The Miracle Visitors: Gollancz Collectors Edition
(Gollancz, £9.99, 239 pages, paperback, first published 1978, this
edition 12 June 2003.)
Twenty-five years after its first publication, Ian Watson's Miracle
Visitors makes a return
appearance courtesy of Gollancz's eye-searingly yellow reprint series.
This deeply contemplative tale of flying saucers would have debuted
at around the time that UFO fever was sweeping the UK; it resurfaces
now in the wake of The X-Files and a vogue for all things Grey.
Its central observations remain incisive and thought-provoking, but
Miracle Visitors is starting to show its age somewhat. But we're
getting ahead of ourselves.
John Deacon -- not the musician -- is a doctor of psychology at Granton
University and founder of the Consciousness Research Group. Under hypnosis,
student Michael Peacocke relates to him the details of an adolescent
UFO encounter, which Deacon initially rationalises in Freudian terms.
Peacocke takes a more literal view, and brings in Barry Shriver, an
American ex-pat and ufologist. As the UFO phenomenon intrudes ever more
into their lives, the three men reach some startling conclusions about
the relationship between flying saucers and the human mind.
Mixing together Forteana, psychology and a healthy dollop of Eastern
philosophy, Miracle Visitors proposes an explanation of UFO activity
that I can only describe as mind-expanding. It's not entirely novel
today -- I've seen similar ideas expounded elsewhere in SF, and in Fortean
potboilers -- though I imagine that in 1978 it was fairly ground-breaking
stuff. I think, however, that it may be a little too "far out" for today's
cynical readership, and this is really the book's main drawback: it's
very much of its time. It's definitely an ideas book more than a people
book -- the characters are too functional for the reader to really empathise
with any of them. Moreover, the text is chock full of info-dumping,
that process whereby a character passes on to the reader -- and, incidentally,
another character -- some nugget of surplus research not entirely fitted
to the conversation at hand. The book overall harks back to a former
age of SF when such traits were more easily tolerated, even expected;
in comparison with much of modern SF, it seems clunky. But it does contain
some of the most remarkable ideas you're likely to come across in any
book this year.
Miracle Visitors is a fine book, but not Watson's finest by
some way. It deserves a re-reading, but I'm not entirely sure that it
Review by John Toon.