'Witnessed' -- it would be charming if somebody dropped in from outer space!

August 11, 1996|By MICHAEL PAKENHAM

I would so love to believe! If creatures from beyond the bounds of Earth are visiting, roaming, conversing here, knowing all about it would make our mundanity richer, more interesting by far. If invaders - endowed with technical and intellectual capacities that make earthlings seem like severely challenged gerbils - are tinkering with us, it would be a gas to be aware.


Consider the odds. There are millions of major objects in our galaxy, galaxies beyond and the constant expansion of consciousness of more galaxies. Last week - Wow! - sober-sided scientists reported evidence of prior life on Mars. It is almost impossible to believe that there are not other pieces of rock and soil somewhere out there that nourish and entertain life forms in some approximation of what we think ourselves to be.

But even if there are, you say, they are too far away to commute. But consider: In the last 100 years, technological development has leapt way, way past the wildest, maddest fantasies of speed, of motion, of energy, of processing data.

Put those odds together, and quickly you have an almost irresistible argument that there should be intelligent, curious, well-equipped, vastly sophisticated creatures and races that could use the Earth we know and treasure as human scientists use rat-mazes.

Yearning to believe

Since I was about 15, I have read with delight, curiosity, excitement and good wishes books about unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrial beings' designs upon this world.

I am on the side of believing. Believe me.

Now comes "Witnessed: The True Story of the Brooklyn Bridge UFO Abductions," by Budd Hopkins. (Pocket Books, 399 pages. $23). The publishing company puts its institutional credibility behind the bald, bold declaration that this book "reads like a mystery novel, but it is all true." It is presented as standing tall at the forefront of serious research and analysis.

Thus it is with sadness that I must report that, read soberly, this book makes an overpowering - albeit entirely unintentional - case that the whole UFO business is a ridiculous fiction, a pathetic, writhing conflation of fraud and dementia.

Not only is there nothing in this book that gives the remotest encouragement to an objective reader to believe its assertions - the transparent weaknesses and naked evasions of the narrative argue powerfully against its own believability.

The story is an over-detailed, shoddy little tale of one "Linda Cortile," (not her "real" name ` all names are changed) a housewife who was ostensibly abducted by space aliens though a barred window in an apartment building on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge at about 3 a.m. on Nov. 30, 1989.

Among a substantial number of "witnesses" are a sexual psychopath and his crude, marginally psychotic "partner" in some highly dubious kind of free-lance security work and an allegedly internationally recognizable political figure (who, of course, is rendered unrecognizable). Not only are all names changed, but every possible clue to identity is obscured. This, of course, makes the book completely unauditable, unverifiable - and thus totally unbelievable.

From the beginning, Hopkins' hyperbole knows no bounds. From page 1 of the introduction: "This abduction event so drastically -- alters our knowledge of the alien incursion in our world that it is easily the most important in recorded history."

He then begins to spread out an immense hash of trivial detail, minute-by-minute reports of redundant, boring, uninformative conversations often irrelevant to the points being made.

It is quagmire slogging, slowed the more by bumblingly self-conscious tricks of suspense: announcing then withholding details, promising significances that spin out as anticlimaxes.

These and other devices of imposed mystery suggest three possibilities: (1) That the author is an incompetent reporter, bereft of either the will or the wile to pursue easily accessible truths that, since they are left unverified and unverifiable, render the book a void. Or (2) that he is making up much or most of the "witnesses" and "facts." Or (3) that he is victim of an enthusiasm of such obsessiveness as to drive him to weave mad babbling and strong suggestion and indomitable yearning into a wispy pipe dream.

Speaking in tongues

The book has a tone and texture of being written for the True Believer. Slowly, inexorably the effect becomes obvious: There is no hope, and perhaps no intent, of persuading the rational reader, the skeptic, of bringing the uninitiated into the tent. The book seems destined to be read as a magic ritual, an act of faith - rather like chanting almost-gibberish, speaking in tongues.

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