following is the text of a review I wrote that appeared in the Fortean Times:
SAME AS IT NEVER WAS Some famous UFO cases yield less than meets the eye
The UFOs That Never Were Jenny Randles, Andy Roberts and David Clarke London House, London, 2000, hb £16.99, pp244, index, notes, illus. ISBN 1 902809 35 1
I once had the opportunity to ask a brusquely competent literary agent what he knew about the UFO book market. Not much, he replied, but "I know books that say they don't exist don't sell." Let us hope that bleak Fate bypasses this excellent volume, which gives its game away in bold block letters on the cover.
*The UFOs That Never Were* is a collaboration between Jenny Randles, one of the field's most consistently interesting authors, and Andy Roberts and Dr. David Clarke, both veterans of numerous inquiries into mysteries of British earth and sky. Their book deconstructs in detail a number of well-known UFO cases, primarily British, which on closer examination appear attributable to mundane causes. These include events such as the mysterious sky phenomena off the Butt of Lewis in 1996, the Howden Moor "crash retrieval" rumors, and the legendary Rendlesham Forest incident, here subjected to a lengthy and masterful deflation. Randles draws on the admirable work of James Easton to argue compellingly that this "best-attested case of a UFO crash outside the US," as it has been described, was in fact caused by, well, a lighthouse. It's a depressing finish for a tale that once promised to achieve something of the mythopoeic status of Roswell.
In a broader sense, *The UFOs That Never Were* is a welcome antidote to the sloppy research that fills a good deal of the saucer bookshelf. "Famous cases" easily achieve a life of their own, the garbled details repeated faithfully by one hack after another. Yet such cases sometimes evaporate under close scrutiny, and it's a pleasure to watch these authors take us step by step through the detective work involved in a genuine investigation.
Reality being a messy business, the answers they find often are incomplete and complex. Andy Robert's solution to the Berwyn Mountain "UFO crash" of 1974, for instance, involves an earthquake, bolide meteors and poachers hunting at night with powerful lamps, a coincidence that leaves one longing for the parsimony of a simple spaceship. Roberts is well-known for his barbed wit concerning Britain's hapless alphabet soup of saucer organizations; here he seems restrained, but the comedy still seeps through in his description of the angry conniptions that ensued in some corners of ufology following his discovery that the perfectly good flying saucer of Yorkshire's Cracoe Fell was in fact a shelf of reflective rock on a hillside.
If ufology seems clueless, the "authorities" remain gutless, as Randles found while investigating film footage of a ball of light seen by numerous witnesses near Long Crendon in 1973. A half-dozen of the UK's leading atmospheric physicists viewed the film, decided it was not ball lightning and agreed they had no other explanation for it, yet declined to investigate further. After all, there are research grants to be pursued, and no one condemned to toil in academic mills wants a whiff of heresy clinging to his name. (Somewhere, Charles Fort gave a low chuckle.) Randles ultimately found evidence that the phenomenon was caused by a malfunctioning F-111 dumping and igniting fuel at a dangerously low altitude-and near a school! Understandably, the military establishment did not turn handsprings with eagerness to further her investigation.
For the most part, the authors restrict themselves to the facts of each case at hand, although they offer little comfort to anyone still hoping for extraterrestrial visitors. Dr. Clarke in particular is fond of criticizing one pseudoscience (ufology) in the language of another (sociology). Thus the UFO phenomenon is a byproduct of "an age preoccupied with space travel"-fair comment for a brief slice of the fifties and sixties, perhaps, but today? As a would-be Martian colonist, I would like nothing better than to see more evidence of this preoccupation, but as JG Ballard has suggested, it seems increasingly clear that the "Space Age" is not only over but a fading memory. Yes, yes, Star Wars and Treks, that silly Grey's mug plastered on every item China can craft from plastic; all a part of the pop culture, no question, as are boy bands and vapid Japanese cartoons. Why one part of this spectrum should unhinge so many has not yet been explained to my satisfaction.
That mandatory quibble aside, this seems to me to be most intelligent book on the UFO phenomenon published in several years. It would be a shame, though perhaps not a surprising one, if *The UFOs That Never Were* fails to make some impact on the enthusiasts who line the deeply eroded divides of ufology, for this excellent work could and should serve as a model for serious UFO inquiry. Alas, the true believers seem largely incapable of such efforts, while the American-style "skeptics" will no doubt prefer to continue debunking cases from afar, with that eerie clairvoyance vouchsafed only to the CSICOP faithful.