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 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
“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.
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.)