Monday, January 26, 2015

If you haven't read it, it's STILL news!

UFO News, Again!

I’m sure you saw it splashed over the news, the Air Force recently declassified and released Project Blue Book UFO files, and that for the first time ever, they are available for viewing on the Internet.

All the news that's fit to copy and paste.
This just in...

The files were released long, long, ago.
Here’s a news clipping from The Dispatch (Lexington KY)  Nov. 5, 1974 (UPI):

But they didn't languish in that Air force black vault forever. Die-hard UFO researchers worked with the files on microfilm, but a decade ago, they were presented digitally on your friendly neighborhood Internet. 

Here’s the UFO UpDates notice about the files going online from 2005:
Blue Book Archive Announcement

That site is still alive and well.

In 2007,'s site devoted to military records, Fold3 presented scans of the Project Blue Book files. 
Fold3: Project Blue Book - UFO Investigations

Maybe it's just a remake 

How does the media get things so wrong? Part of it is that there’s a rush to report (or recirculate), and little fact checking is done. That, and some of the reporters were born yesterday. Sometimes, things like this happen; the media suddenly notices something and falls all over it to become an overnight success after 20 years. 

It can happen when an unknown book gets chosen by Oprah, or for a movie adaptation. Sometimes it comes on their radar when a box office bust of a film becomes a hit on video. Worse, sometime they mine a classic and issue a remake for a new generation.

Less than 15 pieces of flare.

Even in the UFO topic, some things become news, over and over. Like the FBI’s memo on the Aztec hoaxed flying saucer crash. In its latest exhumation, it was passed off as proof of Roswell.  

Like Dracula, it won't stay down.

Is this just bad reporting, or a case of them using anything and everything shiny that catches the notice of their open minds? I'd like to blame the Twitter age of news media, but this kind of thing is not new itself. There’s one that goes back to the coming of the flying saucers.

Good Evening, Mr. and Mrs. America, and All the Ships at Sea

We forget the incredible influence radio once had. Radio commentators such as Walter Winchell (and Frank Edwards) had their finger on America’s pulse sometimes reporting the news, other times making it. They also did a lot to introduce and propel the UFO story. Winchell’s show was printed as a newspaper column, and in this story from the July 7, 1947 San Jose News, he said, “The mystery of the ‘Flying Saucers’ is not new.” Then goes on to cite a recent book by R. DeWitt Miller, Forgotten Mysteries.
San Jose News July 7, 1947

R. DeWitt Miller’s book was chiefly a collection of articles on phenomenon from Coronet magazine, and one chapter focused on strange aerial objects. It enjoyed the flying saucer spotlight, but only for about a day. Someone finally noticed that he cited Charles Fort as his inspiration.

Miller noted that there had been speculation "That conscious beings from other worlds have actually reached this earth and navigated our skies in space ships." That speculation was chiefly from Charles Fort, who had collected accounts of strange flying things and speculated that they were interplanetary. 

Fort died in 1932, and had little to do with the Fortean Society, which Tiffany Thayer created in his honor. Thayer kept the torch burning by publishing the Fortean Society’s Doubt magazine.

Snazzy modern edition
It wasn't long before Walter Winchell was quoting R. DeWitt Miller but we know he could have done better than that. As it turned out an Associated Press reporter made the discovery in Chicago's Newberry Library. There the reporter claimed to have discovered a "rare unknown” book, the scarlet colored volume titled The Book of the Damned.
 Thayer howled with laughter when he read about the “great discovery.” Awhile after this "discovery” the news agencies tracked Thayer and the Forteans to their lair to ask: "Who was this guy Fort?" And: "Can we quote such and such?" This was the high- point of the whole history of the Fortean Society and it was sad Fort himself was not alive to take a well-earned bow.  (From UFOs: A History Vol. 1: 1947 by Loren Gross)

Fort provided the backstory!
Major Donald Keyhoe used the Fort foundation to build his article and later book, Flying Saucers are Real, and thereafter, every so often a reporter would “discover” Charles Fort and report that 
“The flying saucer story, you know, is by no means a new one.”

Anyway, the news has a long history of getting things jumbled, even when they are really trying. Sometimes it's corrected, but those notices reach far fewer eyeballs. What's news, will yet be news again... someday.

World's oldest newspaper
If you haven't read it, it's STILL news!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Science Fiction and UFOs: Buck Rogers

The relationship of Science Fiction to UFOs is a complex one. Debunkers are too quick to blame fantasy for influencing Flying Saucer reports, and proponents are too quick too deny it. Old time SF fans wanted nothing of flying saucers, and FS fans felt the same way about SF. 

There's a relationship, to be sure, with ideas form one camp influencing the other. Sadly, most of the discussions of this tend to be heavily biased. The UFO/Science Fiction topic needs further examination.

Buck Rogers

Science fiction, at its best, is examining how new ideas and inventions affect mankind. In effect, it's shining a flashlight into our future. 

If Science Fiction has a name, it's Buck Rogers!

Many people around the world were introduced to science fiction in the form of an enormously popular newspaper comic strip that began in 1929. Science fiction writer, Philip Nowlan teamed up with artist Dick Calkins to create Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. It literally defined science fiction. There was a shorthand term for advanced technology, and it was "Buck Rogers." 

C.R. Smith
C.R. Smith, president of American Airlines:
“When we endeavor to envision the future of aviation, we come to the conclusion that Jules Verne was a conservative man and that Buck Rogers more closely approximates the role of a realist. Some of the potential developments in aviation are so far reaching that they might easily amaze and confuse the hero of the Sunday supplement.”
(American Aviation magazine, 1941.)

 A letter to Astounding Science Fiction 

Spaceship by Paul Orban
Astounding Science Fiction Dec. 1948 

In the February 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, editor John W. Campell printed a letter from an avid fan, W. H. Entrekin Jr. It serves as good examination of the intersection of UFO and science fiction ideas at the time.  The latter half of the letter deals strictly with comment on earlier magazine stories, but I've included it for the sake of completeness. (Note: STF stands for Scientifiction, an elegant and archaic term for science fiction.)

Dear John,

At last technological development has caught up with the science- fiction artists and illustrators. I am not referring to anything else but Paul Orban's' spaceships. Note illos for “The Rull,” et cetera. 

 illustrated by Paul Orban

Also the filler cut of the multi-windowed ship you use frequently. The only sad thing about this development is that evidence lends support to the extra-mundane origin theories of Charles Fort and other dubious adherents, among them members of our own genre of stf authors—needless to say, with the recent crop of wacky theories.

First came the “flying saucers”, or “disks”. Perhaps Phil Nowlan and Dick Calkins could be credited with the idea and cartooned version of the flying disk much, much earlier in the Buck Rogers strip. 
Dick Calkins art from Buck Rogers
Well, Kenneth Arnold of Boise brought science-fiction up-to-date with the first observation of the flying disks. And finally, stf has been caught up with in the form of Orban's ubiquitous, eternal spaceship. 

On Saturday, July 24th, two EAL pilots, Captain Clarence Chiles and Co-pilot John Whitted, on the Houston-to-Atlanta-to-Boston flight, at 2:45 am.(CST), in their DC-3, reported a wingless aircraft that passed them at tremendous speed. They were flying at five thousand feet in the regulation CAA designated airway when they spotted the aircraft, it being almost in their line of flight, headed in the opposite direction, towards Mobile and New Orleans. The DC-3 was about twenty miles southwest of Montgomery, Alabama. 
Dick Calkins art from Buck Rogers

Captain Chiles related: “I hate to say this, but it looked just like a Buck Rogers rocket ship. If I see anything else like this, I think I’ll have to quit flying. We were flying along on the regular airway when we saw ahead and slightly above and to our right what appeared to be a tremendous jet of flame. It flashed down and we veered to the left and it veered to its left, and passed us about seven hundred feet to our right and about seven hundred feet above us. Then as if the pilot wanted to avoid us, it pulled up with a tremendous burst of flame out of its rear and zoomed up into the clouds. Its prop-wash or jet-wash or rocket-wash, take your pick, rocked our DC-3." The pilots describe the ship as about one hundred feet in length, and about four times the circumference of a B-29 fuselage. It had no wings. 

A twenty-five-to-fifty foot red flame was shooting from the rear, and there was a blue, fluorescent glow under the whole length of the fuselage. Captain Chiles further related, “It had two rows of square windows, apparently from an upper and lower deck, and the interior was brilliantly lighted. We saw no occupants. I’d say it was going between five hundred and seven hundred miles an hour." 

The following Sunday morning the story appeared in various Georgia papers, the Atlanta Constitution carrying sketches of the ship by both men. The singularly remarkable thing about the incident, is that the sketches were remarkably similar to Orban's ships.

Well, these things happen every day so to speak. The alarming fact is that no matter what the theory that explains the phenomenon, as infinite numbers of theories do as long as it is a workable theory, the PHENOMENON STILL REMAINS
Whitted, Chiles and their sketches of the UFO

I guess I’ll have to go back through Charles Fort again.

UFORTology's father

(The rest of the letter is about the Aug. 1948 issue of Astounding Science Fiction.)

 As for the contents of the August issue. The cover takes my breath. Canedo is too, too utterly para- or hyper-symbolic. And no story titles to mar the front either. I guess yon J have finally decided that ASF sells itself on its own merits rather than having to resort to standard pulp tactics. Psycho-dynamics applied to the masses. 
Your editorial — simply superb!

Let’s have one tying in Non-Newtonian system of action-by-contact, and the standing confused controversies over quantum mechanics giving us readers the low-down latest discovered subatomic particles and and their relation to our present systems, with probable effect on classical set-up. Oh well, such an evaluation would be quite a thesis for a graduate work much less asking it for the price of two-bits.

Oh yes— the stories. “The Monster” takes first place with the tag van Vogt placed well before the denouement — "This race has discovered the secrets of its nervous system." "Time Trap" grabbed second, I like Harness' new words - Hardtimes (sterechronia).
"Dreadful Sanctuary” has to show. I just couldn't resist his description of the rockets' lifting for their maiden voyage. Thank you Eric and John. After all,  everyone didn't get to see the lift of a Vr-2 at White Sands. Or maybe I'm just a dreamy-eyed fool. (I'll bet I have company on this one.) 

“Smaller Than You Think" was fourth, with "Dawn of Nothing" hitting fifth. Quite an issue. The liquor ads have been bounced and the fans are now happy with the new program of the Fan-ad. 

When do we get some of the unwritten Future History series or does Bob like three to five cents a word better than honor and tradition? However, ya’ gotta eat!

To A. E. van Vogt— "Let's have in Asimov-type yarn concerning corruption of the Galaxy with the unique system of Null-A." 
Time for a Kuttner serial. 

(Address) Unknown. Unknown. UNKNOWN.—W. H. Entrekin Jr., Americus, Georgia

- - - 

A bonus Buck Rogers tidbit from the files of Project Sign, a note about Kenneth Arnold.