That’s because I have been down this road before with researchers famous in the UFO field, most notable the great Jacques Vallée, who a few years back took a turn at fiction with his novel Fastwalker. It was pretty bloody awful.
Others in UFO or similar fields have also attempted a fictional turn with disastrous results, notably NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin who wrote a fantastically boring science fiction novel called Encounter With Tiber – and I refuse to even speak of Graham Hancock’s recent foray into fiction.
And so I was not only pleasantly surprised – but absolutely delighted by Mantle’s, Once Upon a Missing Time. This is a terrific book that delivered everything I expected from a tale of close encounters with strange beings – but the plot also took unexpected turns which makes this book a work of depth and pragmatic integrity.
As far as I can tell, the story is based on a bona fide UFO abduction event known as the Aveley Abduction which occurred on a dark country road in West Essex in 1974. I believe the story was first reported in Flying Saucer Review by writer and long-time UFO investigator Andrew Collins. Collins also writes about the Aveley Abduction in his recent book, Lightquest. (See my review of LightQuest HERE).
I’ve also seen the story of the Aveley Abduction bounced around in the endless echo chamber of the Internet – often with details slightly altered and with the “names changed to protect the innocent” – but with the core of the story essentially in tact. Some call it the U.K.'s “most important UFO multiple abduction case."
The events involve an ordinary family: Dad a school teacher and mum a social worker, who along with their 12-year-old daughter, enjoy a middle class lifestyle that couldn’t be more grounded and normal. But then they confront the extraordinary – or I should say – the extraterrestrials!
The result is the shattering of three lives. In additional to the eschatological shock of having their world views torn to shreds, the larger effect precipitated upon the close-nit, small-town and social network of their staid Yorkshire community is vexing, to say the least.
What makes Once Upon a Missing Time truly a top-notch read is Mantle’s considerable skill at creating vivid characters. He makes us feel strong empathy for them as they struggle with their stunning situation.
Believe me, taking a run-of-the-mill school teacher and a plodding social worker and selling them to the reader as interesting and sympathetic characters is no easy task for any writer – but Mantle pulls it off.
The author gets it done – in my opinion – by not being a blowhard and trying his hand at “great literature.” Rather, Mantle writes within his own capabilities. His years spent writing nonfictional UFO accounts and serving as editor of a number of UFO publications has provided him with the pragmatic clarity of a journalist, but also the expanded skill of observation required for someone in the endlessly enigmatic, twisted and tangled field of Ufology.
The result is tale well told, the ordinary made extraordinary, and a piece of fiction that displays a keen eye for what makes common people tick. It's a decent UFO yarn.
See more of Ken's Book Reviews
For stories of the extremely strange in Minnesota, see: MINNESOTA PARANORMALA