Jack Womack is an accomplished science fiction writer and part of the first wave of cyberpunks; he's also one of the world's foremost collectors of flying saucer ephemera: the zines, cheap paperbacks, and esoteric material associated with the saucer-craze, a virtually forgotten, decades-long global mania that features livestock mutilations, abductions, messages of intergalactic brotherhood, claims of both divine and satanic origins, and psychic phenomena.

Womack's collection has found a permanent home at Georgetown University's library, and Womack has lovingly curated a spectacular, 283-page anthology of the most fascinating material from the collection, accompanied by his notes and an introduction by William Gibson, whose own mother once saw a saucer.

Flying saucers are like hot sauce: whatever you love best, you might love it better with a few dashes of saucers. Womack's thematically organized collection traces how saucers worked their way into Christianity, Satanic panics, Red scares, belief in psi powers, military conspiracy theories, hollow Earth conspiracies, New Age reboots of Tibetan mysticism, conspiracies about Nazis (and Hitler), and, of course, radical, unhinged theories about Elvis Presley.

Womack presents his material with bone-dry wit — if you've ever heard him speak, I guarantee you'll be able to hear his urbane, deadpan delivery in every sentence. He's not exactly making fun of his subjects. Oh, OK, sometimes he is, but just the most naked of hucksters and scammers — but when it comes to the true believers, Womack has a mix of compassion and wonder at their ability to believe what they believe — and convince others of their beliefs.

I grew up after the heyday of the saucer era (I was born in 1971), but I was surrounded by tantalizing clues about the saucers: Bugs Bunny jokes; mouldering paperbacks on the $0.10 rack at used bookstores; the odd, lurid zine in the dealer's room at a science fiction convention. My close, repeated readings of books like Daniel Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, The Boy From Mars sketched out a kind of void that had recently been vacated by a huge cultural force that had once been a major piece of the public imagination, but had subsequently sank, almost without a trace.

Flying Saucers Are Real! is a mapping of those lost territories, a tour guide to a place lost in history. As William Gibson writes, it's "the only physical evidence of the advent of the UFO meme."

The book has spawned a new and most excellent podcast about the saucer meme. Considered as an artifact, it is extraordinarily beautiful, full color, gorgeously shot images of these old and vanishing pieces; commentary delivered with novelistic flair. It's a book to cherish.

Flying Saucers Are Real! [Jack Womack/Anthology Editions]