The CIA Has Declassified 2,780 Pages of UFO-Related Documents, and They’re Now Free to Download

Everybody knows that UFO stands for “unidentified flying object.” Coined by the United States Air Force in 1953, the term has come to stand for a wide range of phenomena that suggest we’ve been contacted by alien civilizations — and in fact has even spawned the field of ufology, dedicated to the investigation of such phenomena. But times change, and with them the approved terminology. These days the U.S. government seems to prefer the abbreviation UAP, which stands for “unidentified aerial phenomenon.” Those three words may sound more precisely descriptive, but they also provide some distance from the decades of not entirely desirable cultural associations built up around the concept of the UFO.

Yet this is hardly a bad time to be a ufologist. “Buried in the latest federal omnibus spending bill signed into law on December 27, 2020 — notable for its inclusion of coronavirus relief — is a mandate that may bring UFO watchers one step closer to finding out whether the government has been watching the skies,” writes Mental Floss’ Jake Rossen.

That same site’s Ellen Gutoskey followed up with an announcement that the CIA’s entire collection of declassified UFO documents is now available to download. You can do so at The Black Vault, a clearing house for UFO related-information run by ufologist John Greenewald Jr. These documents come to 2,780 pages in total, the release of which necessitated the filing of more than 10,000 Freedom of Information Act reports.

Samir Ferdowsi at Vice’s Motherboard quotes Greenewald describing the process as “like pulling teeth,” with results more impressive in quantity than quality. “The CIA has made it INCREDIBLY difficult to use their records in a reasonable manner,” Greenewals writes. “They offer a format that is very outdated (multi page .tif) and offer text file outputs, largely unusable,” all of which “makes it very difficult for people to see the documents, and use them, for any research purpose.” He’s thus also made available a version of the CIA’s declassified UFO documents converted into 713 PDFs. The Black Vault advises downloaders to bear in mind that “many of these documents are poorly photocopied, so the computer can only ‘see’ so much to convert for searching.”

But even with these difficulties, UFO enthusiasts have already turned up material of interest: “From a dispute with a Bosnian fugitive with alleged E.T. contact to mysterious midnight explosions in a small Russian town, the reports definitely take readers for a wild ride,” writes Ferdowsi. “One of the most interesting documents in the drop, Greenewald said, involved the Assistant Deputy Director for Science & Technology being hand-delivered some piece of information on a UFO in the 1970s.” This document, like most of the others, comes with many parts blacked out, but as Greenewald recently tweeted, “I have an open ‘Mandatory Declassification Review’ request to HOPEFULLY get some of these redactions lifted, so we can see what was hand delivered, and what his advice may be.” Ufology demands a great deal of curiosity, but an even greater deal of patience. Enter the Black Vault here.

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Richard Feynman: The Likelihood of Flying Saucers

Carl Jung’s Fascinating 1957 Letter on UFOs

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Octavia Butler’s Four Rules for Predicting the Future

Image by Nikolas Coukouma, via Wikimedia Commons

If you, like me, often turn to science fiction to get more clarity about the present, past, and future, then you know you’re in good company with multiple-award-winning sci-fi author Octavia Butler. The novelist cast her gaze over it all, looking into the dark corners of American life and human behavior and drawing out stories that feel both shockingly new and familiar and true.

Sometimes Butler’s truths are hard to hear, especially when we’re living in the midst of a time she foresaw with such seeming accuracy thirty years ago in her Parable novels, two books meant to be the first parts of a trilogy about America’s greed, cruelty, and racism swallowing up its good intentions and inflated self-image.

Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents are, as Butler described them, “novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.”

These problems include the return of debt slavery, a particularly nasty strain of Christian nationalism, and a vague but devastating environmental collapse from which there is no return. But these are also novels about hope: about survival and adaptation and empathy. Butler may have invented the plots of her post-apocalyptic future, but “I didn’t make up the problems,” she once told a student.

Science fiction writers aren’t clairvoyant, they’re just better at making observations and speculations. “All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters,” said Butler. A perspective that doesn’t also include the whole of human history is bound to miss the mark, she suggested:

Writing novels about the future doesn’t give me any special ability to foretell the future. But it does encourage me to use our past and present behaviors as guides to the kind of world we seem to be creating. The past, for example, is filled with repeating cycles of strength and weakness, wisdom and stupidity, empire and ashes. To study history is to study humanity. And to try to foretell the future without studying history is like trying to learn to read without bothering to learn the alphabet.

Butler goes on to discuss her method for predicting the future—so to speak—which anyone can learn to do with enough study and insight (that’s the hard part). Thom Dunn at Boing Boing has helpfully broken down her essay’s main points into four concise rules:

  • Learn from the past
  • Respect the law of consequences
  • Be aware of your perspective
  • Count on the surprises

You can read the full essay here and get to work on your own forecasting abilities. But in order to fully understand Butler’s project, it is essential never to despair. “The one thing that I and my main characters never do when contemplating the future is give up hope,” she writes. In answer to her student’s anguished question, if things are going to get so bad “what’s the answer?” Butler sagely replied, “there isn’t one…. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers—at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

via Boing Boing

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Dune Graphic Novel: Experience Frank Herbert’s Epic Sci-Fi Saga as You’ve Never Seen It Before

Like so many major motion pictures slated for a 2020 release, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune has been bumped into 2021. But fans of Frank Herbert’s epic science-fiction saga haven’t had to go entirely without adaptations this year, since last month saw the release of the first Dune graphic novel. Written by Kevin J. Anderson and Frank Herbert’s son Brian Herbert, co-authors of twelve Dune prequel and sequel novels, this 160-page volume constitutes just the first part of a trilogy intended to visually retell the story of the first Dune book. This tripartite breakdown seems to have been a wise move: the many adaptors (and would-be) adaptors of the linguistically, mythologically, and technologically complex novel have found out over the decades, it’s easy to bite off more Dune than you can chew.

Audiences, too, can only digest so much Dune at a sitting themselves. “The particular challenge to adapting Dune, especially the early part, is that there is so much information to be conveyed — and in the novel it is done in prose and dialog, rather than action — we found it challenging to portray visually,” says Anderson in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

“Fortunately, the landscape is so sweeping, we could show breathtaking images as a way to convey that background.” This is the landscape of the desert planet Arrakis, source of a substance known as “spice.” Used as a fuel for space travel, spice has become the most precious substance in the galaxy, and its control is bitterly struggled over by numerous royal houses. (Any resemblance to Earth’s petroleum is, of course, entirely coincidental.)

The main narrative thread of the many running through Dune follows Paul Atreides, scion of the House Atreides. With his family sent to run Arrakis, Paul finds himself at the center of political intrigue, planetary revolution, and even a clandestine scheme to create a superhuman savior. Though Herbert and Anderson have produced a faithful adaptation, the graphic novel “trims the story down to its most iconic touchstone scenes,” as Thom Dunn puts it in his Boing Boing review (adding that it happens to focus in “a lot of the same scenes as David Lynch did with his gloriously messy film adaptation”). This streamlining also employs techniques unique to graphic novels: to retain the book‘s shifting omniscient narration, for example, “differently colored caption boxes present inner monologues from different characters like voiceovers so as not to interrupt the scene.”

As if telling the story of Dune at a graphic novel’s pace wasn’t task enough, Anderson, Herbert and their collaborators also have to convey its unusual and richly imagined world — in not just words, of course, but images. “Dune has had a lot of visual interpretations over the years, from Lynch’s bizarre pseudo-period piece treatment to the modern televised mini-series’ more gritty interpretation,” writes Polygon’s Charlie Hall. While “Villeneuve’s vibe appears to take its inspiration from more futuristic science fiction — all angles and chunky armor,” the graphic novel’s artists Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín “opt for something a bit more steampunk.” These choices all further what Brian Herbert describes as a mission to “bring a young demographic to Frank Herbert’s incredible series.” Such readers have shown great enthusiasm for stories of teenage protagonists who grow to assume a central role in the struggle between good and evil — not that, in the world of Dune, any conflict is quite so simple.

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Why You Should Read Dune: An Animated Introduction to Frank Herbert’s Ecological, Psychological Sci-Fi Epic

The 14-Hour Epic Film, Dune, That Alejandro Jodorowsky, Pink Floyd, Salvador Dalí, Moebius, Orson Welles & Mick Jagger Never Made

Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

The Dune Coloring & Activity Books: When David Lynch’s 1984 Film Created Countless Hours of Peculiar Fun for Kids

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Watch the First Trailer for Dune, Denis Villeneuve’s Adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Classic Sci-Fi Novel

It takes a fearless filmmaker indeed to adapt Dune. Atop its rich linguistic, political, philosophical, religious, and ecological foundations, Frank Herbert’s saga-launching 1965 novel also happens to have a plot “convoluted to the point of pain.” So writes David Foster Wallace in his essay on David Lynch, who directed the first cinematic version of Dune in 1984. That the result is remembered as a “huge, pretentious, incoherent flop” (with an accompanying glossary handout) owes to a variety of factors, not least studio meddling and the unsurprising incompatibility of the man who made Eraserhead with large-scale Hollywood sci-fi. The question lingered: could Dune be successfully adapted at all?

Well before Lynch took his crack, El Topo and The Holy Mountain director Alejandro Jodorowsky put together his own Dune adaptation. If all had gone well it would have come out as a ten-hour film featuring the art of H.R. Giger and Moebius as well as the performances of Orson Welles, Gloria Swanson, David Carradine, Alain Delon, Mick Jagger, and Salvador Dalí.

But all did not go well, and cinema was deprived of what would have been a singular spectacle no matter how it turned out. At least one element of Jodorowsky’s Dune has survived, however, in the latest attempt to bring Herbert’s complex bestseller to the screen: the music of Pink Floyd, heard in the just-released trailer for Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, starring Timothée Chalemet as the young hero Paul Atreides (as well as Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, and a host of other currently big names), scheduled for release in December.

If a credible Dune movie is possible, Villeneuve is the man to direct it. His previous two pictures, Blade Runner 2049 and the alien-visitation drama Arrival, demonstrate not just his capabilities with science fiction but his sense of the sublime. Beginning with its setting, the desert-wasteland planet of Arrakis, Dune demands to be envisioned with the kind of beauty that inspires something close to dread and fear. (The first director asked to adapt Dune was David Lean, perhaps due to his track record with majestic views of sand.) Villeneuve has also made the wise choice of refusing to compress the entire book into a single feature, presenting this as the first of a two-part adaptation. And as a lifelong Dune fan, he understands the attitude necessary to approaching this challenge: “Fear is the mind-killer,” as Paul famously puts it — so famously that the trailer couldn’t possibly exclude Chalamet’s delivery of the line.

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Why You Should Read Dune: An Animated Introduction to Frank Herbert’s Ecological, Psychological Sci-Fi Epic

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Moebius’ Storyboards & Concept Art for Jodorowsky’s Dune

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: A Free Reading by Featuring Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Susan Orlean & More

Today, the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ray Bradbury’s birthday. And, to mark the occasion, Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Susan Orlean & many others will host a reading of Bradbury’s classic book, Fahrenheit 451.

The online special, like the book, is separated into three parts, each introduced by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden. The voices of librarians, notable authors, actors, scholars, and students are bookended by the opening and closing readings from Neil Gaiman and William Shatner. The special includes commentary by Ann Druyan, director and co-author of Cosmos, an afterword by Susan Orlean, author of The Library Book, and a special appearance and reading by former NASA astronaut and administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr.

You can watch the videos the reading  the videos above and below. The videos should be available until September 5th.

Part 2

Part 3

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Every Possible Kind of Science Fiction Story: An Exhaustive List Created by Pioneering 1920s SciFi Writer Clare Winger Harris (1931)

When Jeanette Ng gave her acceptance speech at the 2019 Joseph W. Campbell awards (now called the Astounding Award for Best New Writer), she described “Golden Age” editor Campbell as “a fascist” who “set a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White.” The list of Hugo winners this year show how much the situation is changing. Ng herself won a Hugo for her Campbell speech. (The unpleasant performance of the awards’ online presenter sadly got more headlines than the winners.)

Yet popular canons of sci-fi, even “seemingly progressive books for their time,” Liz Lutgendorff writes, still contain a “pervasive sexism.” Campbell was hardly the only offender, but the charge certainly sticks to him. “The first science fiction anthologies were published during a backlash against first-wave feminism,” Wired explains. In response to growing women’s activism, “male editors such as John W. Campbell and Groff Conklin specifically excluded women from” the pages of Astounding Science Fiction‘s popular anthology series and Conklin’s many best-ofs.

Prior to these powerful editors, “women writers were relatively common throughout the pulp era, and the proportion of women readers was even higher.” Lisa Yaszek, Professor of Science Fiction Studies at Georgia Tech, found that “at least 15 percent of the science fiction community were women—producers—and reading polls suggest that 40 to 50 percent of the readers were women.” These figures surprised even her. Many of the writers whom Campbell excluded were hugely popular during 1920s, influencing their contemporaries and inspiring readers.

One such writer, Clare Winger Harris, published her first short story “The Runaway World,” in the July 1926 issue of Weird Tales (after writing an earlier historical novel in 1923). That same year, she won third place in a story contest run by legendary Amazing Stories editor Hugo Gernsback, from whom the Hugo Awards take their name. She would go on to publish ten more stories in popular science fiction pulps, most of them for Gernsback. Then she disappeared from writing in 1930, ostensibly to raise her three sons.

But she had more to say. In the August 1931 edition of Gernsback’s Wonder Stories, a letter from Harris appears in which she rallies the community to insist that Hollywood make sci-fi films. “Come on, science fiction fans, let’s go!” she writes, “Our united efforts might bring this country a few films in 1932 that are not wild west, sex drama or gangster stuff. I think we’re all strong for good comedies, but let’s have of our serious dramas a little less of the emotional and more of the intellectual.”

Harris goes on, in response to another reader letter, to correct the notion that “there are only five or six original plots.” (This number has varied over the ages from seven to thirty-seven). “That may be true as regards the technique of plot development,” writes Harris, “but I have made a table of sixteen general classifications into which it seems to me all science fiction stories written to date can be placed.” See it above.

Sci-fi author Doris V. Sutherland points to the redundancies and dated quaintness of much of the list. Giant insects have fallen out of fashion. “A number of the categories speak of the technological level of the day. The inclusion of ‘ray and vibration stores’ harks back to an era when the unseen effects of various electro-magnetic waves had only recently been grasped by researchers.” Moreover, the atomic age was yet to dawn. After it, “the idea of a man-made apocalypse would become rather more topical.”

The status of Harris’s letter as a “time capsule” that summarizes the “dominant themes in SF” at the time documents her keen appreciation for, as well as innovation on, those themes. She was valued for this talent by many in the field, Gernsback included. Upon learning she had won third prize in the 1926 Amazing Stories contest, he “gave praise,” Brad Ricca writes at LitHub, “couched in the cultural moment”—as well as indicative of his own biases.

That the third prize winner should prove to be a woman was one of the surprises of the contest, for, as a rule, women do not make good scientification writers, because their education and general tendencies on scientific matters are usually limited. But the exception, as usual, proves the rule, the exception in this case being extraordinarily impressive.

These insulting beliefs did not prevent Gernsback from continuing to publish Harris’s work, nor any of women whose writing he approved. (He also helped make Campbell’s career.) Some have found it remarkable that Harris published under her own name rather than a male pseudonym, but Yaszek argues this was fairly common at the time. In fact, several male authors published under female pseudonyms. (Gernsback himself once adopted the moniker “Grace G. Hucksnob.”)

As women writers were edged out of science fiction during Campbell’s reign in the 1930’s, Harris retreated. Her only published literary productions were the 1931 letter and a short story that again proves her status as a pioneer. Her last story original story “appeared in 1933 in the fifth and last issue of a stapled, mimeographed pamphlet called Science Fiction that had a print run of maybe—maybe—50 issues,” Ricca writes. The story had been solicited by the tiny magazine’s editors, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, major Harris fans who would, of course, “go on to create Superman, the most recognized science fiction character on the planet.”

Learn more about Harris’s fascinating life—including her father’s brief stint as a Gernsback-influenced sci-fi novelist and her status as an early American convert to Buddhism before her death in 1968—at Ricca’s excellent LitHub investigation. See her full letter above.

via @jessesheidlower

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Is a “Blerd?” Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #56 Discusses Nerd Culture and Race with The Second City’s Anthony LeBlanc

The Interim Executive Producer of The Second City joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the scope of black nerd-dom: what nerdy properties provide to those who feel “othered,” using sci-fi to talk about race, Black Panther and other heroes, afrofuturism, black anime fans, Star Trek, Key & Peele, Get Out vs. Us, and more.

A few articles you might enjoy:

Some relevant videos and podcasts:

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

Rick and Morty as Absurdist Humor, Yet Legitimate Sci-Fi with Family Drama (Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #54)

Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt address the 4-season 2013 Adult Swim show, which currently has a 94% critics’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. What kind of humor is it, and how are we supposed to take its sci-fi and family drama elements? While its concepts start as parody, with an anything-goes style of animation, they’re creative and grounded enough to actually contribute to multiple genres. How smart is the show, exactly? And its fans? Is Rick a super hero, or maybe essentially Dr. Who? What might this very serialized sit-com look like in longevity?

We also touch on other adult cartoons like South Park, Solar Opposites, The Simpsons, Family Guy, plus Community, Scrubs, and more.

Hear the interview we refer to with the show’s creators. Watch the video we mention about its directors. Visit the Rick and Morty wiki for episode descriptions and other things.

Some articles that we bring up or otherwise fueled our discussion include:

Also, do you want a Plumbus?

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts.

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