BOOKS

The flying saucer set

IN ADVANCE OF THE LANDING: FOLK CONCEPTS OF OUTER SPACE By Douglas Curran

Brian D. Johnson March 17 1986
BOOKS

The flying saucer set

IN ADVANCE OF THE LANDING: FOLK CONCEPTS OF OUTER SPACE By Douglas Curran

Brian D. Johnson March 17 1986

The flying saucer set

IN ADVANCE OF THE LANDING: FOLK CONCEPTS OF OUTER SPACE By Douglas Curran

(Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 132 pages, $19.95)

In 1977, after seeing a roadside rocket—a wooden model thrust aloft on pylons outside a general store in rural Quebec—Douglas Curran embarked on a remarkable mission. The Edmonton photographer spent seven years driving 200,000 km around North America in search of the basement mystics and backyard prophets who are obsessed with spaceships from other worlds. An exotic record of their beliefs, rituals and artifacts, In Advance of the Landing distills Curran’s odyssey to 60 marvellous photographs and a brief but fascinating text. As Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, notes in the preface, Curran’s book “is the culmination of a quest that, by terrestrial standards, is as extraordinary as that of the people he brings to life.”

Indeed, In Advance of the Landing documents a strange collection of close encounters—not with extraterrestrials but rather with devotees of a folk religion. They are people for whom, says Curran, “the flying saucer is a god wrapped in stainless steel.” It is a religion rooted in the space-age daydreams of the 1950s and bathed in what Curran calls “nostalgia for the future.” Tracing the evolution of the unidentified flying object (UFO) movement, the author spotlights such celebrated members as the late George

Adamski, who said that he met a longhaired Venusian in the Arizona desert in 1952. Curran writes, “Adamski was constantly in demand as a speaker and, according to his accounts, as a passenger on flying saucers.”

In his travels Curran also made contact with a number of exotic cults, including the Unariuns, a Californian group awaiting salvation from spaceships sent by the Intergalactic Confederation. Led by the Archangel Uriel — an 82-year-old widow named Ruth Norman dressed in purple chiffon—the Unariuns are Christians. In fact, fundamentalist religion serves as a common denominator among nearly all the sects that the author encountered. Although their adherents seem to be concentrated in California, Curran’s report contains some Canadian examples, including the unsolved 1980 case of Granger Taylor, who vanished from his parents’ home in Duncan, B.C., after leaving a note that he was departing on an alien spaceship.

Without trying to prove or disprove the existence of UFOs, the author focuses on their terrestrial devotees. He also describes their sacramental contraptions, such as a plywood flying saucer with what its inventors call “a double vortex motor.” Curran brings anecdotal zest to both his writing and his photography, but he remains a detached and unpatronizing reporter. He lets the cosmic irony of his subject shine through, like a luminous object discovered in the night sky.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON