One of the most startling developments on the UFO scene in the last few years must surely have been the endorsement of the abduction phenomenon by a Harvard professor of psychiatry, John Mack. The background to this, and to many other aspects of alleged alien abduction, is well discussed by Jim Schnabel in this sceptical and witty book. Mack is certainly an important figure in the abduction story but even more influential is Budd Hopkins, the man who taught Mack the art of "recovering" memories of abduction under hypnosis. Hopkins was at first an artist but later became a full-time UFO researcher fully convinced of the reality of abduction. His story is told in detail by Schnabel, and a curious one it is. It underpins the whole abduction saga in the USA. Another prominent figure in the abduction story is the horror novelist Whitley Streiber, who found he was an abductee and was studied and helped by Hopkins. Eventually the two men fell out but Streiber went on to write his enormously successful book about his experiences, "Communion: a true story", which has sold many millions of copies worldwide.
Schnabel's book is mainly a narrative of how these and other ufologists' beliefs and activities have interwoven with one another to yield the complex picture of the abduction phenomenon in the USA today. He offers rather few direct comments of his own, although his attitude is implicit in the pleasantly ironic tone of the book. He does however reveal his views rather more directly in an epilogue. Here he makes it clear that he discounts the extra-terrestrial hypothesis; the abductees' experiences take place within their minds, but what an extraordinary reservoir of fantasy the human mind must be to account for these experiences!
Schnabel points to similarities between abduction experiences and spirit possession in some pre-technological societies and also to the connection with another curious psychological phenomenon now widespread in the USA, multiple-personality disorder. It is tempting to dismiss the whole abduction phenomenon as collective insanity in a group of vulnerable individuals, but what makes one hesitate to do this is the sheer size of the thing. It would seem that hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Americans have been abducted by aliens, operated on, subjected to sexual indignities, used for breeding hybrids between humans and the aliens, and then returned home with suppressed memories that can only be restored by hypnosis. Whether one believes this or not, it certainly follows that we live in a very strange world indeed.
As Schnabel acknowledges, the abduction affair does not constitute the whole of ufology; there are investigators who ignore that aspect entirely and concentrate on the strange objects reported as being seen in the skies. But, as he also remarks, there is certainly something about the whole UFO business that gives it an irresistible attraction for cranks and eccentrics of every kind.
This is an excellent book on a difficult subject. My only serious quibble is that it lacks an index.
See also Abduction: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, by Susan A. Clancy