24 February 2012


It was a cold morning sometime in the winter of 1961/2 when I encountered this book, in one of those paperback carousels they used to have in all sorts of shops. In this case it was the local barber’s. After my haircut, I rushed home, got my half crown coin and went and bought it. Here it is before me, 50 years on, front cover detached and stuck on with several applications of sellotape, the pages browned with age. Not just my actual first UFO book, but my actual first real grown-up book. If any book set my life on its course, this is it.

A half-crown coin
of the type used by
Peter Rogerson to buy

In this book he started off with the classic American cases, Arnold, Mantell, Chiles-Whitted, Gorman, Tombaugh, Hess, Hall, the Washington DC sightings, etc. He then went into the material from Europe and the Middle East, the later a reminder of what is now a completely strange colonial world, as remote from us as any alien planet. Cases were presented in detail and he attempted to calculate height, velocity, size etc. Classic ideas such ‘angel hair’ (if you remember that you are an oldie like me) and the Mariagne landing were introduced.
Much space was given over to detailed critiques of Donald Menzel’s explanations of UFO reports in terms of mirages; of course most of this, along with the anti gravity flying saucer propulsion theories of Jean Plantier, went over my 10-year-old head, but the general tone was very convincing, and even after 50 years, at times the rhetoric can draw you in. Of course, with a more jaded eye it is obvious that Michel was over-systematising and lumping together a variety of quite different things, most of which probably have a conventional explanation.

But at 10-plus I was hooked, it was obvious that flying saucers were spaceships from other planets. Maybe I would study them when I grew up, but then I thought that by that time, everything would be solved. Michel was clear that with a little more effort the answer would be just round the corner. 58 years after this book was first published in France, we are no further forward. Michel himself continued to support the ETH, but his ideas about it became much more sophisticated and his contempt for the sort of simplistic nuts and bolts spaceship ideas of people like Stanton Friedman was deep and severe. In the end he came to the conclusion that if one took the ETH really seriously, then there was no hope of understanding “their” motivations, concepts, technology etc., or even whether such words had real application to genuine ETs. He then gave up the subject shortly before his death.


cda said...

This was one of my earliest UFO books as well, perhaps the 3rd or 4th. I was very impressed at the time. It was soon after this that Michel produced his famous but short-lived 'straight- line mystery' which impressed me even more.

As I recall, the orthoteny idea spread to the USA where it got considerable support, but after about 5 years it got shot down by Michel's own countryman Jacques Vallee and Michel was forced to defend his theory. There was then a heated mathematical debate between Michel and the great debunker Donald Menzel in the pages of FSR, after which Michel seemed to concede defeat; this was c. 1965-66. Orthoteny then vanished forever from the UFO scene.

Phil said...

in one of those paperback carousels they used to have in all sorts of shops.

I'd forgotten those! Some extraordinary stuff you could pick up from them, too - I remember noticing a carousel full of SF in a newsagent in a Welsh village where we were staying, and quite matter-of-factly giving my father a list of authors to bag for me the next time he went in (he came back with a short-story collection by Harlan Ellison, of all people). Whatever happened to them?

Magonia said...

Technical note: A half-crown was two shillings and sixpence in pre-decimal money, which translates as 12.5 pence. According to an on-line Retail Price Index calculator, this corresponds to £5.00 at today's values. Still seems a bargain!