6 March 2017


Robert Sheckley was an American SF writer, who published a series of novels and short stories from the 1950s to the early '90s. These were similar to the Douglas Adams' later Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in that they spoof standard science-fiction cliches and conventions, often from a philosophical viewpoint, subtly satirising the emerging consumer society of the 1960s. His characters are often the hapless victims of incompetent bureaucracies and corporations.
The hero of his 1968 book, Dimension of Miracles, is Thomas Carmody, the winner of a galactic sweepstake run by intelligent aliens. However, due to a mix-up, the aliens have given the prize to the wrong man, and they are also unable to return him to Earth. Carmody thus begins a bizarre journey across the cosmos trying to find his way home, accompanied by the Prize, which is intelligent and can take whichever form fits the current situation, while pursued by a monster, called into existence by his winning the lottery, which specialises in eating Carmodys. Along the way he meets the man who made the Earth, and debates religion and God's relationship with His creations with the god of a barren planet. [1]

Options [2] is also about the problems of another unfortunate space traveller, Tom Mishkin. In trying to get home after a malfunction in his spacecraft leaves him stranded on Harmonia II awaiting a replacement part. This ends in failure. Despite going through a series of bizarre, and frequently nonsensical, encounters crossing the planet in order to contact Earth to procure the part, the company on Earth is unable to acquire one for him, leaving him marooned there. Again, the book features incidents very similar to those in Hitchhiker. For example, in trying to find a way out of the malfunction, Mishkin finds out that the control panel has a personality, which the machine feels makes him unable to perform his job properly [3]. This brings to mind Arthur Dent's first meeting with Marvin, the Paranoid Android, and the spaceship's doors aboard the Heart of Gold in Hitchhiker. These also have personalities, while the perpetually miserable Marvin is a 'personality prototype'. Or the existentially challenged elevator Marvin also encounters in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. [4]

Options isn't a UFO book, but it does have one small passage which is relevant to some of the imagery in the abduction experience. This is where an Earth ship encounters a hostile enemy vessel from Far Arcturus under their bloodthirsty commander, Thanatos Superbum. The Earthmen's peaceful greetings and offers of friendship are spurned by Superbum, who offers them the choice of being:
"annihilated at once by the inconceivable force of our deadly ray guns, after which our space fleet will destroy your space fleet, after which we will conquer Earth and implant special radio circuits in the brains of all humans thus rendering them our slaves and subject to various fates worse than death". [5]
Alien implants are very much a standard part of the Abduction narrative. Way back in Magonia 58, Mark Pilkington discussed them along with real research by the American intelligence agencies in mind control, including the use of electronic implants, in such notorious projects as Artichoke, Bluebird, Pandora, Mkdelta, Mksearch and MkUltra. [6]

The theme of evil aliens using implants to control their slaves also appeared in the comic strip 'Metamorphosis Odyssey' by Jim Starlin, in the American adult anthology comic, Epic Illustrated. This told the story of a quest by the alien magician, Aknaton from the planet of Osiris, to find the three spiritually advanced beings and their protector, who would be able to blow the Infinity Horn and so end the imminent conquest and enslavement of the Galaxy by the evil Zygoteans. The Zygoteans are a warlike race spreading through the Galaxy by conquering and enslaving other civilisations. Their victims are electronically controlled through brain implants. After the Zygoteans have exhausted their victims' planets and resources, the former slaves are then freed and abandoned to starve to death as their conquers fly on to invade and despoil the next world. The strip was strongly influenced by the emerging radical politics of the time and the growing environmental movement. The Zygoteans embody aggressive, exploitative capitalism, which has also resulted in the exploitation and massacre of their own lower classes, and its threat to the ecology and wildlife of the Galaxy.

There no doubt have been other treatments of the same them elsewhere in science-fiction, and given the paranoia of the 1970s, it may well be that the motif of implanted mind control devices would have entered the abduction narrative as it was formed, without its appearance in science-fiction. But science-fiction has been a very strong influence on the UFO mythology, ever since Ray Palmer backed Kenneth Arnold. Mind control by aliens via technological implants are very much another example of a science-fictional literary topic being taken over into ufology. -- David Sivier

1. Robert Sheckley, Dimensons of Miracles. New York ACE Books, 1968.
2. Robert Sheckley, Options. London, Pan Books, 1977
3. Robert Sheckley. Options, pp.16-17.
4. Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (London, Pan Books, 1980) pp.39-42
5. Robert Sheckley, Options, p.77.
6. Mark Pilkington. 'What's on Your Mind' Magonia 58, January-February, pp.3-5

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