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Under The Microscope

THE UFO INVESTIGATOR'S HANDBOOK by Marc Gascoigne; Puffin/Penguin, 1996; 101 pages; $9.95
SIGHTINGS by Susan Michaels; Simon & Schuster/Macmillan, 1996; 269 pages; $24.95

I would have enjoyed the UFO Investigator's Handbook as a teen scanning the skies ever-hopeful for a glimpse of an extraterrestrial spacecraft, and I recommend that you get it for any star-struck, X-Files-addicted youngster you know. Unlike the vast majority of books written on this subject, Marc Gascoigne doesn't take himself or his subject too seriously. In amongst the jokes and information are some strong criticisms of UFO investigations -- things which many an adult True Believer would benefit from considering. That said, he doesn't talk down to his teenage reader while covering all the main aspects of UFO enthusiasms from crop circles and cattle mutilations to abductions and alien anatomy. The concluding section on "The Truth Is Out There" sensibly states:

What is needed is proof: solid, undeniable proof. That's why the world needs UFO investigators, good upright people like yourself who can go out there and track down the truth, who won't be fooled by obvious mis-sightings or swayed by paranoid talk about secret conspiracies -- let this book be your guide and let your most trusted piece of equipment be your brain.

It's a suggestion which hasn't been followed by Sightings, based on the Amazingly Successful (their caps) TV Series on Unexplained Phenomena. The subtitle reads "Beyond Imagination Lies the Truth", which I'd be tempted to amend to "Beyond Imagination Lies More Imagination". I have to admit my biases: as Chair-entity of the NZ Skeptics I'm familiar with the sort of unqualified, out-of-context, sly innuendo that makes up the bulk of the stories in these programmes.

Marc Gascoigne says that "the world has enough weird corners even before you start adding space aliens", and it's a shame that, given the obvious talent and time spent in covering things like alien abduction experiences and spontaneous human combustion, Sightings doesn't take the opportunity to shine a more illuminating light in those corners.

Vicki Hyde, NZSM