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The Miracle Visitors: Gollancz Collectors Edition

by Ian Watson

(Gollancz, 9.99, 239 pages, paperback, first published 1978, this edition 12 June 2003.)

Twenty-five years after its first publication, Ian Watson's Miracle Visitors makes a cover scanreturn appearance courtesy of Gollancz's eye-searingly yellow reprint series. This deeply contemplative tale of flying saucers would have debuted at around the time that UFO fever was sweeping the UK; it resurfaces now in the wake of The X-Files and a vogue for all things Grey. Its central observations remain incisive and thought-provoking, but Miracle Visitors is starting to show its age somewhat. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

John Deacon -- not the musician -- is a doctor of psychology at Granton University and founder of the Consciousness Research Group. Under hypnosis, student Michael Peacocke relates to him the details of an adolescent UFO encounter, which Deacon initially rationalises in Freudian terms. Peacocke takes a more literal view, and brings in Barry Shriver, an American ex-pat and ufologist. As the UFO phenomenon intrudes ever more into their lives, the three men reach some startling conclusions about the relationship between flying saucers and the human mind.

Mixing together Forteana, psychology and a healthy dollop of Eastern philosophy, Miracle Visitors proposes an explanation of UFO activity that I can only describe as mind-expanding. It's not entirely novel today -- I've seen similar ideas expounded elsewhere in SF, and in Fortean potboilers -- though I imagine that in 1978 it was fairly ground-breaking stuff. I think, however, that it may be a little too "far out" for today's cynical readership, and this is really the book's main drawback: it's very much of its time. It's definitely an ideas book more than a people book -- the characters are too functional for the reader to really empathise with any of them. Moreover, the text is chock full of info-dumping, that process whereby a character passes on to the reader -- and, incidentally, another character -- some nugget of surplus research not entirely fitted to the conversation at hand. The book overall harks back to a former age of SF when such traits were more easily tolerated, even expected; in comparison with much of modern SF, it seems clunky. But it does contain some of the most remarkable ideas you're likely to come across in any book this year.

Miracle Visitors is a fine book, but not Watson's finest by some way. It deserves a re-reading, but I'm not entirely sure that it merited reprinting.

Review by John Toon.

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