Jack Womack | FLYING SAUCERS ARE REAL

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Author Jack Womack is best known for his DryCo series of dystopian science fiction novels – 1993's Elvissey won the Philip K. Dick Award that year – but for the past fifty years, he's been collecting all manner of printed material related to UFOs. His collection is now known as the Jack Womack Flying Saucer Library and lives as part of the archives at Georgetown University's libraries. Womack's collection has been summed up by the author in a forthcoming book for Boo-Hooray and Anthology Recordings, entitled Flying Saucers Are Real. We spoke with Mr. Womack about this ‘visual history of the genre.’

STARBURST: In the early pages of the book, you tell the story of how you first got into all of this, with Frank Edwards' Strange World. What was the next step in this collection, and where did it go from there?

Jack Womack: The next step was simply buying each new collection resembling Strange World as they came out, and finding older ones that had come out a short time before. By 1965, a higher percentage of these books dealt with UFOs exclusively, as the 1965-67 UFO Flap began being covered in mass media, and the changeover was natural.

Was this an active collection - were you subscribing to newsletters and ordering publications, or were you waiting to see what you came across when out and about?

Just waiting to see what I came across, as there was plenty out there in both new and used bookstores (and drugstores etc.). 

The intersection of UFOs and religion is something which comes up again and again. Why do you think so many writers went from UFOs to starting what were essentially cults?

Post-bomb apocalyptic hopes and fears. Most writers of UFO material were former pulp specialists, or journalists hoping to make a book. At least, pre-1980.

Flying Saucers Are Real doesn't really focus much on abductee memoirs, despite the fact that they absolutely boomed in the '80s. What's the reason behind their relative absence?

Most contactee narratives, at least initially, are far more original. By the early ‘80s every abductee narrative was beginning to fit the template that developed, and become far more similar, more boring and, somehow, even more unbelievable. 

Is there a particular aspect of UFO culture to which you have a particular affinity, like the men in black, faked images, or the like?

The notion that a separate world exists parallel to ours, from which all the lunacy comes. But this world is more than capable enough to generate as much lunacy as is needed.

I was reading Flying Saucers Are Real concurrently with David Aaronovitch's Voodoo Histories, and I was sort of struck by the similarity in tone between the two books. You both allow these out-there theories to spin out and then shut them down with facts and not a little humor. How do you determine exactly how much of a voice to give the fringe?

In Flying Saucers Are Real, I wanted to give a voice to all in the field, from fully-skeptical to full-on believers, this being a historical overview of the period more from the point of view of how the belief first manifested before seeping so deeply into popular culture.

Additionally, you do give notice to the books which do a thorough job of debunking things, but mostly as lamentations that they weren't paid greater attention. Where do they fall in the canon of UFO literature -- are they of greater or lesser importance than the writings they contradict?

Within the period described, they are noble attempts at getting the actualities of the phenomenon across to an audience which didn't want to hear a thing they said. They are, effectively, existent but non-existent.

Now that your collection is at Georgetown University, and the book is coming out from Boo-Hooray, where are you in the world of UFO literature? Do you still seek things out, or are you content to let others now have at them?

I don't do active looking, but these things have always found me.

How do you feel that UFO interest has changed? It seems to me that it's a little less fun than it once was.

It's considerably less fun than it was in the ‘60s. UFO believers nowadays tend to be more in the political arena.

Flying Saucers Are Real is due out on September 16th from Boo-Hooray and Anthology Recordings. You can get it in either a regular paperback edition or a deluxe bundle with pins, a record, tote bag, and more. Both are available at shop.mexicansummer.com.


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