Saturday, November 10, 2007

BOOK: J. W. Spencer, "Limbo of the Lost - Today"

John Wallace Spencer: Limbo of the Lost — Today. New York: Bantam Books, 1975. (1st ed. was Westfield, MA: Phillips Publishing Company, 1973.) xvi + 188 pp.

This is an updated and expanded edition of a book that Spencer had originally published in 1969, when it was titled simply Limbo of the Lost. The biographical note on p. 188 says that Spencer is “the owner and manager of the Phillips Publishing Company”, so I guess you could say that in a way it was self-published.

Anyway, 1969 is fairly early compared to most of the other well-known Bermuda Triangle books, which were published only in the 1970s. The phrase “Limbo of the Lost” is simply Spencer's term for the Bermuda Triangle. As he explains here on pp. 174–5, he objects to the “Bermuda Triangle” because the area he has in mind is not particularly triangular, and he suggests that the term has been adopted for marketing purposes. This makes some sense, but his own term, “Limbo of the Lost”, doesn't sound much better, and his justification for using it (p. 174) is rather strained. And he has an annoying habit of repeating it ad nauseam — at the end of almost every section, he says something along the lines of “and so this is another disappearance in the Limbo of the Lost”.

The main strength of Spencer's book, compared to the other Triangle books I've read so far, is in the large number of incidents it describes, and in the amount of detail provided about them. Berlitz, for example, spends just a couple of chapters describing the better-known disappearances of ships and airplanes, and then moves on to discussing possible explanations, which are of course just silly paranormal theories that I don't particularly care to read about. But here, Spencer dedicates almost the entire book to describing unexplained accidents and disappearances, and there are a lot more of them here than in the other Triangle books I've read; ships, airplanes, tugboats, drifters, submarines, the stories go on and on.

Unlike Adi-Kent Jeffrey, who likes to spin long yarns about each incident and include tons of made-up dialogue, Spencer focuses on telling his stories briefly and concisely, but includes plenty of factual details (if available). (This style is a result of his deliberate decision; see pp. 175–6.) Also unlike Jeffrey, who spends about half her book writing about pre-1850 disappearances where it's less obvious whether something really mysterious is going on, Spencer's book is more or less entirely about more recent events — another plus for Spencer, as far as I'm concerned.

Sometimes the masses of details he provides start seeming a bit unnecessary to me; e.g. he has a tendency to include complete lists of crew and passengers on lost ships or airplanes, including their ranks and home towns and states. But I guess that for those who lost a friend or relative in these events, such details are interesting; the rest of us can easily skip them, and they aren't really annoying.

Most of the time, the writing is remarkably sober — much more so than I would have dared to expect in a Bermuda Triangle book. I particularly liked the fact that he usually describes the search efforts in a lot of detail; the various hypotheses that e.g. the Coast Guard considered to try explaining the accident; the progress of the search, and its final abandonment; and in quite a few cases he mentions that some wreckage was found, i.e. the ship or plane didn't disappear entirely without a trace. But he does say, in such cases, that one would expect more wreckage to be found than that.

[Here's a funny example from p. 153. A cargo plane carrying frozen beef crashed into the sea for no very obvious reason in 1971, within sight of eyewitnesses on a nearby ship. “The crew upped anchor and within a matter of just a few minutes were at the crash site. The chilling part of the story is that nothing was there, no bodies, no debris, no oil slick; just one floating side of beef.” :)]

However, on those few occasions when the discussion does come to the subject of explanations for the Bermuda Triangle accidents and disappearances, Spencer leaves us in no doubt as to his views. He is quite sure that this is all due to the activity of UFOs; he talks of this as matter-of-factly as about everything else — as if no doubt or controversy whatsoever existed about this subject! See e.g. pp. 155–6, where he says that the frequency of Triangle events and that of the UFO sightings are correlated. And on pp. 177–8 he says that aliens “clearly do not want to socialize or fraternize with earth begins” so they built “their bases and laboratory facilities deep under the ocean” (p. 177); “whenever they need someone or something for experimental purposes, all they have to do is leave their facilities, take what they want, and return to their hidden underwater laboratories” (p. 178).

The first chapters, which are about airplane disappearances, are a bit heavy on jargon; probably because of his background in the U.S. air force and NORAD (p. 188).

He mentions on p. 64 that “a large store of Phoenician coins” was discovered on the Azores.

The section on the Cyclops (pp. 80–7) is fairly detailed, although still not as extensive as the story on Gian Quasar's web site. I was interested to learn on p. 86 of the disappearances of two sister ships, Proteus and Nereus, both colliers and similar to the Cyclops; they disappeared within a few weeks of each other in November 1941, and the cases bear several similarities with that of the Cyclops (including the lack of an explanation).

All in all, this is quite a good Bermuda Triangle book. If you want a book that emphasizes facts and details about the disappearances and accidents, rather than a book that emphasizes bizarre paranormal ‘explanations’ and theories, than this is the book for you.


  • Yet more Bermuda Triangle books, of course :) Once again, see the list in the Wikipedia article.

  • Spencer also wrote a book titled No Earthly Explanation, where he discusses his theory that the Triangle events are caused by UFOs. He says here on p. 178 that the book includes the story “of how U.S. Army helicopter pilot, Captain Lawrence J. Coyne, and his crew of three were hijacked by a UFO on October 18, 1973” :)

    [Incidentally, I like the fact that he says “hijacked” rather than “abducted” — alien abduction is a big cliche now, with a whole genre of books in its own right, and his use of a different term (“hijacked”) is a nice reminder of the times when these things were recent and original and even the terminology was not yet as established as it is now.]

  • There's an ad at the end of this book, listing several other delightfully kooky books published by Bantam at that time. Apart from several volumes of Däniken, the following titles sound interesting:

    • Richard Winer: The Devil's Triangle
    • Ralph Blum: Beyond Earth: Man's Contact with UFOs
    • Robert Dione: God Drives a Flying Saucer
    • Peter Kolosimo: Not of This World
    • Andrew Tomas: We Are not the First

    How could one resist all this vintage 70s weirdness? :))

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