Saturday, March 08, 2008

BOOK: Ivan Sanderson, "Invisible Residents"

Ivan T. Sanderson: Invisible Residents. London: Tandem, 1974. (First ed.: NY and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1970.) SBN 426138805. 254 pp.

Sanderson was a biologist and wrote several popular-science type books about zoology, but nowadays he's chiefly remembered for his interest in paranormal subjects. Probably the first time I've heard of him was when I read Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle, which mentions Sanderson's theory that the Triangle is just one of twelve “anomalic regions” (Sanderson's phrase — he was quite fond of unnecessarily using words that end in -ic), situated around the world at regular intervals; he calls them “vile vortices”, and the whole thing is of course just as silly as this name would lead you to believe.

The only thing I've read by Sanderson before this book was a short article of his that was included in Mysteries and Monsters of the Sea, a collection of articles from the Fate magazine. I was rather disappointed by that book as a whole, and Sanderson's article (“Sea Serpents and Whachamacallits”, from January 1964) didn't particularly impress me either.

Anyway, I recently bought Invisible Residents very cheaply along with about 20 other books about paranormal topics, which explains the recent predominance of such books on this blog :)

The basic idea of this book is that there must exist a very advanced (and hitherto unknown to us) civilization living at the ocean floor (or even beneath it, pp. 84–5, 196). The main argument in favour of this theory are the supposedly numerous sightings of UFOs coming into or out of the water, and of unidentified submarine objects exhibiting patterns of behaviour beyond the reach of human technology. Just like with UFOs, I of course cannot quite believe such an incredible claim, but I'd be curious to know what these sightings (if they really occured as they are reported here) were all about; he tells a few interesting stories along the way, and he has a very peculiar style of writing, quite unlike any other paranormal author I've read so far. All of this taken together has made this book quite a pleasant and charming read.

His style

His unusual style is perhaps partly a result of his British origins; in addition, he comes across as a highly irritable person who doesn't mince words when he is annoyed, which he is much of the time :) The other paranormal authors I've read so far (not very many, admittedly) come across as calm and bloodless in comparison, even when they are *trying* to be lurid and sensationalist.

“I will not bore you with a reiteration of the so-called ‘flying-saucer’ nonsense, as it is now extant in more books and papers than I would care to enumerate.” (P. 15.) “The term ‘flying saucer’ is an abomination, preposteriously facetious, false, and irrelevant.” (P. 16. His complaint seems to be that they are hardly ever really saucer-shaped. He also complains against the term “UFO’: “that they ‘fly’, as we know flight, is rubbish”, p. 16.) “Heyerdahl is a perfectly splendid fellow [. . .] but he clings to an outmoded orthodoxy in a manner that is incomprehensible.” (P. 33.) “One does not wish to be grossly impertinent, but one is constrained to ask just what the heck is the matter with all the classes of skeptics, stuffed shirts, and other experts? [. . .] These two items are highly obnoxious to just about everybody, quite apart from the professional skeptics and other assorted clowns.” (P. 37.) “This list, while vey impressive, is frankly a crashing bore” (p. 42). “[M]y greatest delight is teasing stuffed-shirted experts” (p. 67). “[L]iterally hundreds of (from a mechanical point of view) obscene objects were reported” (p. 71). “The following may sound disreputably ‘cloak-and-daggerish’ and infuriate the stuffed shirts” (p. 77). “There is somethign dashed rum going on here” (p. 120).

Much of the time this ranting style is quite pleasant. One thing that annoyed me, however, was that he often jumps, for no very obvious reasons, between this very personal, very irascible authorial “I” and the sort of impersonal “we” that you wouldn't expect to find elsewhere than in an academic text or a royal proclamation. If he wanted to maintain a calm, detached academic tone, he would have to use “we” throughout the book and avoid venting his spleen on every other page. Therefore it was hard not to feel the use of the “we” as more like a pompous quasi-royal “we” (this feeling is further strengthened by curious constructs such as “[a]n old personal friend of ours”, p. 34; “I thought that this might be due to our having become bored with the whole UFO bit at that time — and indeed we personally did”, p. 68), which started to get on my nerves fairly soon. (Eventually it transpires that he had founded a “Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained”, pp. 164, 169, so presumably the “we” refers to him and other collaborators from this society.)

He also clearly enjoys taking swipes as “officialdom” and its helplessness and cluelessness when it comes to UFOs and similar phenomena. See pp. 17, 19, 67.

“taking the proverbial ungulate by its frontal protuberances” (p. 78) :))

He has an annoying fondness for words ending in -ic, such as “gravic” (p. 169) and “gravitic” (p. 175) — why the heck is ‘gravitational’ not good enough for him?

He cites quite a lot of sources, much more than is usual for paranormal books, but they are mostly to publications like the Flying Saucer Review, books by other UFOlogists, and newspaper articles. On p. 69 he mentions something from the New York Times, but doesn't provide an exact reference.

He says that he isn't interested in just piling together lots of facts: “It is not the ‘what’ that interests me but the ‘how’ and even more, the ‘why’ ” (p. 134). I agree in principle, but in subjects like this one, if you list the facts thoroughly and scrutinize them really carefully, you might have some kind of ground to sand on; but if you insist prematurely on proceeding into ‘how’ and ‘why’, you'll end up with nothing but yet another bullshit paranormal theory.

Interesting paranormal occurrences

Some of the more interesting of the unusual or paranormal occurrences mentioned in the book:

A ship listening for signals near the bottom of the sea, for the purposes of testing long-range underwater communications, caught the signal that had been transmitted to it during the course of experiment, “and then a repeat of the signal followed by a strange code which the computers are still trying to break” (p. 37); i.e., “ ‘something unknown’ ” picked up the signal and then “began transmitting its own signals on the same wavelengths” (p. 38). I hope they made sure that it wasn't just some kind of echo or random noise or something of that sort.

“For two weeks [in 1960] the Argentine Navy did everything in its power to track down two unidentified submarines detected in the Golfo Nuevo” despite the assistance of the U.S. Navy experts, equipment “and apparently uncounted tons of xplosives, the mystery subs eventually just went away, still unidentified” (p. 57). “And every nation owning so much as one submarine could well deny any complicity, because they all knew perfectly well that none of theirs could withstand the pounding these did” (p. 59).

Sanderson cites Vincent Gaddis' report about a cargo ship, the Ourang Medan, which sent out SOS messages ended by “All officers including captain dead [. . .] probably whole crew dead [. . .] I die” (p. 141). Rescue ships arrived in a few hours and found all crewmembers lying about the ship, dead, including the radio operator, “his lifeless hand still resting on the transmitting key. ‘Their frozen faces were upturned to the sun [. . .] the mouths were gaping open and the eyes staring.’ ” Soon afterwards a fire broke out on the ship, the rescue party left and minutes later, the ship exploded and sank (pp. 141–2). An excellent story, even if it isn't true — see the Wikipedia page, which casts some doubt on the whole incident.

His life

Sanderson seems to have had quite a colourful life (see the article about him in the Wikipedia), and glimpses into it appear every now and then in the book. “I was admonished in my youth by one of the most awesome personalities I have ever met, one Chief Ekumaw of the Assumbo people of the northern Camerun, in West Africa, to remember always that the proper place to begin a story is at the beginning.” (P. 28.)

Apparently he worked “as a counterespionage agent for a navy” during the war (p. 125): “My jurisdiction covered a considerable area of tropical seas [. . .] I was responsible for numbering thousands of craft in the area”.

“I was virtually brought up on the sea and lived for many years on my own schooner” (p. 138).

“I spent many years collecting animals in Africa, the Orient, and South America [. . .] a sting ray over six feet in width [. . .] turned up in a river that had been inhabited [. . .] for centuries [. . .] but nobody had ever seen anything like it before.” (Pp. 197–8.)

[To be continued in a few days.]

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Blogger lila said...

The moron that wrote this worthless evaluation of Ivan Sanderson and his work didn't bother to show his name anyplace and I certainly can understand why. What a bunch of stupid ravings.

Friday, December 25, 2009 9:12:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Lila.

It's tough to write a book review.
This reviewer seems in over his head, especially when commenting on the validity of the subject matter. Sanderson had probably done more in his life by the age of twenty then this writer will have done by the time of his or her death.

Friday, December 25, 2009 11:20:00 PM  
Blogger Anadæ Effro said...

I must echo both commentators ahead of me. After all, persons unable to process the validity of Sanderson's & his the Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained's contributions are probably afeared of the implications inherent in his œuvre … that we're not the Crown of Creation & that an underwater suboceanic civilisation jus' MIGHT'VE evolved concurrent with us landlubbers, with their own technology to match ours, or supersede it! ~ (•8-D

Thursday, January 28, 2010 2:06:00 AM  
Anonymous Joseph said...

Twice during my naval career, while flying over the ocean at night--once in the North Arabian Sea and once in the Atlantic, I and my crew witnessed about a dozen missile-like fireballs shoot up from the surface and continue out into space. Somebody is traveling from the ocean up into space. Sanderson's book tells of numerous unidentified objects entering or leaving the waters, as reported by official police and naval records. These such things have been reported for centuries. It's hard to deny official records and Sanderson, when you've seen it first hand.

Monday, April 26, 2010 5:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find it quite amusing that Ivan lambasted the term "Flying Saucers," since he himself wrote a book called "Flying Saucers Have Landed." Ivan was my father's best friend, and I knew him very well back in the 50s when I was a kid.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 8:21:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, my mistake...Ivan actually didn't write that one ... Adamski did.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012 8:22:00 PM  
Blogger Mark McCullough said...

The only thing "ill-advised" is your title and elementary reporting. And LEARN how to spell "dullness", will ya? What an insulting, impotent attempt of trying to discredit a man's research.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015 4:42:00 PM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Oh my :) I have no idea why this post gets so many angry comments! Maybe it isn't clear enough from my post, but I actually liked this book a lot. It contains plenty of amusing and bizarre stories and is written in a delightfully quirky style, refreshingly different from nearly all other paranormal books that I've read.

I just don't see why anybody would insist that the stories and theories in this book must be true -- it's obviously a book in the venerable tradition of the nautical tall tale, just slightly modernised with aliens and the like.

As for "dulness", that's a perfectly valid spelling of the word (and so is "dullness"). Your comment inspired me to take another look in my copy of Coleridge's poems and the spelling used there is definitely "dulness".

Saturday, January 10, 2015 6:05:00 PM  
Blogger msaint said...

Mr. ill-advised,
Dr. Sanderson was a man of profound scientific genius, and was world renowned for his scholarly contributions to the scientific body of knowledge. You are merely a person who finds it difficult to believe other biological beings can technologically transcend the homosapien paradigm. Since countless artifacts exists that the global scientific community unanimously agree could not have been created nor constructed by the human being, you appear as a naïve, uninformed, unerudite religionist who's head finds comfort buried in sand. As a scientist who is actually active in this field, I assure you that technologies exist here on earth that we, the scientific body are in perpetual consternation of, and are fully aware that these technologies lie beyond human understanding. I could tell you more because I know much more than I convey here however, law limits what information can be conveyed beyond this point.
Long story short, your credentials don't qualify you to opinionate nor pontificate this subject, and being that Dr. Sanderson's findings are accepted by all world governments and scientific communities as FACT, I'd advise you to earn a Doctorate or two in Forensic Anthropology and Mechanical Engineering accompanied with at least a MS before additional attempts at denigration of scientists who've forgotten more than you'll ever learn.

Sunday, January 18, 2015 8:09:00 AM  
Blogger ill-advised said...

Wahaha, nice one :P Did you swallow a thesaurus or something? I write in that style too when I'm angry :P I particularly loved the "opinionate nor pontificate" bit -- that almost rhymes! Keep up the good work!

P.S. You don't need qualifications in order to opinionate and pontificate -- in fact it's much easier the fewer qualifications you have!

P.P.S. In case anybody who isn't a paranormal crank reads this page, have a look at the wikipedia page about Sanderson and decide for yourself if his biography sounds like that of a world-renowned scientist. I think it would be more fair to describe him as a popular science writer and broadcaster. Nothing wrong with that, and he was apparently pretty good at it. But it doesn't mean that we should take his paranormal books any more seriously than we would otherwise.

Sunday, January 18, 2015 8:34:00 AM  

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