Photo by Frederick Meekins
Photo by Frederick Meekins
In most science fiction stories, extraterrestrial technology is unveiled to the world when it is piloted to earth by proverbial little green men or bug eyed monsters. However, in Saucer, Stephen Coonts presents a scenario where man’s initial exposure to a civilization from beyond the earth does not occur overhead but rather from beneath our feet.
In Saucer, Coonts details the account of a spacecraft unearthed in the Sahara desert and the international intrigue that results as various nations conspire to acquire the vehicle from an egomaniacal Australian industrialist.
Though the novel focuses primarily on the actions of the factions jockeying to acquire the saucer, Coonts brings up a number of intriguing questions that he raises even if he does not answer them directly.
Scattered throughout the novel are a number of comments examining the philosophical ramifications of evidence suggesting life beyond this earth.
Some seem to be more the opinions of the characters themselves. For example, in discussing the saucer with the President, an advisor says, “You have to do something about these saucers. The Bible thumpers were freaking out yesterday…Already some evangelicals say we are at the end of the world. In Revelation…” The passage continues: “’All right, all right’ the President said, cutting Willard off. He hated it when people quoted the Bible (166).”
Other comments are made as well regarding the epistemological ramifications of extraterrestrials. One character remarks, “The college professor says it is time to acknowledge the presence of other life-forms in the universe. The religious types are going nuts. There’s a mob of a thousand or so across the street in Lafayette Park, waving signs and making speeches talking about the imminent arrival of the Antichrist (187).” An advisor to the President responds, “This is another rightwing conspiracy.”
Such an exchange adequately reflects the dismissive and condescending attitude secularists would enunciate concerning the reaction of religious conservatives to nonhuman intelligent life. However, it is through the more altruistic protagonists that one must consider that Coonts is elaborating his own convictions regarding this highly speculative topic.
If so, the reader is led to believe Coonts is predisposed to the theory of panspermia, the idea life came to earth from outer space. According to the novel, the saucer was flown to earth by beings not all that considerably different than ourselves in terms of appearance or physiology.
Rather, the craft was sent here as part of a mission the occupants knew was a one way trip because a society complex enough to produce a vehicle capable of interstellar travel would have to transport nearly its entire civilization if the occupants hoped to replicate the accomplishments of their home world not to mention being able to make a return trip (195).
But even some wanting to get out from under God’s direct gaze still long for an origin a bit more meaningful than slime oozing up onto some rock even though a number of them still can’t seem to break free from the grip evolution has over the minds of those predisposed to a more mechanistic explanation.
When asked if humanity’s arrival from among the stars discounted the perceived legitimacy of the fossil record, Professor Soldi (the character brought forward to make the grandiose pronouncements pertaining to man’s place in the cosmos) responds that even though mankind might have replaced the earth’s original hominid occupants there is no need to worry that the entire Darwinian enterprise being one colossal scam since, to invoke the tautologies for which this theory of origins is noted “..evolution follows similar courses when similar conditions exist (270).” Basically, even though man might have moved in from elsewhere and never arose from the apes found here, we should still accept the scant fossil evidence that is claimed to exist anyway.
Yet this plot element raises more questions than it solves. For example, if mankind did not originate on earth but rather on another planet, who’s to say humanity originated from this proverbial planet X either but rather having migrated from planet Y or Z as the human race plays interstellar flip this house skipping from planet to planet across the cosmos. Apparently, Coonts doesn’t have that high of an opinion of the cosmological argument. For not only does the origin of man stem back through a potentially unending regression of planets, Coonts tosses in a bit of Eastern mysticism as well.
Apart from the saucer’s hardware, especially valuable is the spacecraft’s computer which contains more than directions on how to operate a flying saucer. Believed to unlock nearly infinite knowledge, one character asks another character that accessed the database through the telepathic interface how the universe ends, Coonts writes, “ ‘It will be reborn,’ Egg Cantrell told her, ‘again and again and again….’ (311).”
Overall, Saucer by Stephen Coonts is a very engaging book. The action will titillate the reader’s sense of adventure while speculation about man’s place in the universe will intrigue the imagination even if one does not accept the worldview underlying it.
by Frederick Meekins