This is the fourth volume of a mammoth (2000 pages and counting) series released over the past 25 years which form chronological diary entries covering a decade in the life of one of the most important scientists in the field of anomaly research.
Vallee, a Frenchman moved to the USA five decades ago with support from Dr J Allen Hynek, who was then then an astronomer assessing UFO cases for Project Blue Book at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. He had computer skills vital to Hynek's work, but research into UFOs and other fringe science soon became Vallee's passion.
Today he is one of the last survivors of the early years of UFO research – whose book Passport to Magonia inspired the title of this publication, and was one that I read as a teenager. In no small measure his ability to think outside the box whilst retaining a scientific mindset was crucial to my becoming involved in the field. Had he and wife Janine not penned books in those formative days when junk science dominated the bookshelves, those lesser tomes may have been sufficient to turn me away.
A still youthful Vallee was part of the 'Invisible College' of scientists doing this 'forbidden' research. He was also the reason why in Spielberg's famous 1977 UFO movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a Frenchman played by Francois Truffaut runs around the USA chasing aliens and talking psycho-sociology. Lacombe was Vallee (even hinted by the name – combe in English and French means a valley).
Whilst the book format of a series of diary entries is limiting, Vallee's engaging style of observation is a big help in allowing the book to flow despite its length. There is a curious fascination in following his journey through a decade and coming upon moments when he hears of a major event or meets another researcher.
So we get descriptions of the weather from a train carriage window or a trek into the bush somewhere following a case with insight, vying with notes about the scenery. Being a Frenchman he observes food and clothing especially well, recalling in more detail than I ever could both what I was wearing and the food when we discussed crop circles in April 1992. His observational skills are the real delight here as you track the decade.
The book ranges over many topics in a haphazard manner and rarely goes into depth, as is the wont with diary entries, of course. So it is in that respect not a particularly coherent or analytical text.
Now and then you can see the insights as they arrive in unexpected ways. He opens up the promotion tour for his 1990 book Confrontations, the writing of which was a main theme of the previous volume of his diary. First up is Chicago, which has him reminiscing about his time at Northwestern University in Evanston and Allen Hynek who lived and worked there and had not long since died.
Then he meets a Colonel from the Lockheed 'skunk' works three days later in New Mexico and discusses the possibility that secret government experiments might be using lasers and hologram projections on troops to trigger 'UFO hallucinations'. Vallee immediately thinks that the 1980 Rendlesham Forest case might be a possible candidate.
At a gathering a few days later with scientists who recall using aviation technology in roaming vans searching for UFO sightings, he asks why they had not contacted him and Hynek at Northwestern to help their pursuit, as they were operating an international sighting computer data base far ahead of anything in the otherwise amateur unfunded UFO community of that period. The answer – commercial secrecy and fear of losing the edge of the project by sharing its existence with others - which brought typically sharp observation from Vallee – "But the secrecy was your undoing. It lead to your failure."
Never one to mince words, he meets Colonel Charles Halt in Washington in May 1992 to discuss his sightings in Rendlesham Forest eleven years before. "I remain cautious about his interpretation. We disagreed politely" – Vallee notes in typically understated reservation.
Seven years later, he meets the 'skunk work' Colonel again at the Vallee's new apartment in San Francisco. He reports the claim that British ufologists once 'kidnapped' Colonel Halt's son in an effort to 'force him to admit a truth he didn't have'. Janine's 'candid reaction' to this news is described. I know what really happened, as I was there. But such is the nature of this book that you get many snapshots of moments which you must ponder meaning behind, yet, knowing only one side of the facts, cannot easily form a value judgement.
So as a reader you are left fascinated and intrigued whilst wondering what parts of the story you are missing that might bring a different perspective.
That said, for those who have been watching the new US TV series, Project Blue Book, in which Irish actor Aidan Gillen plays Allen Hynek, and other real people mentioned in Vallee's book 'star', you will unquestionably get a more realistic insight from his diaries than you do on TV. I scream weekly at the screen as the latest hyped up plot-line supposedly involving real people unfolds.
Instead here as reader you get what really happened day by day from a true giant of the UFO field. That is worth any deficiencies the diary format inevitably brings. Roll on Volume 5! -- Jenny Randles