Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Science Fiction and UFOs

Recently I have seen some discussion about UFOs and science fiction and that the fans of science fiction, who you would expect to be sympathetic to the idea of alien visitation are actually hostile to it. I have to disagree here, and I speak as a fellow who has been to many science fiction conventions, spoken at many, and have interacted with the "hardcore" fans for decades. My experience is that everyone will say that they don’t believe in UFOs and alien visitation, but they are fascinated by it. When I have lectured on UFOs at science fiction conventions, those lectures are always well attended with a respectful audience (which, I think, is a comment that can be made in general of science fiction fans).

Often the conventions have multi-track programming, which means the fans have selection of which program they wish to attend. My UFO lectures are often at the best times and in the largest of the lecture rooms and are frequently standing room only. The questions and discussions that follow are always reasoned and intelligent.

The problem faced here might be that many science fiction fans are well-versed in the problems of space travel and the size of the galaxy. They understand the problems with the concept of interstellar flight, but they also know that what was impossible yesterday is routine today... who would have though, twenty years ago, I could sit in my office and access all the information I might need to investigate a scientific question (such as why some mutilated cows had a lack of copper in their blood)? Who would have thought we would have instant communication with friends through cell phones that fit into our pockets...but I digress.

On the other side of the question are the science fiction pros. These are the people who write science fiction and while they might not be hostile to the idea of alien visitation, they certainly aren’t big fans of UFOs. A number of years ago I was invited to participate in a debate about UFOs. It was going to be science fiction writers (of which I am one) against a team from the Center for UFO Studies. When it came time for the debate, there were four science fiction writers teamed up against the lone voice from the Center.

Yes, I was going to be on the side suggesting that there had been no visitation but when I saw the lopsided panel, I switched sides. A debate is about presenting one side of an issue, regardless of personal opinions and I knew enough about UFOs that I could argue either side. In fact, I stumped the other side when they said there is no evidence by pointing to a wide array of evidence from the radar cases to landing trace cases to the photographic evidence.

Of course, like anyone with an open mind, I’m free to change my opinion about the reality of visitation and have done so based on the evidence I have seen and collected over the years, but again, I digress.

My experience has been that science fiction fans (who, BTW, object to the term SCI-FI, the SCI- FI Channel notwithstanding... SCI-FI is all that is wrong in science fiction such as Plan Nine from Outer Space), are interested in UFOs, but like our pals in astronomy, look for high standards of evidence. Like everyone else, they have varied standards of evidence, but they are also more open-minded to the concept of alien visitation.

So, it’s not fair to claim that science fiction fans are hostile to the idea of UFOs and alien visitation... they are hostile to the idea of embracing all aspects of UFOs without critically examining the evidence. They simply will not accept the idea that some people have been selected for journeys to other planets by benevolent space brothers without some sort of evidence other than their descriptions of the alien home world. They will not accept the idea that UFOs are mutilating cattle without some better evidence that there are not terrestrial causes... in fact, at the World Science Fiction Convention held in Denver, Colorado in the 1970s, there was a panel discussion about cattle mutilations.

The interest is there and the scientific understanding is there... all we have to do is provide the proper evidence to sway the opinions of many of the fans. Solid evidence built link by link and we’ll have a huge base of intelligent and rational supporters. But the evidence has to be solid and properly gathered, otherwise we’ll be stuck with opponents who are smart enough to rip apart feeble and ill-logical arguments. They are a tough audience but a fair one.


Lance said...

The hostility between science fiction fans and UFO believers started from the very beginning of the UFO story.

When Ray Palmer hijacked Amazing Stories to publish the proto-UFO Shaver Mystery stories many more serious SF fans were outraged (though sales soared!)

By 1948 in his new Fate magazine, Palmer was well-positioned to promote saucers when he bought Kenneth Arnold's services (to write the Maury Island story among others) and helped create the mythos we all enjoy now.

But science fiction fans "shunned" him forever for passing off Shaver's wild musings (often written by Palmer himself) as fact.

See Keel's "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers" for the whole hilarious story.

Bob Koford said...

"The hostility between science fiction fans and UFO believers started from the very beginning of the UFO story."Not quite true. We can thank some in the early Science Fiction arena for the first leaks of crashed saucer stories. Not all who were of the SF group were anti UFO. Mr. Conner's report predates the Wyandotte Echo's (Rudy Fick, etc.) by a week.


It was followed a week later by another "leak".

starman said...

I never had much interest in outright fiction. Who needs it when the real thing may be here?

Tina Sena said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina Sena said...

Forgive me Kevin, but I am completely lost. I am an ardent science fiction fan. Infact, I say without reservation that I AM SCIFI (because I don't get the negativity regarding the term SCI-FI, either). But I also love science. It was an early exposure to Science Fiction that cultivated my love for science. I believe the same is true for many science fiction fans. So what we shun is bad science, as far as UFO's are concerned. For instance, today I saw ABC's 'V' trailer. It looks to be an very promising science fiction show that I will totally watch, but c'mon... spaceships that huge, hovering over major cities, without crushing them with the sheer force it takes to hover over them? Bad science. It turned me off for all of two seconds, but I got over it. I am trying to find answers to our great cosmic mysteries too. But what got me started on the path to wanting to find EXTRATERRESTRIAL life was science fiction. It was E.T. and Star Trek and The Twilight Zone(and the original V). It makes no sense to be a science fiction fanboy/fangirl AND not look up at the stars and wonder. Or am I missing something?

Ed V. said...

Personally, I have never come across any friction between Sci-Fi fans and UFO believers. I presume the two camps would blend into eachother at one point (since there are some similarities) and you'd have people who are both.

borky said...

Kevin, as a teenager at the end of the '70s, I started reading Doris Lessing's Shikasta and ended up throwing it down in disgust.

My explanation to myself at the time was it was clearly based on reality, (a statement which didn't really make any sense to me until many years afterwards), and therefore was a product of cheating, i.e., it wasn't a product of pure imagination.

But as well as SciFi, I was also madly into mythology, and around the same time as I started on Shikasta I started reading The Tibetan Book of The Dead; but, again, on encountering its references to Hungry Ghosts, I immediately also rejected it in disgust, because it seemed very clear to me not only was The Tibetan Book of The Dead NOT a collection of fascinating fairy tales but Hungry Ghosts, with their voracious capacity to endlessly consume without ever deriving satisfaction, were actually very psychologically accurate portraits of the insatiable consumer mentality possessing most modern LIVING people - including myself - something I very distinctly didn't want to know.

But also around the same period I happened to make the acquaintance of an individual apparently deeply into amateur stage magic who gave me a very detailed rebuttal of why Uri Geller was indisputably completely fake, something I was happy, if not downright desperate to believe at the time.

Unfortunately, he then went and spoiled his dissertation by admitting that, of course, it was also true if Geller was for real then that'd mean stage magic'd be pointless.

The point being, my personal experience of virtually EVERY diehard SciFi/Fantasy I've ever come across (including myself, when I was one), is that they're usually stubbornly indifferent to extremely hostile to UFOs and the likes because, on the one hand, they feel the need to prove their intelligence as adherents of current scientific paradigms, but they also have an almost unconscious anxiety that their love of the literature, (or even the literature itself), would somehow become invalidated if the accounts of nutjobs in tabloids should somehow prove to be more real than the fiction they're reading.

RRRGroup said...

I have a book -- UFOs, The Greatest Stories (Thrilling Tales of Extraterrestrial Encounters by Eleven Sci-Fi [sic] Masters, including Isaac Asimov, J.G. Ballard, and Theodore Sturgeon), Edited by Martin H. Greenberg (MJF Books, NY, 1996).


cda said...

In the 1970s Stan Friedman produced a paper, or papers, on his attempts to get leading SF writers to take UFOs seriously. Included in his 'attack' were Isaac Asimov, Ben Bova and a few others. He even included some of the correspondence between him & these writers. Generally they (the SF writers) were very negative and antagonistic towards UFOS, especially Asimov. But it was still interesting reading all this. Friedman assumed he could convert these people's minds by the sheer volume of UFO (and ET) evidence in his own papers which he supplied in force. He failed. Unfortunately I forget the title of Stan's papers, which were bound into a small booklet. The date was 1975 - 1979

Anonymous said...

Pardon me for the (I hope desired) intrusion:

It is my understanding A&E might not air a Season 4 of UFO Hunters! Here is the e-mail address to contact A&E (I hope to request the show be continued) and/or here is the link to an on-line petition to continue the show:

you can email the network:


or you can sign a petition:


Keeping hope alive!

-- Lou Sheehan

RRRGroup said...

Why would anyone want to keep the UFO Hunters farce alive?


KRandle said...

Let's define our terms, as they say... I think of a science fiction fan as someone who enjoys science fiction whether written or produced in movies or on television... and I think of fantasy as part of science fiction.

I think of the pros as those who write the science fiction. Pros can be fans and fans can be pros.

So now we move onto the pros, which is where we get into trouble. I say the fans are not hostile to the idea of alien visitation and you all give me names of science fictions pros who are... Issac Asimov to name one (and in an ironical twist, I learned that Asimov had died while driving down North Main Street in Roswell, but I digress).

Frederik Pohl and I exchanged some snail mail and spoke a couple of times at conventions about UFOs and Roswell. He wasn't necessary hostile, but told me he wasn't really interested. The evidence he had seen in the past had blown up under scrutiny, which happens quite a bit with UFOs. All I need to do is point to the contactees, or Frank Kaufmann or Gerald Anderson to prove the point.

So, the fans, for the most part are interested in UFOs and not hostile. The pros, for the most part, are simply not all that interested but some are hostile.

Now we can return to our regularly scheduled discussion.

Lance said...

SF Pioneer, Lester Del Rey, was a regular panelist on New York's Long John Nebel show. In many shows he carefully questioned and destroyed some of the saucer stars (particularly Otis Carr) in a way that is hilarious to hear.

A young Arthur C. Clarke also appeared on Long John's show and gave a marvelous (to a skeptic like me) argument as to why UFO's are not likely to be anything of interest to science:

He said that he was initially quite interested in the idea and thought there might be something important to it. But as more and more reports came in, he became convinced that it was bogus. It was the large number of reports that soured him on the idea and the fact, that unlike a real phenomena, the data never coalesced and led to any kind of new knowledge or discovery.

We are still in the same boat, of course. Although the reports have expanded greatly, the knowledge we have is no greater than that of 1947.


starman said...

We have more knowledge now, as some aspects of the phenomenon were unknown in 1947, but still haven't attained a definitive resolution. At least not laymen...

Shanksow said...

Hi Kevin-

I remember you attending a SF convention in Lubbock, Texas, in the mid-90s after your Roswell book had come out. I thought your presentation was wonderful. Your statement "So, the fans, for the most part are interested in UFOs and not hostile. The pros, for the most part, are simply not all that interested but some are hostile."
That statement is so true. Fans understand, the Pros (being too close to what provide them with their livelyhood) and sour on the idea for some reason that I do not understand.