29 July 2021


Neil Nixon. UFOs, Aliens and the Battle for the Truth: A Short History of Ufology, Oldcastle Books, 2021.

A really short history of UFOs would be:
‘What’s that?’
The End.

The battle for the truth about these pesky manifestations is of course a lot more complicated, and Neil Nixon provides a very useful guide to UFO history, classic cases and the multitude of theories to explain them.

He begins with looking at ancient alien theories, and notes the prevalence of UFO-type events before Kenneth Arnold spotted ‘flying saucers’ in 1947. Neil acknowledges that earlier sightings of weird stuff in or from the the sky were misidentifications or outright hoaxes.

The most outstanding mystery pre-1947 is the Tunguska explosion over Siberia on 30 June 1908, and controversy still rages over whether it was an exploding nuclear-powered spaceship or a more scientifically acceptable visitation of an asteroid, comet or meteor.

As Nixon notes, amateur UFO groups and ufologists assume there is a ‘phenomenon’ to be identified and studied. In most cases they are looking for an extraterrestrial origin for this phenomenon, causing UFO reports to be ‘appropriated and hijacked by people with their own agendas’ as he puts it. As a consequence he adds that ‘ UFO cases of genuine substance are tainted by the shenanigans surrounding the investigations.’

He regrets that research has thereby been scattered and unsystematic, yet concedes there has been good academic research in the fields of psychology, tectonics and sociology but it is mainly ignored, rejected or misunderstood by ufology.

Looking at the evidence for alien visitors in the form of photographs, implants, ground traces and radar tracking promoted by ufologists he is of the view that they fail to provide hard, objective scientific facts.

He is scathing of Roswell because the inconsistencies, lies and rumours that have grown over the years have made it so contaminated that truth and fiction have merged into one. He does note there are some classic visual/radar cases that occurred at RAF Bentwaters in 1956, and a similar instance involving Iranian Air Force fighter jets in 1976. The disappearance of Frederick Valentich flying his Cessna 182 to King Island, Australia in 1978, and the mystery lights over Hessdalen are also considered.

It is refreshing that he looks at the different explanations for these classic cases and he notes the role of witnesses and their interaction with wider society, which reveals more about the working of our own minds, rather than evidence for ET.

As he observes: ‘In every generation we appear to have some kind of archetypal story of encountering other realms and realities.’ Belief in aliens, cosmic invaders, crash retrievals and government cover-ups are according to Neil fuelled by market forces that provide a constant flow of UFO infotainment that features little critical thinking or solid evidence. In this manner UFO beliefs function much like a religion.

Pointing to the work in the areas of earthlights, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, fantasy prone personality types and SETI Nixon indicates that Ufology can open up new avenues of investigation. Yet, it is a frustrating subject that as he observes has ‘too many answers chasing too little evidence.’

This is a good critical introduction to the subject, although sadly and inexcusably there is not one mention of Magonia magazine or this website (or any of my books!). In mitigation there is a great section on his dramatic encounter with Men In Black. -- Nigel Watson.

22 July 2021


Clive Bloom (Editor) The Palgrave Handbook of Steam Age Gothic. Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

The foundations of the gothic novel were laid in the eighteenth century with The Castle of Otranto (1764), The Mysteries of Udolpho (1790) and The Monk (1796). This is a dark dungeon and secret passageway territory that I read as a teenager but have been unable to comfortably revisit. 

16 July 2021


Patrick Maille. The Cards: The Evolution and Power of Tarot. University Press of Mississippi, 2021.

This book provides a history, not so much of the tarot cards themselves as a social history of the way in which they have been used, and the people who have used them for purposes other than their original purpose – a card game.

28 June 2021


Angela Youngman. The Dark Side of Alice in Wonderland. Pen and Sword, 2021.

There has always been a rather dark cloud hovering over Alice in Wonderland. Starting with the nature of the relationship between Charles Dodgson – Lewis Carroll – and Alice Liddell, the original ‘Alice’. The story was made up, on the hoof as it were, one summer day in 1862, to amuse the ten-year-old Alice and her two sisters, daughters of the Dean of Christ Church, on a boat trip along the Isis in Oxford.

19 June 2021


Adam Gorightly. Saucers Spooks and Kooks, UFO Disinformation in the Age of Aquarius. Daily Grail Publishing, 2021.

Adam Gorightly takes us on a fascinating exploration of the car crash that underlies and undermines ufology in the USA. He begins with the research of Stanton Friedman into Major Jesse Marcel’s testimony about the recovery of alien wreckage at Roswell. This led to the publication of Incident at Roswell in 1980, co-authored with William “Bill’ Moore, that initiated our obsession from crashed saucers.

14 June 2021


Monica Black. A Demon Haunted Land: Witches, Wonder Doctors and Ghosts of the Past in Post-WWII Germany. Metropolitan Books, 2020.

Looking at Germany today it is almost impossible to imagine the wrecked and devastated nation described in this book. After the moral collapse of society in the Nazi years, the country was plunged into near-anarchy with the disappearance of all the arms of government, the destruction of the physical infrastructure, and the arrival of millions of homeless refugees.

31 May 2021


Alan Steinfeld (editor) Making Contact: Preparing for the New Realities of Extraterrestrial Existence. St Martin’s Essentials, 2021.

It is a useful warning to find this book is "dedicated to brave pioneers such as Budd Hopkins, John Mack, Whitley Strieber, Linda Moulton Howe, and many more..." There are chapters by them and Nick Pope, Grant Cameron and Mary Rodwell, showing this is a mixed bag of the bad and the ugly, that turn up in every mind-boggling and ditch-dull television documentary about UFOs.

23 May 2021


Jack Hunter, Spirits, Gods and Magic: An Introduction to the Anthropology of the Supernatural, August Night Press, 2020.

Spirits, Gods and Magic is another example of a trend in several areas of academia and the social sciences – as in the work of Jeffrey J. Kripal and Arthur Versluis, to name but two – that calls into question the model of reality on which Western science, and much else, has long been based, chiefly because of science’s rejection of areas of human experience that don’t fit the model. 

16 May 2021


Stephen James O'Meara. Mars. Reaktion Books.

This is a really excellent book that tells the story of how humans have interacted with the planet Mars from our early civilisations through the dawn of science, and up to modern day space missions that have landed there and crossed its surface digging up samples. This is all told in an engaging and well written manner by an award winning astronomer who even has an asteroid named after him.

8 May 2021


Ceri Houlbrook. Unlocking the Love-Lock; The History and Heritage of a Contemporary Custom. Berghahn, 2021

Ceri Houlbrook’s previous book examined the phenomenon of ‘coin-trees’, living trees or felled tree-trunks which are decorated by people pressing coins into the bark. This book looks at another way in which people mark their presence at a site, and explores the meanings that such mementos carry.