From Magonia Supplement 31, September 2000
In support of the psychosocial hypothesis, a number of writers, notably Martin Kottmeyer, have shown how many of the motifs found in UFO reports, particularly abductions, have been derived from science fiction books and films. Even some of the believers have had to concede that science fiction has coloured the accounts given by many witnesses.
However, this leads to the question of how the science fiction writers got their ideas. In a recent book, Bruce Rux developed the idea that the process is really the other way around; science fiction writers get their ideas from genuine UFO reports. (1) Perhaps it would be more reasonable to consider the possibility of a two-way traffic between ufology and science fiction.
An interesting example of this can be found in Star of Ill-Omen, by Dennis Wheatley, a tale of alien abduction first published in 1952. (2) Wheatley (1897-1977), author of 75 books, was a writer of occult thrillers, perhaps the best known being The Devil Rides Out. He was noted for the research he conducted to give his fantastic stories authentic backgrounds, so that they often featured real people and real events. Star of Ill-Omen is rather different from his other works.
In this book, Wheatley not only makes use of his reading on UFOs, but he summarises it at tedious length. The story can briefly be summarised as follows: Our hero, Kem Lincoln (a James Bond sort of character), a scientist Escobar and his wife Carmen – with whom Lincoln is having an affair – are captured by giant humanoid Martians and taken back to Mars in a flying saucer. It turns out that the humanoids are the not-very-bright slaves of a race of intelligent insects, which are referred to as “bee-beetles”. As Mars is drying up, they plan to take over Earth, having blasted its population using atom bombs. Despite their technical sophistication, they have no idea how to manufacture these, so they hope to get nuclear physicist Escobar to show them. Eventually the abductees manage to destroy the Martian civilisation by discovering that the bee-beetles have no sting and conveying this information to the humanoids, who rebel and start killing them off. Our heroes manage to escape in a saucer and return to Earth. This is surely one of Wheatley’s less readable works. There are many pages where nothing much happens, especially on the tedious outward voyage to Mars, which takes about 50 days. One thus sees that the device of Lincoln having an affair with Escobar’s wife is necessary to provide a little dramatic tension, although this only serves to make the voyage seem even more tedious than it would otherwise be.
There was not much UFO literature available when Wheatley wrote this book, so it should be possible to trace most of the details which he has borrowed from it. The bee-beetles obviously derive from the speculations of Gerald Heard, author of one of the first UFO books. (3) Having noted the high speeds and rapid changes of direction described in many UFO reports, he hypothesised that they were piloted by intelligent insects, and that they probably came from Mars.
Another interesting detail is the idea that saucers are destroyed by bursting into flames if anything goes wrong, or in Wheatley’s story, simply as a precaution against biological contamination. When the abductees reach Mars, they are sealed up in bags and ejected, and the saucer burns up. They are then subjected to a decontamination procedure. The idea of things being ejected from saucers comes from the Maury Island story. The burning saucer reminds one of the alleged Ubatuba magnesium incident, but that occurred in 1957, about 5 years after the book was first published.
In common with most modern abduction stories, the interior of the saucer has no ornamentation of any kind and everything in it is strictly functional. Another similarity is the vagueness about the saucer’s propulsion system. Escobar speculates that it makes use of “magnetic lines of force”.
The bee-beetles apparently have no art or culture, and they have great difficulty in communicating with other species. They use telepathy to some extent, particularly to control their humanoid slaves. They show their captives films, which seem to be a potted history of Earth civilisation, and include many scenes of wars and weapons. Our heroes eventually realise that they want to be shown how to make atom bombs. This reminds one of similar presentations given to abductees by the Greys (presumably with different motives), but in the early 1950s the Greys had yet to be invented.
When Wheatley and Heard wrote their books, it was still possible to consider Mars as a possible abode of intelligent life, with a reasonable amount of water and a possibly breathable atmosphere and this had an obvious influence on the speculations of UFO writers of the early 1950s. The following paragraph from Heard’s book shows how wrong theories about Mars could be before the era of space exploration:
“The surface of Mars seems innocent of scars when we think of our own surface and that of the pockmarked moon, our satellite. Mars seems to have cooled before volcanic eruptions took place. Lowell thought that it had only one low range of mountains reaching the very moderate height of 3,000 feet, the Mountains of Mitchell near its southern pole. Had Mars been often hit – as many of the vast craters on the moon are now thought to be “bullet marks” made by meteorites that have struck full force on the moon-surface (unscreened by an atmosphere) – then on the Martian landscape we should have seen these great rampart rings – some on the moon are thirty miles across and throw most striking shadows. But not a trace of such has been detected on Mars.”
The story ends with Lincoln and Carmen returning to Earth in a saucer, where they are ejected in a capsule which falls into the Thames. The saucer explodes in flames. They are recovered and revived, as described in a document marked Top Secret. The Earth is saved but the public never get to hear about all this as it remains secret. Just like the crashed saucers and dead aliens at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base!
1. Rux, Bruce. Hollywood Vs. the Aliens: The Motion Picture Industry’s Participation in UFO Disinformation, Frog Ltd, Berkeley, California, 1997
2. Wheatley, Dennis. Star of Ill-Omen, The Lymington Edition, Hutchinson, London, 1966 (first published 1952)
- 3. Heard, Gerald. The Riddle of the Flying Saucers: Is Another World Watching? Carroll & Nicholson, London, 1950