Revisiting the X-Files, Part 8: Hey, Did You Know David Duchovny’s (Sort of) Gone?

After a rather muddled sixth season (which itself followed an utter disaster of a movie whose existence had thrown the fifth season out of whack), The X-Files actually offered up a reasonably decent seventh season (if you ignore the utterly risible resolution of the “what happened to Mulder’s sister?” plot) which culminated in Mulder being abducted by aliens and Scully becoming pregnant. This allowed the mytharc to come back to life with two brand new mysteries – “Where’s Mulder?” and “How is babby formed?” – and also deal with the fact that David Duchovny, having become comprehensively tired of the series and wanting to explore other projects, forcing the show to adapt to a brand new Mulder-less format.

OK, so here’s the thing: Duchovny’s departure didn’t stick. Rather than entirely leaving the series, he was cajoled (perhaps with the aid of Fox driving a dump truck full of cash up to his front door) into sticking around on a guest star basis. In fact, he appears in about half the season, with small appearances depicting his peril in the initial two-part mytharc episodes and then returning to main cast duties in the second half of the season, which coincided with the most dense run of mytharc episodes the series had seen to date. Whilst season 6 and 7 had been light on the mytharc, season 8 is almost wholly consumed by mytharc in its second half, making up for lost time.

Speaking of stuff that almost wholly consumes the show, this season also saw a significant shift on the writing side. I’ve recounted how over time the show’s pool of writers tended to contract, until most of the writing was done by a four-man (emphasis on “man”) team of Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban, with occasional outside scripts filling out the rest.

Here, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan’s contributions are significantly contracted. Gilligan and, to a lesser extent, Shiban were concurrently working on the Lone Gunmen spin-off series, but then again so were Carter and Spotnitz. For whatever reason, for this season and season 9 (which followed the cancellation of The Lone Gunmen and therefore didn’t have that distraction as an excuse for this), the core X-Files writing team was effectively trimmed back to just Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, with Gilligan and Shiban’s writing contributions not amounting to much more than anyone else outside the inner circle.

To quantify this, a statistic: in both this season and season 9, over half the episodes of the season have their script credited to Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, or both of them. And of those, only a couple of episodes in season 9 involve Carter or Spotnitz collaborating with others – William had a script by Chris Carter distilling a story concept he’d worked on with Duchonvy and Spotnitz, and Jump the Shark was the last episode credited to the trio of Gilligan, Shiban, and Spotnitz – the last time either Gilligan or Shiban would be given a script credit alongside Spotnitz or Carter. One may worry that this would have the effect of making the pool of ideas and writing talent available to the show even shallower, and narrowing its vision to the Carter-Spotnitz duo’s personal take. Let’s see, shall we?

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Wild Palms Emerges From the Mirage

About a decade ago I reviewed Wild Palms, Oliver Stone’s five hour TV miniseries folly which was suffocated by various issues (not least being an attempt to be more David Lynch-y than David Lynch) but which still retains a haunting power, though perhaps more for what it hints at being than for what it actually is. Now, a decade later, I’ve found myself a copy of Wild Palms, the comic written by Bruce Wagner and illustrated by Julian Allen that inspired the miniseries, and I have discovered that elusive something which the adaptation yearned to be but, existing as it did in a wholly different medium, couldn’t be.

The comic originally ran monthly in Details magazine from late 1990 until May 1993 – the same month that the TV miniseries debuted. (In Allens’ eerie, often photo-referenced artwork, a publicity shot from the miniseries is snuck onto a television in the final episode of the comic; some pages earlier, Jim Belushi, who plays protagonist Harry Wyckoff in the series has a cameo as Jim Belushi, actor, meeting the original Harry Wyckoff.)

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Timothy Good’s History of Extraneous Knowledge

As Timothy Good notes at one point in Need To Know, his 2006 UFO tome, by that point in his career much of his back catalogue had gone out of print. This may explain why Need To Know not only rehashes a lot of old ground, but also seems to be a bid to claw back a bit of lost respectability.

To recap: Above Top Secret propelled Good into prominence in part because of its careful emphasis of actual government documentation to argue in favour of its first major contention (“various governments treat UFOs more seriously than their dismissive public statements would make you think”), in part because of the controversy surrounding the emphatically fake Majestic-12 briefing documents that Good incorporated to support his much shakier second point (“UFOs are alien spaceships and the US government has one which crashed in Roswell”). Despite the latter gaffe, and the weakness of the second point, the success with which Good argued the former point gave him an air of respectability and credibility rare in the field, if only because 50% wrong is a better track record than 100% wrong.

Then, however, Good’s next run of books (setting aside Beyond Top Secret, which was basically a spruced-up version of Above Top Secret) saw him going further and further out on a limb. Alien Liaison was much less cautious about diving head-first into the maelstrom of the UFO conspiracy subculture at the time, promoting theories about secret diplomatic contact with aliens and the claims of Bob Lazar, whilst Alien Base was, of all things, an attempt to rehabilitate the idea of the 1950s-style contactee in UFO subculture, and the claims of George Adamski specifically. Unearthly Disclosure saw him latching onto a few ideas of particular importance to him and trying emphatically to argue in their favour, with little success.

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Mini-Review: Zork

Text adventures had a long history even before Zork, but it’s Zork which is perhaps the most fondly remembered of the early wave, largely because it’s the game which established Infocom, who over the 1980s would become the most widely-revered designers working in the format.

The first Zork game has an almost archetypally simple premise, to the point where it doesn’t even offer you anything in the way of an introductory spiel: the game simply dumps you in a field west of a white house and lets you work out what to do from there. Unless you play deliberately incompetently, you soon enough make your way into the white house and eventually discover a route through its cellar into the game’s dungeon – which, as it turns out, is a small sector of the long-lost Great Underground Empire, a fallen civilisation of the past. Thus, along with portals to Hades and trolls and thieves and vampire bats and coal mines and the like, there’s a surprisingly modern reservoir and dam down there. In the long run, you’re expected to extract a bunch of treasures from the depths and install them in pride of place in the trophy case in the house, and once you’ve caught them all a deus ex machina points you in the direction of the next game.

The process of actually working out this much is arguably a puzzle in itself; equally, there’s a learning curve involved in working out how to play the game which is an illustrative example in people’s expectations of the early text adventures. As with Adventure, the inspiration for Zork, the odds that you’ll beat the game on your first run-through are slim; even though Zork is kind enough to give you multiple lives (though figuring out how to regain your possessions and/or your corporeal form once you’ve been killed is tricky), you’d have to be exceptionally lucky to not get the game into an unwinnable state, like accidentally breaking the crucial wind-up songbird or letting the iconic brass lantern run out of power before you find a reliable alternate light source. A large emphasis is on mapping so early run-throughs are likely to focus on that – a trickier task than you might expect since the game includes several mazes and often has rooms connected together obliquely. (For instance, the west exit in one room might be linked to the north exit on another room.)

Another aspect of cracking the game consists of timing. Your odds of slaying the thief and finally getting back the stuff he swipes from you are higher if you wait until you have a higher score to do it, but the longer you leave him in play the more of a nuisance he’s likely to become, so judging when the time’s right to go knife the guy can be key. Likewise, you’re going to need to snag that alternate light source sooner or later before the battery in your brass lantern runs out, but do you do this before you get the thief (in which case you run the risk of having your light source swiped from you) or after? And if you delay, do you still have enough juice left in your lantern for those segments of the game which still require it?

And whilst you’re figuring out the map and the best order to do things in, you also have to deal with the puzzles, which range from the extremely logical to the somewhat obscure. Of course, it’s worth considering that Zork, like Adventure, was originally developed to run on a university computer system, back in the day when personal computers were toys for hobbyists and most computer users worked on terminals connected to mainframes and minicomputers. Playing such games would be a much more social process than having a crack at a text adventure alone at home these days; odds are you were playing the game on a terminal in a computer room with fellow students and researchers who’d also played the game nearby you could ask for help or hints. This being the case, it makes sense that a few of the puzzles seem to require mildly obscure courses of action, just as it makes sense that the game doesn’t give you much in the way of help when it comes to working out what you were meant to do in the first place: developed, as it was, in a social context in which you not only could get pointers from your colleagues on how to proceed, but where you also had the millions-of-monkeys-at-millions-of-typewriters effect making it possible to add potentially quite nasty puzzles to the game and still be reasonably sure that at least someone will be able to stumble on the answer, it seems the developers had little to no opportunity to consider or observe how it may play differently for a user who had no access to help from friends playing the game.

This is why I think there’s no dishonour in using hints to beat the game when you’re stuck. To be fair, most of the puzzles are reasonably logical and have solutions which, whilst requiring a little thought, do absolutely make sense, though there are a few rogue incidents which I’d never have been able to guess (like one solution to the “Loud Room”, where typing “ECHO” resolves the situation but typing “SAY ECHO” doesn’t have the same effect). Luckily, Infocom understood that they could monetise this and produced numbers “InvisiClues” booklets which provided gentle hints in a non-spoilery way written with their characteristic wit, and since Activision haven’t been that litigious about Infocom’s copyrights since they bought Infocom out the InvisiClues booklets are available in handy HTML form for all to enjoy. By and large I find the system is good for giving me a nudge in the right direction without robbing all sense of achievement from the game – it’s the same reason I quite like the Ultimate Hints System website – and I’d argue that use of InvisiClues is as much part of the experience of playing Infocom games as actually sitting down and bashing away at the keyboard is.

Speaking of Infocom’s sense of humour, that is one of the major draws of Zork which helps stop the game becoming overly frustrating. The various text descriptions of places, objects, creatures and events are simultaneously economical (they had to be, back in those days of tight memory budgets) and evocative, and also manage to showcase a comedic style which would make Infocom natural collaborators with Douglas Adams for the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy text adventure and Bureaucracy.

Although I suspect most people won’t give Zork that much time unless they have a particular interest in text adventures, it is at least worth a quick look if you have a general interest in gaming history, and if you do dig interactive fiction it’s probably the earliest text adventure I can think of which I actually enjoy playing – so many of its contemporaries are let down either by an over-fussy parser or lacklustre prose that even though Infocom didn’t invent text adventures, I still regard Zork as representing Year Zero for seriously playable ones. Its two immediate sequels – The Wizard of Frobozz and The Dungeon Master – suffered a bit from some irritating puzzle mechanics – The Dungeon Master has an annoying maze, and the titular wizard in the second game largely spends his time randomly teleporting in and casting spells on you which momentarily inconvenience you, which usually requires you to wait until the effect wears off before continuing. It would take a little while for Infocom to evolve beyond this early dungeoneering style into the approach to adventure game design they’d become truly reknowned for.

GOGathon: Tex Murphy Solves the Third Dimension

Videogame fandoms in general can be a bit reactionary from time to time – both socially and politically when it comes to those quarters which drank the Kool-Aid on Gamergate, and in terms of the sort of gameplay and technology games use. The adventure game fandom is a particular case of the latter sort of reactionary fandom, with a golden age in the 1990s (or, if you’re a text adventure fan, the 1980s) put on a pedestal and much soul-searching as to why the hell commercial companies pursuing commercial profits spent their energy on more commercially profitable game genres instead of slightly archaic niche game types.

Back in the 1990s this ended up manifesting as a deep distrust in some quarters of the use of 3D. Even today, you could probably find some who think that a real graphical adventure game has 2D art, a third-person perspective, and either a point-and-click interface or a text parser, and games which don’t offer that simply aren’t adventure games. By and large, that’s become an extreme, niche perspective, and the general consensus is that you can have a perfectly good 3D adventure game, but in the 1990s the debate was much fiercer.

Part of this may have come down to the Myst factor. Next to The 7th Guest, it was the first example of what you could call a “slideshow-style” 3D adventures (relying on prerendered 3D and fairly limited movement controls), and it sold astonishingly well; it was also very focused on puzzles and fairly light when it comes to plot and characters. (It does somewhat better on worldbuilding, mind.) Compared to 2D adventure games of the era of the sort which Sierra and LucasArts were putting out, this seemed in some ways to be a throwback to earlier eras of adventure games, where puzzles where the main draw and storytelling was much more secondary.

As the decade rolled on, it became evident that 3D would be the future, but as we’ve seen it would take a while before Sierra and LucasArts accepted that – possibly because they that their own audience would struggle to accept it. LucasArts kept chugging away at traditional 2D until 1997, when Curse of Monkey Island took that approach to its peak; Sierra was more interested in experimenting with the possibilities of full-motion video (FMV), yielding material like the Phantasmagoria series or the second Gabriel Knight game. Sierra put out a small trickle of Myst-alikes using prerendered 3D, and LucasArts used a few prerendered 3D elements to paste over the cracks in The Dig, but it wasn’t until 1998 with Quest For Glory V and Grim Fandango that they would take the new step into realtime-rendered 3D for adventure games. Both companies’ experiments in taking adventure game-esque gameplay into a realtime 3D environment would have sputtered out by 2000.

It’s noteworthy, then, that a full 4 years before either of the big players in the genre attempted it, Access Software’s third Tex Murphy game dropped in realtime-rendered 3D environments as the main type of gameplay environment. The Tex Murphy games are more remembered for their extensive use of full-motion video (FMV) – also preceding Sierra’s own delving into the field – which has tended to obscure this aspect in discussion of them. However, when Sierra and LucasArts realtime 3D adventure games either involved somewhat clunky and widely-criticised control systems (Grim FandangoEscape From Monkey IslandGabriel Knight III) or incorporated extensive RPG elements rather than being a purist adventure, I think it’s worth looking back at Access Software’s series, since it seemed to crack the challenge of making a realtime 3D game with classic adventure game sensibilities to a level which both Sierra and LucasArts struggled with.

Mean Streets

The first game in the series, 1989’s Mean Streets, presents a classic hardboiled premise: it’s the fabulous postnuclear year of 2033 and Tex has been hired by Sylvia Linsky to investigate the death of her father Carl; the police think his fall from the Golden Gate Bridge was suicide, but Sylvia has her doubts. Carl was a neuropsychology professor who had recently been hired to do some top-secret consultancy work for MTC Corporation; as Tex pries deeper into Carl’s affairs and uncovers a string of dead or missing scientists, it becomes increasingly apparent that MTC’s agenda involves more than mere management training, but represents a conspiracy tying together invasive neurosurgery, mind control satellites and the ambitious of the fascistic, anti-mutant Law and Order party.

A lot of people will assume on beholding the cover art that Mean Streets has a certain very specific cinematic inspiration, and they wouldn’t be wrong. Mean Streets is in many respects Access Software’s attempt to make a Blade Runner videogame without actually having the adaptation rights to Blade Runner, just as much as Rise of the Dragon was Dynamix’ attempt to do the exact same thing. You have a Philip Marlowe knockoff as the protagonist, you have a flying car, you have a bounty hunting minigame and of course you have a cyberpunk aesthetic.

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Reading Clark Ashton Smith For the First Time Again, Part 5

The final volume of Night Shade Books’ Collected Fantasies series compiling Smith’s non-juvenilia genre writing, The Last Hieroglyph, has material spanning from 1933 to 1961. Even in the earlier stretches of this volume, it’s evident that Smith’s fiction output was slowing down; it’s worth recalling that he got into the game to earn money to help care for his ailing parents, but it could often take a fairly long time to either sell a story or to get reimbursed for the sales he did make, and so the glut of previous years may have started here to give way to a period when a) he was spending enough time chasing down previous sales and submissions that it impacted his writing time and b) the money coming in from delayed sales was sufficient that he could afford to ease off a little.

Come 1935, the death of Smith’s mother would prompt him to not only need to spend time grieving for her, but also heralded two years when Smith would need to nurse his father through his last illness. He would end up writing no stories in 1936, and only three in 1937. By the time Timaeus Smith died in December 1937, Clark was emotionally devastated; not only had his parents died, but both Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, his two best friends within the Weird Tales contributors, would end up dying to the great surprise and shock of their peers.

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An Unready Hero For a Genre Ready To End

In the 1980s, text adventures – or interactive fiction, if you want to use confusingly non-specific terminology which doesn’t take into account that a great swathe of other videogame subgenres and non-videogame endeavours also qualify as “interactive fiction” in the natural meaning of the word – were riding high. After the very rudimentary early releases of the 1970s and early 1980s, increasingly sophisticated parsers and greater disk space available for text allowed developers to create adventures with ever-richer stories, deeper worldbuilding and characterisation, and more satisfying prose.

To take an example, consider the development of Level 9 Computing, a UK-based developer specialising in text adventures. Their early releases, like the Time and MagikJewels of Darkness, and Silicon Dreams trilogies stood out at the time, but in retrospect seem to have ambitions well beyond the ability of the technology to deliver, and all too often the challenge involved less engagement with the actual puzzles and more trying to visualise what the game is attempting to describe to you without quite enough information to properly parse what’s going on. Later in the decade, however, they would hone their craft to produce material like Scapeghost, in which you play a ghostly detective who must solve his own murder.

It was this enrichment of the prose – the very thing which prompted Infocom and others to market their work as “interactive fiction” and hype up its literary merit – which kept the genre alive in the face of the increasing sophistication of graphic adventures. An additional contributing factor was that whilst an annoyingly fussy rudimentary parser is deeply annoying to the player to interact with and rather limiting to the game designer, a smart parser is a joy to interact with and can open up possibilities which the necessarily constrained interface of a graphic adventure can never quite match, and as the decade went on parsers got smarter and smarter.

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GOGathon: Curses! Grimly, Market Forces Throttled a Genre – But It Escaped, Dig It?

In the first article in my LucasArts retrospective I’ve covered the early SCUMM engine-powered adventure games of LucasArts, prior to The Secret of Monkey Island; in the second, I covered the incredible run of adventures they put out from the first Monkey Island to Sam and Max Hit the Road. Over the time period covered from those articles, from 1987 to 1993, LucasArts put out at least one adventure game per year, occasionally two. It was a fine time to be an adventure fan.

For the last decade during which adventure game development took place at LucasArts, from 1994 to the cancellation of Sam and Max: Freelance Police in 2004, the release schedule would be much more sporadic – in fact, they’d cancel at least as many adventure game projects as actually came to fruition. In 1994 no adventures made it out.

Part of this was down to the canning of not one but two attempts to make sequels to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis which had been under development in 1994-1995; it had become apparent that the European market, including Germany, was a major driver of sales for LucasArts adventures, to the point where that market was essentially the reason adventures were being greenlit in the first place. This makes it awkward to base adventures around a franchise where the bad guys prominently wear swastikas because they are actual Nazis.

However, the gap was not just down to this. Two projects which released in 1995 were the product of unusually long development cycles. One of these was a technologically ambitious affair whose long development cycle was inevitable in light of what they were trying to achieve; the other was a game that had spent over half a decade in various stages of development hell…

Full Throttle

Ben Throttle is the leader of the Polecats – an outlaw motorcycle gang cruising around a dilapidated American West in the not-too-distant future. The world’s moved on from folk like the Polecats; the regions of America they haunt seem to be rather tumbledown places, a post-apocalyptic world arising not from a flashy apocalypse of warfare or disaster but a slow slide into total neglect. The interests of megacorporations lie elsewhere, and even their motorcycles are relics of a bygone age – most vehicles now are based on antigravity hover technology.

One company, however, keeps the traditional American two-wheeled motorcycle alive – Corley Motors. Its founder, Malcolm Corley, is an old biker himself and is more than able to rub shoulders with his customer base, despite the business suit. His vice president, Adrian Ripburger, is a very different prospect – and has a vision for the company’s future that doesn’t include Corley or traditional bikes.

The Polecats are drawn into this plan when they are cajoled – through a bit of subterfuge that includes getting Ben out of the way – into acting as Corley’s outriders as he heads to the shareholders meeting. Ripburger exploits the opportunity to kill Corley and blame the Polecats for it – but Ben witnesses the crime, and is tasked with finding Corley’s true heir with the old man’s dying breath. It’ll take all of Ben’s brains and brawn – and all the horsepower his bike can give him – to get out of this scrape.

Continue reading “GOGathon: Curses! Grimly, Market Forces Throttled a Genre – But It Escaped, Dig It?”

Mini-Article: The Poisoned Rabbithole

A while back I reviewed Greg Bishop’s Project Beta, an account of how New Mexico scientist Paul Bennewitz ended up subjected to hoaxing at the hands of UFOlogist Bill Moore and AFOSI agent Richard Doty – supposedly at the direction of Doty’s superiors, who needed to steer Bennewitz away from reporting on signals he’d detected in the region related to a secret NSA project. Or, perhaps, Doty was just a bit of a Walter Mitty type who, having been given no AFOSI responsibilities more significant than running a mess hall, decided to make up this self-aggrandising mythology around himself and used credulous UFOlogists to do it.

Either way, the jig was up in 1989, when at the annual MUFON convention Bill Moore stood up and confessed to his role in the whole thing, justifying it by claiming that he’d been led to expect that by helping out with this he could get access to some juicy extraterrestrial secrets. Despite the fact that this, and Richard Doty’s subsequent revelations (even considering their rather self-aggrandising spin), should really have put paid to the idea of an underground alien base in the vicinity of Dulce, New Mexico, this is far from the case.

One of the more credulous treatments of the subject is The Bennewitz Papers by Christa Tilton, now most easily available in a possibly-pirated version entitled Underground Alien Bio Lab At Dulce. This edition was put out by veteran huckster Timothy Green Beckley, who seems to have made a small cottage industry of splurging his own writings and purloined material from others up on Amazon with absolutely shit-awful covers.

In this case, Beckley is being particularly shameless: as well as reprinting The Bennewitz Papers, he tacks on a bunch of appendices which are nothing more than freely-available articles from the Internet on the subject (like the ramblings of “Branton” or stuff from, and he even goes so far as to credit himself as a co-author – with Tilton getting second billing – despite the fact that there’s less text credited to him in this book than from anyone else.

All he provides in terms of original material of his own is a brief introduction in which he claims – in a way which seems intended to make this whole thing seem more sinister – that Paul Bennewitz committed suicide in 2003. I can find no corroboration of this – the death notice in the local press says nothing about it, Greg Bishop’s Project Beta doesn’t mention it, and you would think that if there were a finding of suicide or reason to think it was suicide other conspiracy theorists would have latched onto that. Either Beckley is breaking the family’s confidences in a really classless way – which would be odd, since Bennewitz’ family don’t talk to UFOlogists and so there’s no reason to think Beckley is at all close to them – or he is simply making shit up in an astonishingly distasteful way.

Speaking of making shit up, if there is any value to the material here – and frankly, even if you just trim it back to Christa’s own self-published book, it’s presenting a rather disorganised collection of notes more than a clear narrative – it’s an illustration of how over the years various people have desperately tried to infer that there’s more to the whole sad affair than meets the eye.

The obvious hoax aspects won’t stop people from trying to tell themselves that there’s an underground alien base in the area – or claiming that they worked there – and the whiff of government disinformation gives oxygen for folk who want to take a very extreme and not especially tenuous reading of material like Martin Cannon’s The Controllers – despite his own later disavowal of the theory. Cannon, in fact, gets mentioned in the acknowledgements section of Tilta’s book, quoted at the end to provide an alternate explanation, and even has some illustrations by him featured in here, and the idea that equally-flashy abduction experiences to those attributed to aliens were in fact happening but were being done by the government seems to be the main alternative theory presented here.

The truth is almost certainly much less flashy, but is also much more difficult to turn into a flashy story you can sell books on the back of. In the case of Bennewitz, what is often forgotten about the whole thing is that when you pull a hoax, disinformation operation, or gaslighting abuse on someone, you are effectively putting their sense of reality through a stress-test – and sometimes you get a catastrophic failure which breaks it entirely.

It’s pretty clear from the material here that Bennewitz was reporting stuff which, in retrospect, are pretty obviously signs of some variety of mental illness – that he believed he was receiving messages which simply weren’t there or things were happening to him that simply were not happening, and the hoaxing reinforced those delusional states of mind and may well have accelerated them.

In particular, it is notable that even here, where Tilton quotes from letters and documents that Bennewitz sent her (and reprints his entire “Project Beta” blueprint for an armed attack on the alien base) after she had apparently gained his trust, that the raw messages (or even Bennewitz’s decryptions of those messages) that Paul claimed to have received from aliens via his computer have never come to light. It is mentioned in the book that Paul thought he’d invented a way for him to communicate with his computer via thought – raising the very real possibility that at least a proportion of these communications with aliens just consisted of Bennewitz using something like a ghost box or some other thing and reading into it what he on some level was hoping to read into it.

Some of Bennewitz’s supposed findings are meant to be more concrete, but not meaningfully so. Bill Moore reported that what he saw from Paul in terms of other messages seemed to just be garbage which didn’t mean anything – just a bunch of noise which Bennewitz had developed a computer program to ascribe an essentially arbitrary meaning to, supposedly through the assistance of the aliens. The human ability to find signal where in fact there is only noise is legendary, and when people get into delusional states of mind it can go into overdrive.

Tilton’s own materials as assembled here make it clear that Richard Doty was telling different stories to different people at different times, but the UFO community seems to have been determined to cling to whatever they could have out of this whole sad affair anyway. Even Bill Moore, in his infamous MUFON speech, essentially declared that he thought it was all essentially true and all the disinformation that had gone out was just to throw people off the scent of the truth by telling more or less the entire truth.

The possibility that the truth is more banal and tawdry and shabby than we have been led to believe is not one that brings people much comfort. But the conviction that the truth must bigger, flashier, and grander than the lie is an intellectual fallacy which must be deeply mistrusted, lest it take you down contaminated rabbitholes like the Dulce, New Mexico situation.

The Warhammer Crime Case Files

After Chris Wraight kicked off the Warhammer Crime book line with BloodlinesNo Good Men comes along to give us a cross-section of looks at the crime genre-oriented fiction line’s setting, the hive-city of Varangantua in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. No Good Men is a title which invites the question “What about the women?”; they are here, and they are in significant supporting roles, but as we’re going to see they don’t exactly get much of an opportunity to take the lead role in a story.

Aberrant by Chris Wraight is another Agusto Zidarov story; set before Bloodlines (since his daughter has only just headed off to the schola here), it finds Zidarov asked by the Ecclesiarchy to track down some suspected mutants. Of all the three things the Imperium hates most – mutants, unsanctioned psykers, and xenos – mutants are the ones which are best-known in Varangantua; psykers are very rare, and the world is far enough away from most conflict zones that its inhabits question whether xenos even exist, but mutation appears everywhere in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and Imperial propaganda has primed Zidarov – and more or less everyone he speaks to in this story – to fear and despise the mutants.

This time around, the mutants Zidarov is tracking down – who are being used as slave labour – all have rather similar characteristics. It is remotely possible that they are Eldar of some variety (perhaps tricked into slavery by a Rogue Trader), though it feels more likely that they are a stable divergent strain of humanity like ogryns, squats, ratlings and other sanctioned abhumans – the sheer numbers of slaves, for one thing, suggests that we’re talking about more than a few renegade lone Eldar picked up here and there. Either way, the consistency of their features means that their mutations are not a sign of the favour of the Chaos Gods, making their persecution even less justifiable from an out-of-universe perspective. Heck, even Chaos mutations don’t necessarily mean someone is collaborating with Chaos – but in the setting the Imperium conflates correlation with causation.

(I guess they could be Genestealers – they have a unit called “Aberrants”, after all – in which case Zidarov has doomed his world through this call. I tend to think not. The consistency of the mutant features would not show up in a mass of Genestealers unless you happened to get a crop all from the same generation, and even then there’s significant variation within generations – the Aberrant units among Genestealers certainly would look far more monstrous than these mutants. On balance, I suspect Black Library would have opted against having the Warhammer Crime setting implicitly doomed by a Tyranid invasion as a result of decisions made in one of the first stories; if nothing else, Tyranid invasions are poor backdrops for the sort of crime story the line is meant to be about.)

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