Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Outer Limit by Graham Doar: The UFO Parable (Part 2 of 5)

In our prologue, Flying Saucers, the Atomic Bomb and Doomsday, we looked at how even prior to the arrival of flying saucers, there was a belief by some that extraterrestrials had an interest in our fate and that they might do what the United Nations could not, stop war and eliminate the threat of the atomic bomb.

The Outer Limit

Graham Doar's story was published in The Saturday Evening Post on December 24, 1949. "The Outer Limit" deals with an interrupted journey, the test flight of an experimental rocket plane, the disappearance and strange, miraculous return of the pilot, and it featured now-familiar elements, put together for the first time:

A UFO encounter, an alien abduction, missing time, contact with an advanced benevolent extraterrestrial race, telepathic communication, and a dire warning to the Earth about the use of atomic weapons. At least one adaptation of the story includes the use of hypnotic regression to recover memories of the encounter, but wait, there's more! Faced with a credible witness of a relatively incredible event, the colonel in charge chooses not to believe, and there's the suggestion that the UFO report will be covered up.

Illustration by Melbourne Brindle

At the time the story was written, there was little serious discussion of flying saucers as coming from outer space. When saucers were discussed as being real, the most popular explanation was that it was some aircraft project that the government was keeping secret as they'd done with the Manhattan Project to develop the atom bomb. About the only saucer space talk outside of was in Raymond Palmer's Amazing Stories and Fate magazines were the early iterations of Silas Newton's hoax about little men that were circulating at the time. Plenty of people were reporting seeing flying saucers, but only a very few beyond the far fringes were discussing contact.

Pioneering pilots were heroes, space was the next frontier, and that's part of the reason for the story's popularity.  In 1948, test pilot Chuck Yeager made headlines for his XS-1 flight breaking the sound barrier, and this story was about pushing farther out. By focusing on the heroic pilot on a dangerous experimental test flight, it grounded the story in reality, and set up a suspenseful situation before introducing into the unearthly elements. However, the story starts with a tease that this will not be a routine mission. What follows is a fairly lengthy summary that strives to include the points and dialogue of UFO interest. It's taut little story with a few twists.
Patrolship, SJ23, Galactic Guard, Sector K, reporting.... Pursuant to instructions, from the Central Council: Planet 3, Star 5, Galaxy C, Sector K has been placed under absolute quarantine. Notification to inhabitants made. Mission accomplished.                                                                               XEGLON, Commanding.
Doar's story then joins Bill in his experimental test flight of the X2JTO, powered with only enough fuel for a ten-minute trip to the edge of space. At the edge of space, he sees sunlight glinting off a distant object above him.
He didn't believe it. He knew all the standard explanations of the great flying-saucer plague – the runaway balloons, the planet Venus, hallucinations bought on by strain and weariness. Whatever this object was, this metallic ellipsoid turning slowly above him, it wasn't a ship. He knew that. But he had six minutes fuel left and with all eight rockets boosting him along, he could run rings around anything. A closer look wouldn't hurt. He pointed the shark's nose at that far-off gleam.
Killers from Space, with a similar scenario.
The story shifts to the colonel, Hank, who after a 9-hour search, had finally given up the pilot and plane for lost. The X2JTO was forty miles up when the radar screens went blank. A call comes in that the ship has returned. Bill greets him, and says, "Sit down Hank, this one will knock you over."
When the colonel asks him where's he's been, Bill says, "What's your idea about the flying saucers, Hank? "The colonel ignores the question saying "First things first. I want to know– I've got to know – how you stretched ten minutes' fuel to keep you in the air over ten hours. "
Bill asks that the ship be checked with a Geiger counter., and when the colonel wonder if Bill should also be checked for radioactivity, Bill says, "No. No, I'll be all right. They told me I'd be all right." 
The colonel thinks, "If he's getting ready to feed me one of those men-from-Mars yarns, I should get the psychos (psychiatrists) in right now."

As Bill describes his encounter, he becomes increasingly agitated
“Well, Hank, I chased me a flying saucer. And I caught it. Or rather it caught me.”
“There was a humming sound – a kind of gentle vibration... sort of twang, as though I’d run into a harp string, and the – the black came down over me... (he thought he was going to crash into the saucer.) I came to inside their ship!"
At this point, the colonel mentions Bill seeing the psychiatrist, Major Donaldson. Bill would rather put it off until tomorrow and get drunk instead. "...I've just been tipped off to the way the world ends."
Continuing with his story, he says, "Well, I came to, inside the ship, and I was surrounded by – let's call them men. "
"I don't know what they look like. They were just – presences. There were a lot of them – I don't know how many. The inside of the ship was jammed completely full of incredibly intricate-looking machinery, and the noise was utterly deafening."

"I was angry, too – it seemed so – so belittling. But then suddenly I wasn't angry there was nothing to strike at. Anyway, they seemed friendly, even gentle." The colonel asks if they spoke English.
"They didn't speak. They just – planted the ideas in my own head. It was just suddenly – suddenly it was there – in my mind."

With that, Hank stops and brings in Major Donaldson, the psychiatrist, Major Donaldson, and after bringing him up to speed, Bill continues the story, saying his captors said they'd had their own wars but, "Now they have outlawed war throughout the sectors of space they patrol, and everywhere else they can reach. Whenever their detector system picks up traces of an atomic explosion, they send a patrol with certain preventative powers."

That brought them to Earth, where, “They found wars and rumors of war. Factories busily turning out atomic weapons. So they quarantined us. This intergalactic board of health decided we were infected with a communicable disease. They sealed us off from the rest of space until we were well.”
He goes on to describe the quarantine and the method used. "Out there– about a hundred miles out– they've spread a layer... when the radioactivity in this layer of –whatever– rises above the normal level of cosmic activity the particles will begin to fission... this spinning globe will be a roaring ball of flame that will pale the sun." 

As an afterthought, Bill says "We can forget about those atomic-powered spaceships, too, colonel. You can see that don't you? Unless we can figure out some way to shield the exhaust. On second thought, we won't last long enough for that to become a problem. Just forget it. That's best."

"That's the story. The whole thing. They finished with me, I heard the harp twang again – and I was in the plane gliding back down. You saw me land. Now, colonel, with your permission, I'm going over to the club and tie one on."

The colonel orders Bill to get some rest and instructs Donaldson to give him a sedative so he will sleep. Hank orders a sergeant to take Bill to his quarters and guard him all night. "Keep your eye on his pistol. He's been under the hell of a strain."

(The above photos are actually from the 1954 movie starring Peter Graves, Killers from Space, which seems like a bad, unofficial adaptation of "The Outer Limit." The working title for it was "The Man Who Saved the Earth," but Killers goes in a goofier, dumber Bug-Eyed-Monster direction, with an alien invasion using A-bomb-powered giant insects to conquer the Earth.)

There's an interlude, picking up from the intro, Xeglon's report to the Central Council:
Record for file… Record for file. Xeglon, commanding Patrolship S2J3, to Sector Commander Zzyl, Galactic Guard, Sector K.Patrol commander Pgot informed me that you requested this early, informal report on Mission S2K-C5-3 and I prepared it at once.
Several paragraphs of Xeglon's log are presented. There were initially nine ships dispatched to scout Earth, but Xeglon's was assigned to stay behind and complete the mission. He reports the difficulty of establishing meaningful contact, about how they'd tried before. "The creatures employ a method of communication not heretofore found." He goes on to say, "Our earliest attempts at communication resulted in jamming and even destroying the nerve paths of the specimens we selected."

There was a mention of risk versus reward, "Obviously a landing was out of the question. We should have had to destroy thousands of them in order to seize one and might even have suffered some losses ourselves. You know the problem of regeneration with no greater facilities than our patrol ships carry."

Ultimately it was the medical science department that delivered a technological solution. "It was now that our psycho-men really distinguished themselves. With their previous observations added to estimations of brain convolutions and mass, they set up a mechanical hypnotor that established contact on the very first try." There were barriers to communication not understood well by Xeglon, but he described the humans' adrenaline surge and the reaction to disbelieve the unbelievable. "Our team worked patiently at this for some time and were despairing in getting through when to our surprise, the creature broke it down himself." With communication established, they were able to complete the mission and free their captive. 
"Having made contact, we fixed the creatures mind, implanting the necessary warning as to the nature of the quarantine, the reasons for it, the conditions under which it may be lifted. His grasp of the entire concept at last complete we released him, close to the pick-up point, and traced him to the surface."

He calls the apparatus 
"Catalyst X," the method to quarantine/destroy the Earth. "We proceeded now to sow the catalyst in the predetermined depth, and mission accomplished, to depart for our station. Two time-periods out from the planet, we switched to space drive. Message ends. XEGLON."

With that, there's a return to the narrative, the finale, with Hank and Donaldson discussing Bill"s problem and his treatment. The psychologist expresses regret that a good man has cracked up. The colonel says, "He's the best, Donaldson. That combination of guts, loyalty and lightning reflexes comes about one in ten million." At this late point in the story we find out that Bill is overdue for a promotion to major, and that he's a family man, "His wife's having another baby, you know. It's his third." They think that Bill is tough and will recover from his episode. 

As they are saying goodnight, the psychiatrist gets the closing line of dialogue.“Oh colonel. There is one thing. It’s outside my field, but I’m curious. How did he keep that plane in the air for ten hours – with only ten minutes’ fuel?”
. . .

The danger the Earth poses is to itself, but it's implied that with the emergence of space travel, Earth could contaminate other worlds. The Central Council seems to be the governing body of outer space, a higher authority, and Earth unknowingly is under its jurisdiction. The Galactic Guard is here because Earth has broken the law.

The story leaves no time to dwell on the ethics of the aliens imposing a quarantine on Earth, it moves at such a clip we're focused on the experience of the pilot and his struggle to deliver the message and have it believed. The Central Council couldn't take away Earth's weapons, but they ensured that using them would have severe negative consequences. 

Another alien meddling in Earth's affairs.

The physical nature of the aliens is left a complete mystery, but humans are so unlike them, or anything they've seen, that there is a struggle to establish communication for their message. 

Bill's phrase, "the way the world ends, is a nod to "The Hollow Men," the 1925 is a poem by T. S. Eliot,  "This is the way the world ends, Not with a bang but a whimper."

The author had an awareness of the flying saucer lore of the time, and it can be inferred that the nine Galactic Guard ships were the ones seen in 1947 by Kenneth Arnold and others reporting formations of multiple saucers. It could also be that the previous failed attempts to communicate with humans refers to the death of Captain Thomas Mantell.

The report by Xeglon is the key indication to the reader the experience was real. Bill's narrative is ambiguous and he just has no memory of either entering the spaceship or bring returned to his plane.

It's not directly explained what happened during the other missing hours from Bill's memory, but that seems involve the time it took for Xeglon's men to establish contact with Bill.

Another bit of trivia, the aliens have interstellar drive, called "space drive."

The "Brotherhood of Worlds" may be a lot like the United Nations, but all we can be sure of is that their Galactic Guard is their police force, and that despite their technological advances and "friendly, even gentle" demeanor, there's still a bureaucratic hierarchy and plenty of reports to be filed.

The O. Henry-type surprise "snapper ending," would be incorporated into the structure of EC Comics such as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science and Rod Serling's television show, The Twilight Zone.
In this story, the disbelief in Bill's tale is disrupted by the facts, the impossibility of his ship's return.

Graham Doar's "The Outer Limit’ also appeared in an anthology edited by Groff Conklin,
Big Book of Science Fiction in 1950, reprinted in 1978 as The Classic Book of Science Fiction.

Joseph Graham Doar, 1912 - 1985, served in the Army as a corporal in the Engineering regiment in the Mediterranean during World War II. Afterward he became a freelance writer and besides "The Outer Limit," went on to write a few other stories, for BluebookCollier's Weekly, and science fiction magazines. Doar's name was most often published in ads for the Palmer Institute of Authorship, a correspondence course for writing that seems to have done many aspiring writers some good.

Palmer Institute advertisement from
Astounding Science Fiction, June 1953

In our next installments, we'll look at
Radio, Television & The Outer Limit Legacy (Part 3 of 5)
Ufology & The Outer Limit Legacy (Part 4 of 5)
Hollywood & The Outer Limit Legacy (Part 5 of 5)

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  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. You mentioned you were going to cover the radio versions. The one I've heard had a grim ending. I'm wondering if the same ending was used in the original short story.

    Palmer Writing School. I'm learned more about writing fiction from that correspondence course than all of my college courses. In fact the head of the English Department at my college gave me three credits for finishing the Palmer program. He had taken the same program while in the navy. But I never succeeded in getting any of my fiction published.

  3. Grim ending? I'm guessing you heard the Dimension X version, then. Part 3 will be posted 9/14, so you'll be able to compare.

    I was expecting the Palmer course on writing to be bogus, but found several references to satisfied customers and published authors. Glad to have a personal testimonial on it from you.

  4. The bogus one was Famous Writers School. (Sorry, Rod Serling is too busy to personally evaluate your work.)



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