Tuesday, January 06, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: The Interrupted Journey

This riveting forty-year old account of the Barney and Betty Hill Abduction is a cause celebre in UFO literature and lore. The story, told expertly by journalist John G. Fuller, has also become fodder for TV movies such as The UFO Incident (1975) and fictionalized hour-long dramas such as Dark Skies (1996-1997).

The Interrupted Journey recounts (in meticulous detail) the events of the evening of September 19, 1961, a span when an unassuming interracial couple -- the Hills -- saw their weekend drive in New England interrupted by a...flying saucer.

A UFO not only shadowed these unlucky sojourners for a time, but aliens actually took the humans aboard their craft, the Hills alleged. There, a slew of medical exams were conducted before the couple's release.

After this event, as Fuller recounts, the Hills returned to their home and their jobs. Life went on, but they both felt mysteriously unsettled, with significant gaps in their memories. Betty experienced nightmares for a time. Barney saw a flare-up of his ulcer.

Soon, Betty began to remember bits and pieces of the unnerving experience, even as Barney resisted the idea of aliens and flying saucers all together, fearing that friends and family would find his story ludicrous. But slowly and surely, the couple began to come to terms with the bizarre, inexplicable events of that night.

The Hills were aided in this endeavor by a reputable, rock-solid psychiatrist, Dr. Benjamin Simon, who utilized hypnosis to excavate the Hills' buried (or blocked?) memories of the close encounter on September 19th 1961.

Their stories -- told separately in marathon individual sessions -- matched one another's very closely. Husband and wife both spoke of an alien visitation that featured missing time (a span erased by the aliens...), medical exams (including a painful pregnancy test for Betty...) and so on.

These thorough hypnosis sessions -- which often read as decisive, even prosecutorial cross-examinations -- are featured in The Interrupted Journey in the form of transcripts. These word-for-word accounts make for absorbing, provocative and even anxiety-provoking reading.

Fuller does well with the remainder of the text too, his prose devoid of unnecessary or distracting drama, hysteria, or silliness. In fact, Fuller downplays everything in a just-the-facts writing-style that disarms the inner skeptic and generates a fair bit of, well, uneasiness. The idea of alien visitation is rendered entirely believable here...and palpable.

Ultimately, we come to judge this oddly disturbing story on a human basis, a personal basis. The Hills don't seem like craven attention-seekers (on the contrary actually...). They waited for years to come forward in the public square to tell their version of the story, and then only after an unscrupulous journalist published their story without permission or input.

In The Interrupted Journey, when Barney first sees the alien leader's inhuman black eyes glaring down at him (pressing telepathically into his skull), the reader shares Barney's sense of primal terror; mainly because Fuller's sketched the man in such realistic, human fashion.

The Interrupted Journey is a remarkable work of literature, and I recommend the book as such. Just don't take it at face value or as a priori, Gospel Truth. On the (admittedly-limited) basis of literature, however, The Interrupted Journey is entirely successful. You sympathize with the characters; you're caught up in the drama, and the book evokes a strange feeling that somehow, some way, you're being watched while you turn the pages. It's not good material to read while you're alone in the house. Or after dark. The book makes you feel paranoid; like you're under a microscope.

Yet the inner skeptic in me still had some questions and concerns about the veracity of the Hill tale. Let me play devil's advocate for a bit, if you don't mind.

To start with during her encounter with the aliens, Betty is offered an extra-terrestrial book as proof of the aliens' existence. The aliens ultimately take the book back, however, conveniently defying Betty any hard evidence of the encounter.

But my problem is with the idea of the alien book itself. We're nowhere near the advent of interstellar flight, but in a few short years, print books will go the way of the dodo on Earth, totally extinct; relics. Would aliens capable of interstellar flight and mind-bending amnesia tricks still carry around books on their space ship (where space and weight would presumably be at a premium....)? Wouldn't they at least have Kindle?

Secondly, there's the alien confusion about "time." To The Interrupted Journey's credit, the book openly and fairly acknowledges this paradox. Specifically, the aliens tell Betty to "wait a minute" at one point but later, during her exam, confess no knowledge and/or understanding of time or even of the passage of time. For instance, concepts such as "years" and "old age" are beyond the Saucerites. If the aliens could translate thought well-enough to use the phrase "wait a minute," why couldn't the same technique bring them an understanding of time?

Thirdly, the physical description of the flying saucer -- Barney and Betty's mutual description -- feels uncomfortably like a 1960s phantasm of "future" technology. Barney sees (through his binoculars...) a group of aliens standing at a large black control panel. Again, in the decades since this book's publication, we've seen the revolution of miniaturization, not to mention the development of touch screen consoles. And if CNN Election Night Coverage is to be believed, we even now deploy holographic technology on a routine basis.

So why would aliens from a futuristic society (a society advanced enough to possess interstellar flight...) rely on old-fashioned, bulky, non-touch screen computer panels? More to the point, perhaps, why would four-foot tall aliens have laboratory bays with human-sized examination tables.

When Barney first detects the aliens (as reported in a startling hypnosis session) he briefly mistakes the uniformed extra-terrestrials for Nazis. In another portion of the book, he admits that he has a deep-seated affinity for the people of Israel. He identifies with them deeply, apparently fearing a similar form of persecution (as a black man married to a white woman in 1960s America). Given his initial description of the aliens as "Nazis" -- in tandem with this self-acknowledged psychological affinity for Israelis -- the intrepid reader may begin to suspect that this alien encounter could, in fact, be an hallucination, a folie-a-deux...an event entirely psychological and not what we would consider "real."

Also, there are a few notable difference in Betty and Barney's story that do bear a casual mention. Betty initially claims that the aliens possess "Jimmy Durante"-type noses. By contrast, Barney says that the aliens have no noses...only recessed nasal slits. I'd be willing to chalk this up to the fog of abduction, but it's a discrepancy nonetheless.

Finally, Betty admits that she and Barney do have some at least sub-conscious awareness of the burgeoning sci-fi pop-culture of the 1960s. In particular, she mentions The Twilight Zone by name during one of her hypnosis sessions. And then there's this little factoid, straight from Wikipedia:

"Entirely Unpredisposed author Martin Kottmeyer suggested that Barney's memories revealed under hypnosis might have been influenced by an episode of the science fiction television show The Outer Limits titled "The Bellero Shield", which was broadcast about two weeks before Barney's first hypnotic session. The episode featured an extraterrestrial with large eyes..."

But listen, I'm no debunker. I have no interest in that job assignment. In terms of UFOs, let's just say......I want to believe. I really do. More than that, I'm inclined to believe. But to protect myself, I also set a pretty high bar for that belief. Disappointment can be a bitch.

My feeling on the subject of UFOs has always been that, given the size of the universe, it seems entirely plausible that alien civilizations might indeed exist....somewhere.

It is also entirely plausible to me that some life forms "out there" would be sufficiently advanced for interstellar travel. There's a caveat, however. Space traveling requires considerable resources, not to mention a a tremendous amount of energy, and it seems to me you would only travel some place far away (like Earth...) for a matter of great import.

Which leaves me to consider four options in regards to the Hills. One: the abduction happened in exactly the way the couple described, and I'm incredibly wrong in whatever skepticism I harbor. I sure hope that's the case.

Or Two: the abduction happened all right, but it was a top secret government or military experiment (god, I love a good conspiracy theory...). Probably one involving mind-altering drugs.

Or Three: the abduction occurred, but the voyagers aboard the UFO were not aliens; rather evolved, time-traveling humans from a distant future (!). Okay, so that's far-fetched...

Or, lastly, the Hills (now both deceased, unfortunately...) experienced something traumatic but entirely human on September 19, 1961; something that they didn't understand, and that their minds couldn't adequately process, That mystery accounts for the story of The Interrupted Journey.

Again, I want to believe. And while reading this book -- for a time -- I did believe. Betty and Barney Hill seem like good people, caught up in a terrible mystery. I don't know that you could ask for better, more credible eye-witnesses. But in the end, one couple's word -- even word of honor -- is simply not good enough. Not to sway me, anyway.

I wish desperately that the Hill Abduction could be proven conclusively; that The Interrupted Journey could be respected as something more than a fine, remarkably frightening campfire tale.

Perhaps one day it will be. But for now, if I have to go on the record about this book, it's just one hell of a good read.


  1. Hey LKM;

    If you enjoyed Interrupted Journey but were troubled by the more bizarre/illogical aspects of the Hills' interactions with the "space people" (which I see you were) you must must must read Jaques Vallee's "Passport to Magonia" and John Keel's "The Mothman Prophecies" (Vallee was the inspiation for the Truffaut character in CE3K, though he actually disagrees with the "extraterrestrial hypothesis"; Keel's book was the basis for a cool movie that had little to do with the book - that Alex Trebek (sp) episode of X-Files is actually closer in spirit to Keel's work). Both of these books are mind-benders, with Keel's also benefiting from the same "don't read it after dark" spookiness of The Interrupted Journey.


  2. Paul Meehan8:20 AM

    Hi John. Read with great interest your 1/6 review of The Interrupted Journey, and I thought I'd send a detailed reply.

    Taking your points one by one:

    1. Re the book, books have been around for more than two millennia, and its just possible they might linger on in some form for another thousand years or so.

    2. Re time discrepancies, yes this is a real paradox, noted by the Hills themselves.

    3. The flying saucer reportedly looked like an enormous pancake with a row of brightly lit windows arrayed across the rim with humanlike figures inside. I can't recall any movie or TV show made prior to 1961 that featured a saucer that looked like this. The big discs in Forbidden Planet and This Island Earth, for instance, didn't have any windows. Barney only observed the "control room" through binoculars at a distance of 100-200 yards. He did not describe computer screens, etc., only a "control panel" with "levers."

    4. Re human-sized examining tables, both Betty and Barney reported that the tables were on the small side. Barney said his feet dangled off the end.

    5. Barney said one of the other UFOnauts reminded him of a friendly Irishman. He remarked that the other one "looked like" a Nazi rather than being a literal Nazi.

    6. It's my understanding that the description of the aliens with "Durante noses" only appears in Betty's pre-therapy nightmares. I cannot find this description of the aliens in her hypnotic therapy sessions.

    7. Re TZ, note that Betty refers to the program as "Twilight Zone" not "The Twilight Zone," which may indicate an unfamiliarity with the show. The difference is, "The Twilight Zone" is also a concept. Also, Betty flatly states that she had never watched TZ. There's no indication that either of the Hills had any interest in sci-fi.

    8. The narrative of "The Bellero Shield" bears no resemblance to the Hills' story, except for the telepathic alien with wraparound eyes. Why single out this one detail and discard the rest?

    Finally, here's two details that are not in IJ: Barney later reported that a cuplike device was placed around his genitals and a sperm sample taken. He later developed a series of warts in the same area. The warts later became inflamed and had to be surgically removed. Second, a UFO was detected on radar in the general vicinity of the abduction site at the North Concord Air Force station in Vermont less than six hours before the Hills' sighting.

    Hope this provides some food for thought about this fascinating case.

    Paul Meehan

  3. I believe alien abductions are a common thing, we are constantly bombarded with information and a small drivel of UFO information always re-occurs. I remember front page news papers publishing stories of thousands of unexplained lights that flew out of the sea off the coast of Portugal and flew off up the coast and were seen by thousands. We know more about space then we do the ocean, and it is only our perception that we will always be on top of the food chain that makes us so bold as to venture out into space and take on all comers. Perhaps some species are more proficient at existing less ostentaciously than ourselves, for what motive I hope we do not find out soon.
    I have a novel called Doom Of The Shem. I love the endless scenarios that space with its limitless depth can create in the imagination. There are so many wars and conflicts that food gathering species do to each other that take the concept of a peaceful universe to new extremes. One species exploiting another for food is considered not an immoral act till it is us that are on the dinning room table. This concept is quite common in writing and forms the basis for many very highly popular works of science fiction and fantasy writing. I hope you enjoy this small taste in science fiction writing.