BooksWorld getting weirder

The New Apocrypha: A Guide To Strange Sciences & Occult Beliefs by John Sladek (book review).

With the USA intelligence services releasing their classified UAP/UFO reports, if you’re pursuing any early books on the subject, you’re likely to pause because you’ll have access to the real thing against authors who say they had the real thing. Tough call.

OK, so why am I looking at SF author John Sladek’s ‘The New Apocrypha: A Guide To Strange Sciences & Occult Beliefs’? Mostly because I pulled it last year and he was looking at the entire culture back in 1978 over 40 years ago, amongst other subjects.

Some things haven’t changed especially as he starts with flat earthers. When you consider 2% of Americans, about 20,000 people, today still hold this belief then nothing has really changed. Sladek treating this as his opening chapter goes through this, hollow Earth and such that you have to wonder what is taught in schools over the pond that this still persists.

However, in the next few chapters, Sladek looks at UFOs and describes Kenneth Arnold’s 1947 encounter, reminding us they were balls not ‘saucers’ and then the Tremonton, Utah in 1952 a few pages further in, footage here at and doesn’t spot the similarities. The total geek in my spotted the similarity to the book ‘UFOs Caught On Film’ pages 88-89 and in Campeche, Mexico recorded by Mexican military in 2004 and you need to look at and their footage. My jaw dropped because, essentially, we are looking at what Arnold saw. Granted, the reporters took his description of moving like saucers on water doesn’t quite resemble this but that’s reporters of the time for you. In a small aeroplane buffered by wind, then they’re bound to wobble a little. The fact something has been reported in three different instances at high altitude in three different places, pilots and times and still unidentified but flying has to be significant. Ball lightning does not fly across the sky in formation. I’ve never actually seen any so looked it up: Big singular balls with a lot of flash. Not that alike, are they? Whether whatever what are are extra-terrestrial, I would hesitate on simply because there is still a remote chance it is an unusual weather phenomenon but its an unusual confirmation of something in the skies that keeps popping up. My jaw is still dropping from making the connection.

Quack medical cures are still going strong today and often even more blatant. Ever wonder about these ‘acids’ in some hair shampoos that you’ve never heard of before? I did wonder if Sladek would hit on placebos and he does 40 years ago. He makes a telling remark that the quacks take credit for the placebo effect when really the body is curing itself. Self-belief works fine for a lot of people but if you have any serious illness see a professional medical than take chances. Humans can be very good at telling the difference between being well and ill.

Please bear in mind that I’m picking out pertinent interests from a variety of subjects in this book. I always treated statistical analysis of ESP as more akin to performing animals than real observation. If that was going to work, it needs to get to a euphoric effect where the conscious mind lets go to the unconscious mind doing most of the work. I knew a lot of cheating was being done but Sladek shows how flawed the tests themselves were. Much of ESP is used in real life but often not seen as such with avoiding things instinctively without knowing why being a significant one.

Sladek spends several chapters going over crank claims, some even made by respectable scientists showing that they can be as fallible as anyone. He doesn’t even hold back on SF editor John Campbell but, then, we all know about his fatal flaw. I do wonder what Sladek would make of current day writers introducing anti-gravity as if it was entirely possible ata turn of a switch?

His look at the use and misuse of numbers is fascinating but also a harder read because it covers a lot of (mis)used land. His point about the statistically likelihood of a group of people having the same birthday is still accurate. Analysis since his time has shown that most conceptions are in the autumn/winter period which, statistically, means they odds of people having birthdays around the same time higher.

Have I given enough about this book for you to take a punt? I should point out that Sladek did not write this book as being angry at people’s stupidity or naivety but more to counter the misinformation that was circulating at that time. I found myself measuring how many are still issues today. Things like fortune-telling has slipped down the media public consciousness although still around. Then, horoscopes are still accepted as if the position of stars billions of light years away have any effect on your lives. I think some people feel a need to believe in something contrary to reason. Most of us here, hopefully, can reason. Even so, we really need a voice of reason today covering current beliefs and showing they aren’t quite right and Sladek’s book still stands up today.

GF Willmetts

September 2023

(pub: Panther, 1978. 376 page paperback. Price: varies. ISBN: 0-586-0394-0)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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