The Book Cellar
Join us at The Book Cellar as author Mark O'Connell talks about his new book The Close Encounters Man!
About the Book:
There is an iconic image that occurs in the last twenty minutes of Steven Spielberg’s 1977 science fiction epic Close Encounters of the Third Kind . In a shot that lasts just four seconds, a middle-aged, professorial man, sporting the type of wire rim glasses seemingly never out of style for scientists, steps forward to get a closer look at the mothership, stroking his grey goatee and fiddling with his pipe that he then places in his mouth. It is over almost before you know it, but the image lingers, because this man seems to be there for a special, perhaps secret purpose: while most others have backed away from the alien craft, he moves toward it with anticipation…
The man was not an actor, nor was he a moviemaker. In his first, and last, appearance in a major motion picture, astronomer and UFO guru Dr. J. Allen Hynek simply played his pipe-smoking, goatee-stroking, glasses-wearing self for four seconds. But that was enough for the man who invented the concept of the “Close Encounter” of the First, Second, and Third Kind and helped inspire Spielberg’s blockbuster. In that moment, Hynek became a figure in American pop culture, and his UFO classification terminology entered the public lexicon, where it remains firmly rooted today nearly thirty years after his death. The only reason Hynek was in the movie at all was because of a near case of plagiarism committed by Steven Spielberg, the evidence for which lies in Dr. Hynek’s professional files in Chicago, Illinois. The correspondence between Spielberg and Hynek, amusing in its mutual discomfort and embarrassment, lay undiscovered in Hynek’s papers until our author Mark O’Connell was given unprecedented access to the files by the Director of Hynek’s Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS).
In The Close Encounters Man, Mark O’Connell reveals for the first time how Hynek’s work both as a celebrated astronomer and as the U. S. Air Force’s go-to UFO expert for nearly twenty years stretched the boundaries of modern science and influenced popular culture.
Ever since the day in June 1947 when private pilot Kenneth Arnold looked out his cockpit window and saw a group of nine silvery crescents weaving between the peaks of the Cascade Mountains at an estimated 1,200 miles an hour, the media, the military, and the scientific community found that the best response to the flying saucer phenomenon was to belittle or deny it. “It can’t be,” went the Air Force’s guiding philosophy, “therefore it isn’t.” Hynek had been part of that cover-up effort, at first a big part. He enthusiastically debunked UFO reports on behalf of the Air Force for years. Then, he recanted. His agonizing transformation from skepticism to true believer is one of the great misunderstood and misreported stories of science. Conventional wisdom, still reinforced to this day, says that Hynek was a weak, timid man who sold out to the Air Force, enabled a government cover-up and betrayed the UFO “cause.” In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
With access to Hynek’s personal and professional files at CUFOS never before granted to a writer, Mark O’Connell tells the story of Hynek’s tumultuous career with an unprecedented level of detail and authenticity. What is more, by examining Hynek's often-ignored work as a professional astronomer, he creates a complete portrait of a daring man who pushed science to its limits and beyond.
About the Author:
Mark O’Connell broke into the television business writing several episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. His DS9 episode “Who Mourns For Morn?” was named by Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Charlie Jane Anders as #72 on the io9.com list of the Top 100 Star Trek episodes of all time. Mark has had feature film projects optioned and/or in development with Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Barcelona Films, Endless Entertainment Group and Al Ruddy Productions. Looking for a way to explore new media markets and experiences, Mark started the UFO blog “High Strangeness” (www.highstrangenessufo.com). Taking an off-center approach to the phenomenon, High Strangeness dared to embrace the weirdness and brought a new, often comedic sensibility to the rather self-serious field of UFOlogy. In the course of conducting research at the Dr. J. Allen Hynek Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS), Mark was granted complete access to write the definitive account of Dr. Hynek’s twin careers as an astronomer and UFO expert (and developer of the iconic “Close Encounters” terminology). He made his reality TV debut in 2015 in “Mysteries at the Monument” on The Travel Channel, discussing the ties between Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, the Steven Spielberg film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and the UFO work of Dr. Hynek. He lives in Wisconsin with his wife, Monica, and teaches screenwriting at DePaul University in Chicago.