Thursday, October 6, 2016

Audio Book Review: They Knew too much about Flying Saucers

I recently listened to the audio book version of the classic 1956 U.F.O. book "They Knew too much about Flying Saucers" authored by Gray Barker.  It clocked in at a little over six hours, and I listened to it while commuting to and fro work over a couple weeks.  This book first introduced the concept of the men in black to those interested in Ufology which later spread to the popular culture.  The best known version of the 'men in black' was the 1997 film hit of the same name staring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith directed by Barry Sonnenfeld.  

Man in black
The book shares the tale of its author, Barker, during his introduction to the "saucer problem" that was allegedly plaguing the skies over the United States and the Western World in the late 1940s and early 1950s.  Barker shares how he was introduced to the saucer problem when he investigated a strange crash and possible sighting of a creature in an area near to his home in West Virginia.  From here, he began collecting information on the saucers, investigating and writing for a magazine/newsletters for Albert K. Bender's Space Review of the International Flying Saucer Bureau.  Barker shares his various contacts with other interested persons and investigators of flying saucers as basically one by one they are all visited by three men dressed in black that seem to appear when the investigators are close to knowing the truth about the saucers.  Once the men in black visit, the investigators either stop investigating or change their tune as to what are the saucers.

I found the book interesting not for the speculation on what the saucers might actually be, or why they are visiting at all.  A lot of the ideas are old hat and not even relevant such as the saucers are from a secret American or Red moon base.  (One theory I do not recall hearing was they were here to warn mankind that Antartica was becoming too heavy with ice and snow accumulation and the Earth was in danger of suddenly and violently flipping from the weight.)  The intersection of the materialistic view of flying saucers as physical craft versus some manner of paranormal entity was noteworthy from a piece authored in the 1950s. However, what I found truly interesting was reading the book as a window into the culture of the 1950s.

One of the puzzling questions Barker raises is who are the men in black.  Are they U.S. government agents, foreign agents, representatives of some non-governmental body, Martians or something paranormal.  One recurring theme in the book is after the men in black visit, they tell the various investigators to keep and not divulge what they know on their honor as an American citizen.  This is intertwined with the idea that if they are indeed government agents, the U.S. government probably has a good reason to want to keep things quiet so one really ought to comply.  To the modern ear, this all comes across as quite quaint.  

Further of interest to me is compared to today when people can video conference with each other separated by thousands of miles on their smartphone, all the communicating done between the various saucer investigators was mostly done via the mail.  For matters that needed a quicker response, telegrams were exchanged and only in dire circumstances were long distance telephone calls used.  Barker and some of the key investigators communicated via exchanged dictated audiotapes that they mailed to each other.  I am not sure if this was a more common place than I was aware, but it was indeed cutting edge for the time.  

The language of the time colors the entire work with Barker asking if a person was 'on the level' and therefore trustworthy.  Women are generally referred to more formally, while men are referred to in a causal manner.  Interesting literary ticks of the time.  

I highly suspect Barker to some extent was having a go at the reader at least in part.  To what degree, I cannot even hazard a guess.  I also suspect some of his co-investigators might have been doing the same to Barker and their readership.  Yet, I found it entertaining. Not exactly for the reason Barker intended, but entertaining nevertheless.

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