Friday, April 01, 2016

Book Review: The Interrupted Journey (1966)

This riveting fifty-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 (1966) 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.

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 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 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 three 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. Probably one involving mind-altering drugs.

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, that’s the purpose (ably) and literately served by The Interrupted Journey.


  1. John,

    This was one of my favorite books as a kid. I still own it, and have re-read it several times. It held me spellbound, and like you, I appreciate Fuller's serious, no-nonsense treatment of the material.

    The Hills' story and the Papua, New Guinea UFO sightings by missionary Father William Gill were two incidents that fueled my enthusiasm for UFO cases. Both seemed credible to me, particularly the latter. Both have their debunkers and explanations.

    The Hill case, I'm afraid, hasn't aged as well, and you are correct to take on the role of devil's advocate. I purchased and read the book Captured! by Stanton Friedman and Betty Hill's niece, Kathleen Marden, and rather than dispelling doubts, the updated accounting seemed to create more.

    I still love The Interrupted Journey and enjoy the story of the Hills. It fires my imagination in ways that many media cannot. It makes sense to me that other civilizations may visit us with different agendas, having overcome the demands of energy and bulk during interstellar travel.

    As for the book that Betty Hill found within the spacecraft, both Captains Kirk and Picard eschewed modern technology for antique literature; perhaps Betty had her hands on the alien equivalent of Moby Dick or A Tale of Two Cities. Now there's a book I'd love to get my hands on!


  2. John,

    I know I don't write always but this was a great piece and I found it fascinating and now I'm very interested in getting a copy of this book and reading it.

    Thank you.