Borderlands (The Ultimate Exploration of the Unknown) was first published in 1997 and written by Mike Dash. The book takes an entertaining and comprehensive look at various strange phenomena and unexplained mysteries but with a slightly skeptical, reserved and intelligent approach. UFOs, Ghosts, Bigfoot, Crop Circles, Sea Serpents, Alien Abductions, Roswell, Milk-Drinking Statues, Loch Ness and much more besides. Dash tells us at the beginning of the book that we are about to enter the 'Borderlands', an enigmatic world where almost anything seems possible but is also quick to point out that most legendary mysteries and strange tales and legends, while good fun, are usually never verified fact but often hoaxes and misperceptions. 'For this reason,' he writes. 'Almost every case cited in the book could be, and perhaps should be, peppered with qualifications such as alleged and supposed.' There is an awful lot of rubbish in this particular genre but the articulate and level-headed Dash produces a well written and fascinating book crammed with information here and tends to lean towards a psycho-social explanation himself. 'To what extent,' asks Dash. 'Are we ourselves are the real phenomena?'
The book (my paperback copy is well over 400 pages) is split into 12 chapters which look at separate strands of unexplained or mysterious phenomena from aliens to strange creatures that might lurk in the hidden corners of the world. Dash begins Borderlands in a very entertaining fashion by trawling through a series of strange events and tales from around the globe, like the man who had the most delicious meal of his life at a small guest house and returned later with a friend only to find it apparently didn't exist, strange alien looking children once discovered in Britain, and the Brujeria, a tribe of ghosts who live in the impenetrable forests of an island off the coast of Chile and plot the downfall of mankind. Dash's main theme is that most of this is all in the mind and rooted in folklore and literature rather than reality. The UFO phenomenon spiraled in the wake of the fifties penchant for sci-fi epics with flying saucers and further far out influences like Star Trek and Close Encounters of the Third kind.
Before this introductory chapter is out, Dash tells us about a Japanese Boeing 747 crew that saw a UFO the size of 'two aircraft carriers' en route to Paris that disappeared so suddenly it left nothing but the light of the moon. 'South again, to the United States,' writes Dash as he charts these weird tales from around the world. 'Where apelike monsters prowl, where the modern age of flying saucers began in 1947. From a vision of the Virgin in a Patagonian bedroom to an encounter with the Devil in an Irish pub; from the great sea serpent of the North Atlantic to giant wheels of phosphorescent light spinning slowly beneath the tranquil waters of the Persian Gulf.'
Dash discusses various hoaxes in Borderlands such as the early twentieth-century case of the 'Cottingley Fairies' where two schoolgirls took photographs of what they purported to be fairies at the end of their garden and managed to convince no lesser figure than Arthur Conan Doyle that they were possibly genuine pictures - despite them looking laughable to modern eyes. It was only in 1981 that one of the girls, then in her eighties, confessed that it was all cobblers, the 'fairies' simple cut-out illustrations from a book. Dash suggests that all of the more vintage film shot of the Loch Ness monster is probably a model being towed slowly through the water. 'Most photographic hoaxes rely either on models of some sort, or on the technique of double exposure,' says Dash. The author seems to be highly dubious about the whole crop circle thing too and notes that the amount of researchers investigating this phenomena has dwindled over the years due to hoaxers claiming credit for the pretty spirals that suddenly began appearing in fields around Britain. 'The crop circle saga is perhaps the single best example of a phenomenon riddled so rotten with fraud that it collapses from within.'
Dash is a little less sure when discussing the most 'influential' of all monster footage, the twelve-second sequence of 16 mm cine camera film shot by Roger Patterson in 1967 of what appears to be a large Bigfoot deep in the forest walking slowly away in the distance by a small river. Although Dash quotes an anthropologist saying the creature's gait could have been duplicated by a human and vaguely mentions stories in Hollywood of it being a hoax by special-effects/make-up people, Dash does note that: 'The hoax - if that is what it is - must have been a relatively sophisticated one, since the Bigfoot in question appears to be a female endowed with pendulous breasts. Several analysts have pointed to a realistic-looking ripple of muscles under the skin, and Patterson and Gimlen backed up the film with a number of plaster-casts of footprints apparently left by the creature.'
Dash tells us that new species are being discovered all the time and our knowledge of the animal kingdom is not yet complete but that the new discoveries are mostly fish, insects or sometimes birds. 'The problem, of course,' writes Dash. 'Is that the majority of cryptozoologists are not really interested in the minutiae of classifying new variants of beetle, nor even with the rediscovery of fossil fish.' They are naturally, he tells us, much more likely to be in the jungle with a television crew investigating dubious claims of a local dinosaur or something rather than poring over slides in a dusty study.
Some of the various urban legends and conspiracies are a lot of fun even if you don't believe a word of it. Dash mentions the so called 'Philadelphia Experiment' when, in 1943, the US Navy apparently conducted a top secret experiment designed to render an entire warship invisible. A destroyer - the USS Eldridge - was supposedly surrounded by a force-field so powerful it made the ship invisible and a later experiment transported it to another location. The results of these experiments apparently caused the crew to either combust or go insane. 'Today,' writes Dash. 'The strangest thing about the case is not the suggestion that that US Navy possessed in 1943 technology that would have made the government's subsequent multi-billion dollar investment in stealth technology an irrelevance, but the absence of basic research by the many people who had written about it.' Borderlands is packed with fascinating and sometimes enjoyably spooky and strange stories, mysteries and sightings and the analytical approach of the author makes it an intelligent book but a book than nonetheless remains a lot of fun to read.
If you have a weakness for mysteries and strange phenomena and have ever pondered on that Bigfoot footage, the possible existence of aliens, ghosts, sea monsters and so on, then Borderlands is an essential purchase.