The Com­pleat Ufol­o­gist writes…

Three reis­sued books by astronomer, novelist, com­puter sci­en­tist, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist and ufol­o­gist Jac­ques Vallee show his life-long cu­rios­ity about UFOs and his dis­trust of the ex­trater­res­trial hy­poth­e­sis

Fortean Times - - Reviews / Books -

For­bid­den Sci­ence 1

A Pas­sion for Dis­cov­ery Jac­ques Vallee Ano­ma­l­ist Books 2017 Pb, 489pp, il­lus, notes, ind, $22.95, ISBN 97681938398766

For­bid­den Sci­ence 2

Cal­i­for­nia Her­met­ica Jac­ques Vallee Ano­ma­l­ist Books 2017 Pb, 547pp, il­lus, notes, ind, $22.95, ISBN 9781938398773

For­bid­den Sci­ence 3

On the Trail of Hid­den Truths Jac­ques Vallee Ano­ma­l­ist Books 2017 Pb, 513pp, il­lus, notes, ind, $22.95, ISBN 9781938398780

It’s some­thing like a mir­a­cle – if not of the su­per­nat­u­ral va­ri­ety, of the kind that gov­erns strength and de­ter­mi­na­tion – that these three vol­umes, newly reprinted in trade pa­per­back from their orig­i­nal edi­tions in 1992, 2008, and 2012, ex­ist at all.

Each of these self-iden­ti­fied ‘Jour­nals of Jac­ques Vallee’ cov­ers a pe­riod of his life (1957–1969, 1970–1979, 1980– 1989 re­spec­tively). They don’t amount to a day-by-day chron­i­cle, but close enough, and they don’t, I’m sure, only be­cause even some­one whose life has been as event­ful as Vallee’s has quiet mo­ments. Still, you’ll know a whole lot about his as­sorted lives – ufol­o­gist most fa­mously to the

FT au­di­ence but also astronomer and novelist, fol­lowed by com­puter sci­en­tist and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist. He is can­did about most things, from his as­sess­ment of col­leagues (some­times with­er­ing) to, yes, his sex life. His love of his wife Janine (de­ceased) and two chil­dren is a con­sis­tent and touch­ing theme.

No sin­gle reader, short of a fu­ture bi­og­ra­pher, will find ev­ery­thing here of uni­form in­ter­est, and some­times pages of ma­te­rial may go by of suf­fi­ciently mod­est hold on the at­ten­tion that the less-en­gaged con­sumer may lose track of the ac­tion.

Even so, any­one who has more than a pass­ing fa­mil­iar­ity with this re­mark­able man will be grate­ful for the labours that went into these books, writ­ten, Vallee says, for friends and col­leagues, not for a gen­eral au­di­ence. Read­ing them, you are likely to re­flect that the last thing you would want to do at the end of an en­ergy-drain­ing day on the job is to sit down and record what hap­pened to you since you woke up. One doesn’t know whether it’s dis­ci­pline or self-ab­sorp­tion, or a com­bi­na­tion of both – surely, a con­vic­tion that what one is do­ing mat­ters – that fu­els such en­ter­prise (not just by Vallee but by ev­ery­body from Pepys to Boswell to Henry Adams and more). His­tory is in their debt, and the his­tory that con­cerns ufol­ogy will long hon­our what Vallee has done here, even aside from Pass­port to Mag­o­nia (1969) and his other in­flu­en­tial, de­bate­fu­elling trea­tises on ufol­ogy.

“Although they con­tain pas­sages that are per­sonal and some that are painful,” Vallee writes in the in­tro­duc­tion to the first vol­ume, “they also pro­vide a pri­mary source about a cru­cial fact in the re­cent his­tor­i­cal record: the ap­pear­ance of new classes of phe­nom­ena that high­light the re­al­ity of the para­nor­mal.” In his work he was for­tu­nate to be close to two lead­ing ufol­o­gist-in­tel­lec­tu­als, Aimé Michel and J Allen Hynek, clearer thinkers than most who sought to en­gage with the UFO phe­nom­e­non, yet ul­ti­mately ended up, like nearly ev­ery­body else, con­fused by it and driven to con­flict­ing – evolv­ing, to put it an­other way – in­ter­pre­ta­tions. What mat­ters is that they kept think­ing, kept open­ing them­selves to new ideas and fresh ev­i­dence.

Born in Pon­toise, France, in 1939, the young Vallee grew in­ter­ested in UFOs dur­ing the cel­e­brated au­tumn 1954 French wave. One Sun­day in May 1955 he and his mother sighted a “gray, metal­lic disc with a clear bub­ble on top” hov­er­ing silently above a lo­cal church. Since 1947 such day­light discs have been at the core of ufol­ogy’s ex­trater­res­trial hy­poth­e­sis (ETH), of which Vallee has been a long­time, de­ter­mined critic. Even if you didn’t know that, these three vol­umes would let you know as much, re­peat­edly. Sin­gle-hand­edly (well, with some as­sis­tance from the, er, less in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­ci­plined John Keel), he turned the ETH into a heresy within much of ufol­ogy, with mixed con­se­quences, some for­tu­itous, some frankly nuts. I’ll give Vallee the credit for the for­mer.

Af­ter a pe­riod at the Paris Ob­ser­va­tory, Vallee trans­ferred to Austin, Texas, to be em­ployed at Mac­Don­ald Ob­ser­va­tory, from there to move on to Chicago al­most a year later, in Novem­ber 1962. There, he de­vel­oped com­puter pro­grams for North­west­ern Univer­sity, whose as­tron­omy depart­ment J Allen Hynek headed. Hynek was also Project Blue Book’s sci­en­tific con­sul­tant. With the oc­ca­sional muted dis­sent, he par­roted the US Air Force line, which may be sum­marised as “Noth­ing to see here, folks, move along.” Vallee spoke to Hynek’s doubts about what his spon­sors were do­ing, or more pre­cisely not do­ing, about UFO re­ports. Even­tu­ally, as most read­ing these words know, Hynek shook off his timid­ity and ad­vo­cated UFO study un­til his death in 1986.

A good part of the joy of these books is the por­trayal of Hynek, whom Vallee cap­tures per­fectly. Any­one who knew him – as I did, though Vallee far bet­ter – will recog­nise the very hu­man, lik­able, some­times bum­bling man de­scribed here. Vallee con­tin­u­ally ex­presses frus­tra­tion with him (an oc­cu­pa­tional haz­ard of be­ing around the man) but never gives up on him or ceases judg­ing him lov­able through it all. For all his lim­i­ta­tions, Hynek is likely to end up a his­toric fig­ure for his role as an ac­com­plished astronomer who risked all to cham­pion the UFO phe­nom­e­non in the face of op­po­si­tion and ridicule from col­leagues, promi­nently in­clud­ing the nox­ious celebrity and ca­reerist Carl Sagan.

Vallee’s odyssey re­sists neat sum­mary, which I won’t at­tempt. Suf­fice it to say he has lived in the Bay Area (San Fran­cisco and suburbs) for many years while re­tain­ing strong French ties. He has writ­ten books fo­cused on ufol­ogy and com­puter sci­ence as well as sci­ence fic­tion, and he has dis­tin­guished him­self as an in­no­va­tive, ad­mired fig­ure

“In 1955, Vallee and his mother spot­ted a ‘grey, metal­lic disc’ hov­er­ing over a lo­cal church”

in all of them. He may be the sin­gle most in­tel­li­gent hu­man be­ing to di­rect his at­ten­tion to the UFO ques­tion. He has also min­gled with oc­cultists and para­psy­chol­o­gists (not the same, ex­cept in ‘ra­tio­nal­ist’ lit­er­a­ture), while ac­knowl­edg­ing that the for­mer at least have noth­ing to tell us about UFOs.

It does not fol­low, it ought not to be nec­es­sary to ob­serve, that he’s right about ev­ery­thing, just that he mer­its re­spect­ful at­ten­tion. No one can, or would want to, dis­pute the propo­si­tion that he has changed se­ri­ous think­ing about the phe­nom­e­non. Read­ing these and oth­ers of his books, how­ever, one wishes that he were friend­lier and fairer to col­leagues, all but a very few of whom (mostly per­sonal friends) he treats as dunces. Not that there isn’t an un­set­tling num­ber of dunces out there. As the au­thor of a mul­ti­vol­ume his­tory of the UFO con­tro­versy, I be­lieve I have read all of them. There have been oc­ca­sions I feared for my san­ity.

Still, in just about any hu­man en­ter­prise it’s the best, not the worst, that mat­ters. In the course of time, if UFOs turn out to be what they ap­pear (ex­tra­or­di­nary anom­alies, whether ET or oth­er­wise, or maybe ET and oth­er­wise), fu­ture sci­en­tists and schol­ars will heed the most lu­cid writ­ing and re­search by ufol­o­gists; the rest won’t mat­ter ex­cept as a foot­note in so­cial his­tory. Hav­ing in­ter­acted with UFO peo­ple nearly all of my life, I can at­test to the pres­ence of some im­pres­sively as­tute in­di­vid­u­als with a fully func­tion­ing crit­i­cal in­tel­li­gence. I may not al­ways have agreed with them, but I have un­der­stood what they were think­ing and what they were do­ing, and why.

It is no so­cial crime to be wrong. It is, though, to be stupidly wrong, in other words, to hold fast to an ini­tially promis­ing or puz­zling no­tion well past its sell-by date (e.g. crashed saucers, UFO-cen­tric his­tory). While his crit­i­cisms can fall sharply on tar­get, at other times Vallee seems more of­fended by those who dis­agree with him than will­ing to hear them out. That frus­tra­tion, which in the past led me to write sev­eral im­pa­tient cri­tiques, re­turned to mind when I read his treat­ment of the Cen­ter for

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