“Loneliness! What won’t people do on account of it? And this loneliness, what is it really, but the cosmic loneliness and dread of abandonment that I talk about all the time, from which you can be saved the moment the first UFO lands here and one sort of creature or another comes out of it and gives you a friendly greeting.
“And if you ask me how I manage always to get back to UFOs and extraterrestrials from practically any subject I deal with, I’ll ask you the opposite question: How come you always wind up talking about food or sex or money or health or soccer, no matter what you’ve started out discussing? … Extraterrestrials and UFOs aren’t serious, respectable enough subjects, compared to the ones you like to talk about?”
The paragraphs above are taken from the 120-page-long ramblings of a man who’s half an extraterrestrial–or maybe one-third, or one-quarter; he isn’t sure which–who’s wandered among the galaxies and their alien races through a multitude of incarnations and reincarnations, and now has returned to Earth as to his boyhood home. He’s the hero of Shlomo Shoval’s Hebrew novel Lamah ha-Abameem Taseem B’derekh K’lal Bishloshoht, U-madua ha-Haizareem Lo Ohaveem L’hitztalem? Which means: “Why Do UFOs Generally Fly in Threes, and Why Don’t Extraterrestrials Like to Have Their Pictures Taken?”
The book was published in Israel in 2000. As far as I know, it’s never been translated. All the passages quoted here are my own translations.
“And if you tell me that you don’t see [my extraterrestrial origins] in any obvious way just by looking at me, this is because all through my journeyings I tried really hard not to assimilate myself too much to them, so I could preserve some Earthly identity and quality–at least on the outside–maybe deliberately, or in my inner awareness that some day I’d come back here as a normal civilized person, and not just any civilized person but a kind of preacher, maybe a prophet in a certain manner of speaking, not to say redeemer or at least proclaimer of redemption, or if we want to use language that’s a little more cautious and a little less pretentious: as someone who deals in practical redemption.”
About halfway through the novel we began to get hints about the more mundane aspects of the (unnamed) speaker’s life. He’s a middle-aged man, married, with a three-year-old son and a somewhat older daughter. He’s currently engaged in building a landing strip for UFOs in his back yard, in consequence of which his neighbors and so-called “well-wishers” have gotten half a dozen restraining orders against him. His wife is threatening to leave. His mother-in-law is looking into psychiatric hospitals.
His otherworldly experiences have broadened his horizons. Especially where sex is concerned.
“My stand is unequivocal: we live today in an open, pluralistic, democratic universe. I don’t believe anyone has any call to meddle, for example, in whatever relations may develop between a beautiful female from Alpha Centauri with a perfected brain cluster and some total ass from the Nile Delta. If she’s hot for him and wants to have complete or partial sex relations with him by mutual consent and practicing safe sex, that’s her private affair. Even if she picks some invertebrate or mollusk to do it with, that’s still nobody’s business.
“I also think that, overall–in spite of the great multiplicity of life forms in the universe–when all is said and done loneliness is still the cardinal problem, and, some people say, even the number one killer. Not only, therefore, is there no need to criticize, condemn, forbid, ban, or vomit upon anybody who takes part in any sort of exceptional contact whatever, but rather the contrary: one ought to show acceptance and understanding for all of these, even organize meetings and symposia. … In the name of that loneliness … I salute all lovers, whatever they may be.”
A comic novel? I suppose. Parts of it are laugh-out-loud funny. Yet a somber undercurrent keeps making itself felt–nowhere more powerfully than near the end, when the narrator tries to figure out what he’s been gabbling about for the past hundred or so pages of cosmic peregrination.
“When all’s said and done, I’ve tried to tell you a good story before bedtime, before that long and final sleep you’re going to have one of these days and from which you’ll never wake up in spite of all the stories they tell you, all the promises they make you, including everything I’ve said and promised and assured you myself. … The long night draws near, and I haven’t much more to say beyond Good night, sweet dreams.”
At the heart of the UFO fantasy: loneliness, death. Not unlike my own belief, which I’ve expressed in a variety of places, that the crux of the UFO mythos is the terrible paradox of death:
“Death–the most essential and familiar part of us all. Born in us, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, the instant we’re born. Yet also death–alien! Beyond all alienness! Through it I’m not me anymore; I’m nothing at all. … Easier to conceive of the most fantastic star at the edge of the farthest galaxy, the most inhuman, unrecognizable form of life and intelligence than to conceive of death.” (Journal of a UFO Investigator, p. 185.)
One of the greatest of our writers, the late Gore Vidal, appears to me to have had a parallel intuition. And now I detect something similar in Shlomo Shoval, in a novel written for a country to which, a generation or two back, UFOs meant nothing at all.
I learn from the bio printed on the back cover–just beneath the enthusiastic blurbs from distinguished publications like the Sirius Book Review (“At last! Something good has come out of Planet Earth”) and the Andromeda Times–that Shoval lives in Jerusalem, and was born in 1947. Same year as me. Facing his “long night” from about the same perspective as I face mine.
Why do UFOs fly in threes? (They don’t, actually.) Why don’t extraterrestrials like to have their pictures taken? Shoval never says. No matter. He’s written a strange, remarkable book, well worth reading by anyone, human or extraterrestrial.
Someone ought at least to translate it into English.