Then there are the oceans, almost entirely vacant of man-made lights. Our seas, so often taken for granted, are like vast tombs from which even the most unseemly phantasms might emerge; we ply their waters at our own peril, distantly aware that we might find ourselves in the company of others.
The Earth is ancient, its biosphere only slightly less so. For four-billion years our world has has secreted life. The advent of homo sapiens is alarmingly recent in comparison. We're like foundlings washed upon some alien shore, stifling our fears by pretending to a feeble omnipotence. Having launched spacecraft to the outer planets and inspected the crater-pocked wastes of Mars through the unblinking eyes of rovers, it's easy to entertain the idea that we're the first, evolution's sole successful stab at the phenomenon we casually term "intelligence."
Yet as we watch night erode the familiar highways and stadiums and ever-encroaching suburbs, our confidence falters. Already, technological forecasters envision a near-future populated by our artificially intelligent offspring. Perhaps as our most cherished certainties crumble in the glow of a new century -- full of danger, portent and enigma -- it's become relatively easy to contemplate the presence of the Other: not an other new to our planet, but one predating our own genetic regime. Something unspoken and ancient yet nevertheless amenable to science . . . an intelligence with an almost-human face, until recently content to abide by the shadows of our complacency.
But since the middle of the last century it seems to have asserted itself with a vigor hitherto found only in the domain of folklore. Understandably daunted, we've relegated its existence to the margins of perception: hallucination, war fever, misunderstood natural phenomena, delusion, butchered recollections of dreams best left forgotten. We see lights dancing in our sky and invoke impossible meteors. Landed vehicles accompanied by surreal humanoids become military test aircraft and their diminutive pilots. The emaciated creatures seen aboard apparent spacecraft -- or, more portentously, within rock-walled caverns -- are summarily dismissed as sheerest fantasy or, at best, as the spawn of novel brain dysfunctions.
In the decades since 1947, dawn of the contemporary UFO era, we've confronted a parade of strangeness that has rallied uncritical enthusiasts and rattled entrenched authority, leaving a bizarre residue that defies attempts at categorization as certainly as it elicits hypotheses.
(Work continues on "The Cryptoterrestrials" . . .)