By Bud Webster
Way Up in the Middle of the Air
I was a kid once, you know. A sweet, funny, innocent, credulous kid. I even had a friend: Billy McIlhaney, who lived down the block and was two years (and thus ages) older than I was. Billy was into things I'd never even heard of, like magic, pornography (or what passed for it in 1962 — Dude, Gent, Rogue, Swank), and flying saucers. And the John Birch Society, but that was too weird even for me.
He was, as you might imagine, given that I was credulous and innocent, something of an influence. I took up magic, buying cheaply-made wooden boxes and tubes and silks and trick cards; I eschewed the skin-mags (hey, I was, like, ten years old and a Baptist), but I fell all over the flying saucers.
Billy had books, magazines, even some old newspaper clippings, and they formed a significant amount of my reading material for several years, supplementing the sf I was already reading voraciously.
I read Howard Menger's From Outer Space to You, Major Donald Keyhoe's books, and all the faux-Ripley collections of bizzarities assembled by Frank Edwards; I read about the Men in Black (who, although a lot of you damn kids don't know it, predate the movies and comics by decades), the Mothman of West Virginia, and about the very first modern sighting of a UFO by Kenneth Arnold back in 1947. I did not, interestingly enough, read much of anything about Roswell. Whatever happened at Roswell has become "important" only comparatively recently. Go figure.
And, of course, I read books by the Grand Old Man of Contactees, George Adamski.
Adamski was born in Poland in 1891 and moved to the US with his family two years later. When he was 22, he joined the US 13th Cavalry and served with them for six years. After settling in Laguna Beach, California, he set himself up as a philosopher and lecturer, as well as an ardent amateur astronomer and photographer. (These last two would become important later.)
Further biographical details may be found at Wikipedia, amongst other places; note carefully that said details will vary widely depending on the point of view of the biographer. Such is George Adamski, the legend and the myth. However, our subject here is Adamski the writer and the books he left behind, not Adamski the short-order cook.
His first foray into the world of publishing was a collaboration with British filmmaker Desmond Leslie titled Flying Saucers Have Landed (published simultaneously by Werner Laurie in the UK and the British Book Centre in the US, 1953). There's nothing terribly outstanding in most of the book, aside from the photographs (about which more later), until you get to the last two chapters; up until then, most of the information/speculation about UFOs is not much different from any of the other books on the subject at the time, but in those final two chapters Adamski managed to blow away the competition by claiming to have met and spoken to actual Venusians.
Uh-huh. Now, understand me, I believed every word of it. I make no apology, I offer no excuses, other than the fact that I was twelve and desperate to believe that there was life on other planets. Why? For the same reason that thousands of others at the time wanted to believe: if there was Someplace Else, it had to be better than Here.
Bear in mind what we grew up with in the late '50s and early '60s — the Cold War, race riots, a presidential assassination, another war in some Oriental place called Veetnam or something. The UFO subculture, at the time, was suffused not with the paranoia that would later turn the subject to darkness and malignance, but with hope and salvation. Oh, sure, there was some paranoia, but it was aimed at the government and military, not at our Space Brothers who, it was fondly believed, would step in just before we atomically annihilated ourselves and show us the way to Peace And/Or Prosperity. One of my earliest clear memories is of playing in my yard and stopping from time to time to look out over the mountains, searching for the mushroom cloud I — we! — were convinced would eventually and inevitably come.
So Adamski's revelation that he'd been contacted was a thing devoutly to be wish'd, evidence that perhaps we wouldn't be allowed to blow ourselves up. Fair enough, I'm sure my grandparents thought the same thing about angels.
I recall holding Billy's copy of that first book reverently in my hands, turning the pages slowly in his room (he would never let me borrow his books — one of the few of his habits that survives in me today) and reading about magnetic propulsion systems, non-ballistic flight characteristics, and Madame Blavatsky. No shit.
The book itself was unassuming; a plain green binding with a jacket that featured a painting of one of Adamski's saucers in muted colors. Certainly nothing pulpish about it for all that, at the time it came out, there was still some crossover between the SF and UFO crowds. Adamski, far more interested in courting the mundane, non-SF-reading public than Ray Palmer ever was, had a carnival barker's feel for what the mainstream would find acceptable and what it wouldn't, and he knew (for all his self-assurance) that they might swallow the idea of flying saucers landing in his back yard, but not if he did the cover in primary colors.
Inside, though, there were photographs, actual photographs that Adamski took through his own telescopes. How cool is that? I didn't doubt them for a minute, of course. I mean, the book said they were real, and they couldn't print that if it wasn't true, right?
So, okay, I had a lot to learn. I learned it, eventually, but in the meantime there were more books by Adamski to be astonished and excited by. Two years after his first came Inside the Space Ships (Abelard Schuman 1955), from a respected press that also published Sholom Aleichem and Isaac Asimov.
Inside was, if you'll forgive the expression, a solo flight, albeit one with a foreword by erstwhile collaborator Leslie. This time the cover was monochrome, showing a photo of the mothership surrounded by (presumably adoring) scoutships, a photo which was printed in the first book (thus establishing that Adamski was an early recycler).
The basic contention was that not only were the denizens of the saucers still visiting Adamski at his remote home on Mt. Palomar, they were picking him up in the lobby of the hotel where he'd been drinking and "lecturing" and driving him in a sedan (black, of course) to see his old Venusian pal from the first book. The two gents giving him the ride were a Martian named Firkon and a Saturnian named Ramu. The Venusian was Orthon, but you knew that already, right? You have been following along in your own copy, haven't you?
The pictures weren't as cool as the ones in the first book, being mostly dark blobs behind light blobs, but what was cool was that these Space Brothers actually took him for a ride! Now, c'mon, who would lie about that? They only go 50,000 miles up, though, no trips to the moon or anywhere really interesting. However, they do get to talk to a couple of "Masters," who spell out their lugubrious warnings and philosophy:
"My son, our main purpose in coming to you at this time is to warn you of the grave danger which threatens men of Earth today....In your first meeting with our Brother here, he indicated to you that the exploding of bombs on Earth was of interest to us....It is possible that the body of your planet itself could be mutilated to an extent that would destroy her balance in our galaxy."
And so on and so on, ad aspera per nauseam. Nevertheless, this book caused as much furor in the saucer-nut culture as the first one did. It was a Close Encounter of the Third Kind, an adventure in space, a trip not quite to the moon on metaphorical gossamer wings. It was also either a heart-felt plea for some kind of peace in an increasingly unstable world (Hiroshima and Nagasaki were only a decade behind, the Cuban Missile Crisis less than a decade ahead), or one of the most cynical and opportunistic long-cons on record. Toss a coin.
We come to the third book in this little trilogy of Terra, the aptly-named Flying Saucers Farewell (Abelard Schuman 1961). Published four year before his death, this was Adamski's attempt to "sum up" what was known about UFOs, as well as to put forth his claim that aliens not only visited the Earth with some regularity, but were actually living among us in disguise. Once again, we're assured that (contrary to our own history) the Venusians/Martians/Saturnians/Whatevers only want the best for us and will guide us to greater health, wealth, prosperity, and, for all we know, red socks that won't run in the laundry and turn our underwear pink.
First, though, we have to get through the book's account of Adamski's world tour, which culminated not only in an audience with Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, but an encounter in Zurich with the Silence Group, his version of Bender's Men in Black; they heckled his lectures, asked embarrassing questions, and somehow managed to make him look foolish without actually doing anything effective to stop him from talking — like cutting his tongue out and his fingers off, or simply shooting him in a dark alley.
I should point out that the Silence Group, or Silencers as they're known, were a matter of some discussion in the saucer sub-culture, both then and now. Much is blamed on them, as is true of all conspiracies, without any real investigation into their membership lists or e-mail addresses; apparently, the Silencers are anything the UFO enthusiasts really, really want them to be, as long as they're Evil and want True-Believers to shut up and just be laughed at by the rest of the world.
At which, I might add, one or the other of those two groups has been half-successful.
From the standpoint of those few of us who actively collect "sauceriana," the Adamski books are an absolute must-have, but they are by no means scarce: the first two went through multiple printings, and the third...well, it ain't got no pictures, so who cares? Pictures are everything in a UFO book. You could put together a set of all three, nice copies in jackets, for under $100. First editions might cost a little more, but if you're a total book-tweak and saucernut (like me), you'll have to have them. Add $25-30 to the total for firsts, and it still isn't very much to pay if you're a serious collector. There are far more rare and valuable saucer-nut books out there, believe me.
Adamski died in 1965, one year before John G. Fuller's blockbuster The Interrupted Journey told us that UFO pilots were actually little gray men with big heads and eyes who experimented on us and then erased our memories of it; so much for the Space Brothers. Adamski was soon forgotten by the sub-culture he helped found, replaced by anal probes, abductions and government conspiracies that covered up what really happened at Roswell. He'd have hated it, I think; he had no capacity to sell fear and loathing, just peace and brotherhood. He died with little more money than he started out with, but the kid I once was still misses those Space Brothers, and I still get a thrill when I see a photo of those coool flying saucers.
Thanks for the memories, Prof. Adamski. I cherish them.
And now, lest any of you accuse me of being lugubrious in the extreme, here is a list of the 36 best flying saucer titles:
- A Saucer Has Landed...Probably
- A Saucer of Loneliness
- Captain Starlight and the Flying Saucer
- Cassidy's Saucer
- Dennis and the Flying Saucer
- Eight Things Not to Do When the Alien Steps Out of Its Saucer
- Flying Cups and Saucers
- Flying Saucer Rock & Roll
- Flying Saucers and Common Sense
- Flying Saucers on the Attack
- Flying Saucers Uncensored
- Space, Gravity and Flying Saucers
- Gravity Strings and Saucers
- Is the Government Hiding Saucer Facts?
- I Did Too See a Flying Saucer
- In a Saucer Down for B-Day
- Menace of the Saucers
- Night of the Saucers
- Operation Saucer
- Our Saucer Vacation
- Outer Space Saucers — A Myth!
- Rogue Saucer
- When the Flying Saucers Land, Will You Be Ready?
- When the Saucers Came
- Why I Hunt Flying Saucers
- Santa Rides a Saucer
- Saucer Sluts
- The Saucers Speak!
- Suppose You Met a Man in a Flying Saucer
- The Last of the Saucers?
- The Locked Saucer Mystery
- The Man Who Rode the Saucer
- The Mississippi Saucer
- A Flying Saucer with Minnesota Plates
- The Saucers Still Patrol Our Skies
- The Solipsist Lands in a Flying Saucer, With a Surprising Message for Himself and His Troops (Ready to Shoot)