Even though the subtitle of this book ends with a question mark, it makes an ambitious claim. Are we really at the stage of being able to offer a final answer to the UFO enigma? In an attempt to do this the editors, who have themselves been involved in the UFO scene for a long time (45 years in David Barclay's case), have assembled half a dozen "experts" (in so far as there can be experts in such an extraordinary subject), each of whom contributes a chapter, as do the editors themselves.
The first chapter, by both editors, asks us to lay aside our preconceptions about UFOs. Then, in what seemed to me the weakest contribution, Arthur Tomlinson, a full-time ufologist, looks back at what might be called the parahistory of the subject. Here we find mention of Atlantis (though Tomlinson does concede that there is some doubt [sic] that it ever existed), the vimanas (vehicles of the gods) of ancient India, and the Bible. This is all well-worn territory.
KWC Griffiths, also a full-time ufologist, contributes a chapter based on a survey carried out by an Austrian ufologist, Dr Alex Keul, in the 1950s. The survey was designed to assess the psychological and sociological characteristics of UFO percipients. Griffiths concludes that there is some unknown factor which operates on people with a propensity to produce ESP (extrasensory perception) phenomena; this factor gives rise to UFOs as well as other anomalous perceptions such as religious visions.
Robert Moore looks at UFOs from a scientific point of view, and considers possible explanations including hoaxes, hallucinations, mirages, ionization phenomena, and subjective phenomena; he leaves little room for the extra-terrestrial hypothesis.
Roger Ford reviews the perennial cover-up allegations: is there a conspiracy? Charlotte A. O'Connor, who is described as a cosmologist and seems to be the only contributor who is not a "professional" ufologist, also inclines to the view that the phenomenon is subjective.
One of the editors, Theresa Marie Barclay, reviews some cases she has investigated personally. She insists that the witnesses are to be believed; they did see something, but what? Joseph Dormer considers various possible explanations for UFO phenomena and concludes that the answer lies in the psyche of witnesses.
All the contributors, then, largely discount the view that UFOs are objectively "real" though they do think that the phenomena are of great importance for what they tell us about ourselves. In the final chapter David Barclay tries to tie it all together and proposes a "full explanation".
He favours a holographic model; indeed, he suggests that the universe itself is holographic, a form of virtual reality like that we are becoming familiar with thanks to computers. Our universe, he suggests, is a projection, where anything at all can happen. The trouble with this idea, which is intended to be scientific, is that it seems to be totally untestable. He quite explicitly moves the discussion beyond science to religion: "if the [virtual reality] model is correct, it puts beyond the shadow of a doubt the existence of God." It also, he says, guarantees personal immortality. I find the idea of a God who spends his time constructing elaborate illusions in order to plague us rather hard to accept. (For more on this, see How to Tell if You Live in a Simulation.
I don't think the book succeeds in its stated aim of providing a satisfying explanation for UFOs. Moreover, the discussion throughout is rather one-sided; all the contributors share more or less the same viewpoint. That said, however, the book contains a fair amount of quite well-balanced discussion and some intriguing observations are described, so it repays reading.