Saturday, 23 October 2010

Book Review: Mirage Men

I'm not sure what path led to this rather curious book ending up in my collection, but whatever it was, I'm pleased about it. Mirage Men, by Mark Pilkington is a curious tale of espionage, UFOs and the rather bizzare raft of all to human characters that study them.

I've had a long standing fascination with UFOs, which most probably started around the same time I went to my first airshows with my father, who worked for many years in the aerospace industry. I've also spent entirely too long watching shows like the X-Files, Star Trek and Babylon 5, with their assorted alien weirdness. So the promise of a book which set out to see if it could tie togeather UFO sightings across the USA with the shady world of intelligence and counter intelligence was too good to miss out on.

Pilkington weaves togeather a historical narrative, dating back to the Roswell Incident and further, along with his real life exploration of UFO conventions and interviews with people who are heavily involved in the field. Along the way he meets various shady characters some of whom claim to work for the US Air Force, and others for agencies with three letter names.

The most interesting part of the argument is the case he makes for UFOs as a part of the US counter intelligence operation against the Soviet Union. He posits that as long as UFOs could be kept just mainstream enough to convince the Soviets that they might be examples of new US technology then it was perfect. He makes a strong circumstantial case that intelligence agents took the emerging stories about UFOs and built them up steadily over time, ensuring they stayed in the media and in the public conciousness. A public conciousness which the Soviet Union were actively monitoring.

He also explores the fascinating (possibly deepy shady) characters who make up the existing UFO movement. Assessing some of the key personalities and trying to see where they link up, and who they might have been working for at various points of their careers. What he finds is mostly more questions, but there are some interesting correlations over time.

Finally he takes what was known about military technology in the 50's and 60's and ties that in to what was being seen in the skies of the tie. He also extrapolates outwards, to look at what is happening now, and what the new generation of UFO sightings represents.

There are three conclusions which I think can be drawn from Pilkington's work:

One, there are strange objects in the sky. Simple enough, but its nice that the author is able to keep an open mind enough to explore this idea, without letting himself get carried away.

Two, there is a strong military and intelligence community interest in UFOs. He posits that the military have found a great many uses for the UFO phenomena, as a shroud for their own, real world, activities, and a useful tool in counter intelligence. Its also useful to know what the heck civilians are taking pictures of in the sky.

Three, that there are a small number of cases that do not make any real sense. He doesnt say these are alien craft zipping around the sky, but that there is something there which deserves further study.

This is a hard book to characterise, but if you have an interest in intelligence, weird science, fringe culture or anything else which goes bump in the night, you'll probably enjoy it. Its well written, methodical, extremely well researched, and isnt scared of a controversial topic.

Give it a try, you won't regret it.
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