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Confrontations with the unknown: Vallee pushes the boundaries with a new perspective,
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This review is from: Confrontations: A Scientist's Search for Alien Contact (Paperback)
Peter Sturrock has commended Jacques Vallee's "...love of people, his intense curiosity and his willingness to march to his own drum". In `Confrontations', the second volume of Vallee's magnum opus trilogy - published between `Dimensions' (1988) and `Revelations' (1991) - summarising his work on UFOs and related phenomena, the reader is likely to emerge convinced that Sturrock's generous characterization of the author is on the whole an accurate one.
Originally published in 1990 and re-printed in 2008 by Anomalist with minor corrections and a new introduction, `Confrontations' sees Vallee return in earnest to the work of serious field investigation which was such a principal feature of his earlier works `Anatomy of a Phenomenon' (1965) and `Challenge to Science' (1966). Vallee presents 47 cases of close encounters and abductions selected from around a hundred investigations on three continents: North America (Northern California), Europe (France) and South America (the remote regions of Amazonian Brazil).
Vallee's advocacy for his `control system' idea in opposition to the so-called `Extraterrestrial Hypothesis' as the possible origin of UFOs - structured, anomalous, apparently metallic aerial craft or anomalous aerial lights - and related phenomena like encounters with strange beings/abductions/missing time episodes, is well known. On p54 he summarises the UFO debate as presented by the mainstream media:
"The polarization between the `nonsense' hypothesis and the ETH has ...come from media hype and the heat of TV debates...designed as a contest between advocates and detractors...you have to be either pro- or con- the ETH. This is like saying that the Moon is either made of green cheese, or it does not exist"
Most readers with long-term interest in these phenomena will acknowledge no lack of imaginative speculation over the past 60 years as to their origin: time travellers, `crypto-terrestrials', materialized projections of the human psyche, `inter-dimensional beings', modern mythos, `demons/devils' and so forth. The ETH is Vallee's particular `bÍte noir' (to use an appropriate French phrase), but in reality the field is not as dual-polarized as he likes to characterize it. Such black-and-white characterization nevertheless makes for quotable copy and does contain a kernel of truth.
The great value of `Confrontations' is its emphasis on patient, first-hand field investigation and careful methodology. Vallee never investigates high-profile cases whilst well-meaning `UFO groups' (for whom he exhibits deep and perennial scorn) and local media out for a sensational story are buzzing around: he will wait several months, sometimes years, until the furore has died down and then starts to investigate. He likes to build deep face-to-face relationships with the primary percipients over time, pay repeated visits to the site and examine all possible evidence. He is thorough about sample integrity and testing, inspection of medical records of those injured or otherwise affected by their encounters, and gaining as much photographic evidence as possible. As a consequence he has accumulated an enormous quantity of personal files on these cases gathered with impeccable and critical thoroughness. He rarely works alone, though with occasional exceptions. If only those members of the Condon Committee tasked with investigating UFO reports by the USAF had exhibited such professionalism and thoroughness, we might have had a very different prevailing public attitude.
`Confrontations' focuses on cases where actual harm - physical and/or psychological, even death - has resulted from one-off or repeated contact with these phenomena. Vallee saves the really extraordinary cases for his final chapters: the persistent assaults by aerial craft of various shapes and sizes, mainly by night, against a large number of people in the remote areas of Brazil, focusing on Parnarama and Belem, through 1977-1982, which Vallee and his wife visited to carry out an extended field investigation in 1988. The Brazilian government and its armed forces later became heavily involved in monitoring the incidents around Belem, which included the deaths of several percipients and serious debilitating injuries to others by beam-weapons whose results resemble those expected from pulsed microwaves. These `waves' of assaults affected thousands of people, many of whom (including almost all the doctors and schoolteachers) as a consequence abandoned their homes and livelihoods and moved away from the region, never to return. Just what was going on in Brazil, and what does it teach us about these phenomena? Vallee's investigation is probably the most thorough ever publicised and, if you harbour any beliefs about benign `space brothers' being the origin of these phenomena, then before reading `Confrontations' you should prepare to be forever disabused of such delusions.
Vallee admits he has never understood abductions very well. In `The Abduction Quagmire' (pp170-180) he accuses other researchers of trying to force-fit the data to preconceived notions, but the irony of pot-calling-kettle-black seems lost on him. Whilst (as usual) attacking with gusto those using hypnosis as a memory-recovery tool, he does however concede "the body of information (uncovered by other investigators) has been found to be exceptionally consistent and robust...only a few exceptional cases do not seem to fit".
Vallee's conclusions from his field investigations are uncharacteristically `conspiratorial' but, against the evidence, perhaps inescapable:
"The evidence that has been obtained by the major powers is so valid and has such devastating implications for future military systems that the decision has been made to keep it under lock and key, and to entrust its study only to highly specialized teams with selected, compartmentalized access. In my opinion, the work of these teams is doomed to failure, in spite of all the resources...and the absurd disinformation operation ...to keep it secure" (p225-226)
There is a very useful appendix in which Vallee returns yet again to the analytical protocols of sighting categorization which formed such a cornerstone of his early books AoaP and CtS, now updated due to greater experience and his time working with the brilliant (late) Dr. J. Allen Hynek.
Vallee is an excellent writer with a fine literate style, as eloquent in English as he is in French. The editing in `Confrontations' is exemplary and completely free of typos. Although humour is not Vallee's speciality, nevertheless his dry Gallic wit does emerge a few times in the most unexpected contexts to lighten the narrative.
'Confrontations' is not perfect, but is very good. Despite occasional (unfortunate and unwarranted) displays of arrogance and scorn for other well-meaning investigators of these phenomena who do not share the author's conclusions or investigative rigor, the unique and detailed casework in `Confrontations' marks it out as special; it's a five-star work from Jacques Vallee and unconditionally recommended to anyone seriously interested in these phenomena.