the cosmos draw the lower forms upwards to themselves by a kind of suction, the ultimate reality as a kind of cosmic void, which produces the universe and its conscious organisms through a kind of emanation, almost like the Neo-Platonist One and the interconnectedness of all minds across the universe. This seems somewhat similar to one of the ideas in Lovecraft's Through the Gate of the Silver Key.
The book is clearly influenced by the ideas of John Keel and Jaques Vallee, as well as reflecting the new trends in eco-awareness and John Mitchell's and Bruce Cathie's ideas about ley lines and nets of terrestrial power. It also reflects the late 1960's - '70's exploration of consciousness and mysticism as depicted in Ken Russell's Altered States. It also seems to have been written as part of the UFO craze following Spielberg's Close Encounters, though unlike that film, it takes a totally different approach, far more influenced by Keel's The Mothman Prophecies.
It also includes cosmic speculation on the implications of Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem, and the loss of information in communication from higher order intelligences to lower as part of the explanation for the incomprehensibility of UFO experiences and the visitors' messages. And there's also a touch of the holographic universe in the idea of the universe as a simulation of itself, also described as a dream dreaming itself. This seems to me to be the ultimate origin of the line 'I am the dreamer, you are the dreamed' uttered by one of the aliens in Whitley Streiber's Communion.