“UFOlogy” isn’t a field I’m fully conversant with. But between the childhood delights typified by Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, and an adult life fascinated by the fringes of consciousness research and liminal mythology, it’s impossible to be ignorant of it and unaffected by it. My own windows into the subject have been Terence McKenna’s psilocybin-fuelled speculations, Paul Devereux’s “Earth Lights” theories, and Patrick Harpur‘s Neoplatonic frame. In Mirage Men, Mark Pilkington presents a suitably labyrinthine tour through the psyops / disinformation / secret military technology realms of the UFOlogy landscape. It proved to be both an essential complement to the other, more gnostically-inclined facets I’ve encountered, and a fine tale in its own right.
The history of US intelligence agencies’ entanglement with the world of flying saucers and little grey men is threaded together by Pilkington’s personal trip. Uncanny anomalous sightings in the American desert during the ’90s, numinous dreams that would totally freak out David Icke, and involvement with the “UFO community” in Norfolk… all are detailed in a way that shows the author to be an ambiguously engaged blend of UFO fanboy, fascinated journalistic observer, and feet-on-the-ground sceptic. All in all, a good brew of attributes to inoculate him against both wide-eyed Belief and the kind of dogmatic pseudo-scepticism that questions everything except itself.
The bulk of the book’s investigations cluster around a recent tour around the USA, visiting a major UFO conference, interviewing and befriending (supposedly) former intelligence agents, meeting significant characters in the UFOlogy storyline of the past few decades, and generally getting embroiled in the subject matter. Espionage paranoia and the plasticity of belief bear down increasingly, making for some highly entertaining episodes and a real sense that even if the whole saga involves no actual aliens, the world we’ve created for ourselves is bizarre enough to make ET’s reality a moot point.
The narrative gets the balance between real-world investigative hijinks and historical exposition just about right, and the style is snappy and brisk enough to keep those pages turning. Pilkington’s conclusions—given his remit of nuts-and-bolts alien and/or military technology—are admirably open-minded. His grip on common sense is very firm, but his sense of wonder and cosmic fun is strong enough that he’s prepared to let go every now and then, to see what it’s like. He knows that both rigour and playfulness demand that the door to the reality-warping Unknown be left ajar, but that limiting the risk of ending up with a tinfoil hat means it should stay on its hinges.
The book is conceived as an accompaniment to a forthcoming film in collaboration with notorious crop circle artist John Lundberg. Hopefully this will match the high standards of this book, and both book and film will be granted the space they deserve at the edifying and bewitching intersection between journalism, military history, mass psychology, and the quasi-religious world of the irreducibly bizarre.