In spite of all the difficulties this year, I’ve still managed to do a reasonable amount of writing as the following table shows:
The main book this year (on the left in the picture above) was The Science of Sci-Fi Music from Springer. I also did a couple of music-related articles for Fortean Times – “Charles Fort and the Viennese Trichord” in FT390 and “The Music of the Spheres” in FT398 (that’s the issue you can see in the picture).
The high-point on the magazine side was a huge (eight and a half pages) article about the Hubble Space Telescope in the April issue of All About Space. This was great fun to write, as the editor wanted some quotes from scientists who have worked with Hubble, which gave me a chance to get in touch with (among other people) an old colleague of mine from the 1980s. The result was probably the best magazine feature I’ve ever written – and hardly anyone saw it, because it came out during the Covid-19 lockdown!
I also had several articles in How It Works, including ones on antimatter and “Deadly Weapons of the Future” seen in the above photograph. Related to the latter subject, my other book this year was The First Killer Robots: Guided Missiles in the 20th Century. This one was self-published, although based on material from several short ebooks previously published by Bretwalda Books.
Today marks the 70th anniversary of Kenneth Arnold’s seminal UFO encounter, on 24 June 1947. That was the event that gave rise to the term “flying saucer”, and kicked off a media frenzy that led to copycat sightings around the world … and a whole new subgenre of science fiction. As such I devoted several pages to Arnold’s sighting and its repercussions in my book Pseudoscience and Science Fiction last year.
The Kenneth Arnold sighting also provides the central theme of the latest issue of Fortean Times, pictured above (FT355, July 2017). To my surprise, I received three extra copies of this last week – something that puzzled me until I looked at the contents and discovered there was a six-page article by myself in it. I actually wrote this (and submitted it to FT) at the beginning of last year, before I’d even had the idea of writing the Pseudoscience and Science Fiction book. In fact it was while writing the article – about the pulp magazine editors Ray Palmer and John W. Campbell, and the way they blurred the boundary between science fiction and fortean-style non-fiction speculation – that I realized I could write a whole book on that sort of thing. Although the magazine article (called “Astounding Science, Amazing Theories!”) took such a long time to appear, it does fit the theme of this particular issue very neatly – including a couple of references to the Kenneth Arnold sighting and Ray Palmer’s role in publicising it.
The main Arnold-related article, however, is not mine but one by Nigel Watson. Called “Was it a bird? Was it a plane?”, this focuses on other potential explanations of the sighting besides the extraterrestrial hypothesis – in particular the possibility that the objects Arnold saw were saucer-shaped or flying-wing style military aircraft. Arnold was flying a light aircraft himself at the time, and Jenny Randles has a one-page piece in her “UFO Casebook” column about other similar aircraft-based UFO sightings. The Kenneth Arnold links don’t stop there, either. The magazine’s lead feature, by Brian J. Robb, is about the conspiracy theorist Fred Crisman – who had connections with Kenneth Arnold, Ray Palmer … and the hollow-Earth theorist Richard Shaver, who also features quite prominently in my own article. In passing I also mention L. Ron Hubbard (who started out as a protégé of Palmer’s upmarket rival, John W. Campbell) – and there’s a link there, too, since the “Building a Fortean Library” column in this issue happens to feature a classic biography of Hubbard.
So there are plenty of reasons to buy this month’s issue of Fortean Times – and my article is just one of them!
If there really was a magazine called Freaky Times, I’d buy it – especially if it only cost £1.50, which is the price tag on the one pictured above. Actually this is a screenshot from a recent video game called Barrow Hill: The Dark Path , which I bought after seeing a full-page advertisement for it in last month’s Fortean Times (a magazine that bears an uncanny stylistic resemblance to Freaky Times – or perhaps it’s the other way around).
The original Barrow Hill game came out ten years ago, and I found it enjoyable to play but nothing really special. That’s essentially my verdict on this belated sequel, too. It’s probably slightly more fun than the original, with more immersive graphics and more interesting characters. The style is reminiscent of Jonathan Boakes’s Dark Fall series, or Daniel Peach’s Corrosion: Cold Winter Waiting which I wrote about last year . But those games have fascinatingly original storylines and vast, intriguing settings to explore, while the Barrow Hill games are shorter, with more mundane locations and a plot not too different from a hundred other games you can find on Steam. But if you like first-person adventure games (as I do) and wacky New Age weirdness (as I do) then you’ll enjoy playing Barrow Hill: The Dark Path anyway.
The main developer behind the Barrow Hill games is Matt Clark of Shadow Tor studios, but Jonathan Boakes’s name also crops up several times in the end credits. In fact he seems to have been the one behind the Freaky Times mock-up pictured above (and there’s another shot of it below). After a bit of Googling I found this post on his blog, which describes the design as “a little nod to the Fortean Times”. And right at the bottom of the cover he’s slipped in a reference to the “Dowerton ghosts”, from his own Dark Fall games!
The latest issue of Fortean Times (FT350, February 2017) contains David Clarke’s great review of my book Pseudoscience and Science Fiction. It’s the first time any of my books has been reviewed in that magazine – or in any printed, as opposed to online, media for that matter. But it was worth the wait – David describes the book as “excellent” and gives it a score of 9 out of 10. I’ve put a teaser of his review in the picture above, but you’ll have to buy the magazine to read the whole thing – or better still, just buy my book!
Actually it’s a big relief to see a good review in FT, as that’s pretty much the book’s target audience. In other words people who are fascinated by wacky ideas like UFOs, ESP and conspiracy theories, but with a sense of amused detachment rather than a passionately pro- or anti- attitude – seeing them as popular entertainment on a par with science fiction. I’ve been reading FT on a regular basis since 1993, and I’ve still got every issue I’ve ever bought. That huge collection may take up a lot of space, but it was invaluable when I was researching this book – Fortean Times is mentioned no fewer than 55 times in its 180 pages!
Two of the regular features in this current issue focus on subjects covered in my book. David Hambling’s excellent science column on page 16 has all the latest news about the EmDrive – an alleged “reactionless” propulsion device which I discussed in Chapter 6: Space Drives and Anti-gravity. Whether it proves to be pseudoscience or real science (hopefully the latter), the EmDrive certainly follows in the footsteps of countless science-fictional space drives.
Then on pages 52 to 53, the “Building a Fortean Library” feature focuses on the Shaver Mystery of the 1940s, with its mind-controlling subterranean super-beings. I covered that in some depth in Chapter 3: High-Tech Paranoia – along with such topics as shapeshifting reptilians and the strange world of Philip K. Dick.