Science Fiction and UFOs

I remember when I joined the Science Fiction Book Club back in 1963, one of the selections was Donald Keyhoe’s bestseller UFOs Are Real. I bought it and The Man in the High Castle and I, Robot. I still have the SFBC copies of the latter two, but ditched the first book quickly. I’ve often wondered why because I’ve always been interested in UFOs, at least in so far as wanting to see one (my lifelong goal is to see a ghost and to see a UFO). I’ve long been interested in anomalies in science and alternate theories about the Big Bang (which I’ll cover one of these days on these pages). And I’ve had friends who’ve seen both ghosts and UFOs. Indeed, one of my best friends, Dr. Lynne Kitei was one of the original participants in the Phoenix Lights sighting in 1997 and she still talks about the sighting. (She did a great documentary called The Phoenix Lights which you can access at I am actually one of the “experts” she interviews.)

All these years since I became an avid science fiction reader (and writer and critic) I’ve never once in my own writing written about UFOs or the UFO phenomenon, nor am I interested in all of the books about UFOs. But when I think of aliens and science fiction, my imagination goes crazy (as does yours). My brain operates differently when it engages a science fiction conceit or story. But when I try to put the two together, I discover that they don’t mix. Indeed, quite a few science fiction writers have spoken publicly about UFOs and they seem to have the same outlook I have: I won’t believe it until I see it, but beyond experiencing them directly, I have no abiding interest in them, at least as subjects of fiction. I don’t read any sort of fiction about UFOs or Area 51 or government conspiracies to conceal “the truth” from the American people.


Is it possible that there’s some hidden intuitive part of our brains that suggests that UFOs are something unlike the vehicles that real alien beings would travel in? Carl Sagan often chided UFO buffs because their beliefs were often like those of children believing in Santa Claus (certainly they could offer no proof of what they believed–even though many, over the years, have tried: photos, videos, indentations in the ground, burn marks, radar signatures notwithstanding).

The UFO (and the beings within them) and aliens in spaceships (as in the movie Independence Day) are not the same (even though one of the conceits in Independence Day was that the three bodies they had at Area 51 were captured from downed “UFOs”).

I think there’s an aspect of the human mind that accommodates the mysterious and ineffable (ghosts and the like) and it has something to do with how we, as hunting mammals, relate to the unknown. Carl Jung wrote about this, as he wrote about UFOs and ghosts. They belong to another realm, perhaps the realm of the pre-conscious mind (ala Maurice Merleau-Ponty), the same mind that gave us the paintings of Lasceaux or Aboriginal cave art in Australia 20,000 years ago.

I have read UFO books since then. The best of them are the trilogy of books by French investigative reporter, Jacques Vallee, that depict a rather hostile and inimical relation between UFOs and humanity (a most unusual approach for a UFO investigator). I recommend his books because they are level-headed, sober-minded, and reasoned accounts of what people might really be experiencing with the UFO phenomenon around the world. The books are: Dimensions (1988), Confrontations (1990) and Revelations (1991).

UFOs don’t belong in the realm of science fiction because I think the archetypal, preconscious side of the human mind is lodged in a different part of the brain than where the science fiction “gene” is located. I’m not writing these words as an expert in either psychology or the brain. I was just wondering why I separate the two phenomenon in my mind (and they seem very far separated). Nothing excites me more than reading a good science fiction novel. I can remember reading The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A.E. Van Vogt when I was a junior in high school in 1967 and how much it blew me away, especially the story about Ixtl. I think that if I saw a UFO, a real unidentified flying object, it would blow me away on a much different level, something beyond the mere psychology of enjoying a science fiction story from 1939. My friend, Lynne Kitei–well, it changed her mind and her outlook on life completely. It blew her so far away, she’s a different (and more excited) person than she ever was.

Now, that’s transformative.

As is science fiction.

But they are totally different and I’ve always wondered why.

–Paul Cook

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1 Comment

  1. I agree with you! My interests in UFOs and extraterrestrial phenomena also fall into a separate mental category than scifi. Perhaps it’s that my imagination almost “mythicizes” the idea that they might exist. I like to imagine the kind of mastery their civilizations would exhibit and the obstacles they would have overcome by their technology. So I’m usually disappointed by their typical “anthropomorphic” motives in scifi. The concept is just too expansive to meet my over-demanding imagination! ; )

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