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Alien Author/Expert Thomm Quackenbush On Ancient Alien Theory, Religion, Vimanas, and Artificial Gods

The original version of this interview on DINA RAE'S WRITE STUFF was removed.

Do you believe aliens exist?
Yes. I find comfort in Drake's Equation, these nested fractions of probability that, though they reduce exponentially at each step, result in a statistical near certainty that intelligent life would have evolved somewhere in the vastness of the universe. It does not imply they would be within the distance where we could ever meaningfully communicate, but it is enough for me to know we are not alone. It would be much too lonely to look up at the empty stars, but I am glad I can back the sentiment up with math and science.

How much research did you put into Artificial Gods?
From the moment I could read, I gravitated toward books on the supernatural, UFOs ending up at the forefront. The non-fiction I read about them did not always accord and many stories seemed like nothing more than tall tales told by attention seekers, but it was hard to contest that something was going on when even President Jimmy Carter had seen a UFO.
One of the turning points for the book that became Artificial Gods was finding Dr. Ellen Crystall's research in Silent Invasion. Pine Bush, New York, was a bit under an hour's drive from where I grew up and my friends decided that exploring it was a great way to spend a few nights. We didn't see anything that couldn't be explained away as a photographic misfiring or a plane from Stewart Air Force Base, but it was enough to further kindle my interest.
When I started this book in earnest, I attended several meetings of the United Friends Observer Society in Pine Bush, as well as a couple of their informal sky watches. I saw how easy it would be to label these people as crazy and ignore the questions they raised, as my skeptical protagonist Jasmine does at first. However, I wanted to render them accurately and portray that many were normal people grappling with an unusual circumstance.
Since its publication, I have been a featured guest at the Pine Bush UFO Festival and Parade, an event that features significantly in my novel. The town embraces its designation as the "Roswell of the Northeast" much more than they did when I originally drove around trying to find lights in the sky. Even the barber shops and gas stations have aliens painted on their windows.
From what I've heard, sightings are dying down in the last few decades and no one quite seems to know why, though a lot of people blame more houses being built where there were once fields.

Do you believe the Bible is based off of extraterrestrial sightings that occurred 1000s of years ago?
I think comparative theologians would point out that very little that exists in the Bible doesn't exist in the cultures on which Biblical stories could have been based. I do not think the Bible was divinely inspired (as my characters might say, it's not my pantheon), but rather an amalgam of actual history and prior myth compiled by men often hundreds of years after the events took place, some of which contradicts what was written before. It's important to realize that there have been a few conferences to decide which parts of the Bible were canon and which were apocryphal, in essence labeling the latter religious fan-fiction.
We live in a culture that creates myths based on Chuck Norris and a whole religious text for the Flying Spaghetti Monster. If those were taken out of context, it would be easy for future cultures to assume all manners of inaccuracies about us and, perhaps, claim that we all saw a superhuman and hovering pasta deity in our skies.

Do you believe angels are really aliens? Or vice versa?
I try not to believe most of the things I think. It is possible that they are both made of the same matter, whatever that might be. In the world of my books, they would be daemons, the catchall for sentient and (if you will forgive the term) magical beings that affect human existence.
My next book, Flies to Wanton Boys, which should be out next year, deals with an angel. As such, I am keenly aware that angels are not described as lovely Renaissance boys with a pair of wings, but many faced beasts with flaming cudgels or wheels-within-wheels of rotating eyes. They were awe inspiring the same was a nuclear blast would be, despite what Hallmark might want modern people to think. Perhaps these can be construed as extraterrestrial beings and the ships on which they rode, but it may be a stretch.
I know that many people report seeing both angels and aliens just as they are falling asleep or waking up, which are respectively states of hypnagogia and hypnopompia. While in these states of consciousness, one is still partly dreaming, one is likely to be paralyzed (your body doesn't want to act out dreams), and one may feel terror or a pressure on one's chest. In general, any experience that can be induced in a lab is suspect. I have been the occasional experiencer of these states, once feeling a tiny hand grab my finger from under my bed, once becoming terrified of a glowing spider web I somehow saw despite having an eye mask on. Both felt absolutely real, but neither were once the lights were on. I dated a woman who would have vivid night terrors, ones so extreme that her screams brought people pounding on her door because they assumed she was being murdered, but it was nothing more than her mind and body not working in concordance.

Do you watch Ancient Aliens?
I haven't had cable for years. I definitely epitomized the starving artist for a few years - single room apartment and Ramen noodles included - and cut back my luxuries as much as I could. Now that I am earning a decent living, I have never returned to the habit of watching anything I can't stream. I'm aware of Giorgio A. Tsoukalos via his being the punchline to memes, of course. I hope he is a good sport about those.
The internet was never a luxury I thought I could do without, though.

Do you believe that vimana (flying machines) exist?
I wouldn't really know, since I was unfamiliar with the term prior to just googling it. From what I just read, it is possible they are what people call UFOs now or simply another manifestation of the human desire to fly, though the myths seem to posit that mantras are a valid form of propulsion. I think I would prefer nuclear fusion or anti-gravity magnets, but that's my own wishful thinking.
Vimanas do come from a mythology where, in the prior satya-yuga, one could wish things into existence, become microscopic at will, fly through the air by thinking about it, and change shape, so I am inclined toward a belief that this is simply another manifestation of the mythology rather than something with a concrete antecedent. (I imagine comic books must have been pretty dull in this era, as everyone sounds a bit like a superhero.) It's interesting that vimanas are shaped like birds because that is what people then imagined flight to require, rather than the gallery of improbable and occasionally aerodynamically clumsy shapes often seen in UFOs. It would be spectacular to see a UFO shaped like a swan.
It might be worth noting, as I do in my book, that people tend to see the UFOs they are culturally conditioned to expect. The sighting claimed as being the first in the modern age featured a pilot referring to "flying saucers," but he meant only that the triangular objects (which look a bit like a stealth bomber would these days) skipped across the sky like saucers on a pond. However, immediately after, people started seeing and photographing saucer shaped objects. I will leave it to others to ponder out why human expectations would change the shape of a spaceship.

Are aliens responsible for mind control, knowledge of weapons, architecture, etc.?
I don't want to discount the power of the human mind and its ingenuity. I believe, especially after having perused Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, that humanity is more than capable of creating most of the feats attributed to either gods or aliens, both glories and atrocities. Even though we only have access to written historical records going back a few thousand years, homo-sapiens have been biologically identical to modern humans - same body and same brains - for nearly 200,000. In all that time, we have learned and lost amazing things.

Do you believe there are different races of aliens? (Grays? Aryans? etc.)
I think there are countless variations of alien beings in the cosmos. However, the idea that they resemble humanity enough to pass for us, especially as truly weird looking things have evolved at our sides (slime molds, starfish, seahorses, spiny frogfish), beggars my ability to indulge. Any aliens from distant planets would very likely take a form that we could not quite imagine (and would likely find our atmosphere unpleasant and our food toxic, since we evolved to tolerate or require elements they would not have such as copper, selenium, iron, etc.).

Who is your favorite sci-fi writer? Favorite sci-fi book? (besides yours!)
I was very fond of Isaac Asimov, when I read science fiction. He understands the humanity behind the science is more intriguing than endless descriptions of gun barrels and warp drives, which tends to taint the genre for a lot of people.
Though I cannot agree with the political and moral pronouncements of its author, Ender's Game ranks as one of my favorite books in the genre. There is a profound compassion for the characters, both monsters from the stars and those that could be dwelling in our families. The science of the books is understandably spotty in places, but Card doesn't let that hamper the story. He uses the tropes to shape a good story rather than feeling beholden to them.

Are your characters based off of anyone you know?
They tend to start that way, but they quickly diverge (which is likely a good thing, since I am inclined to torture my characters to prove their worth). Jasmine was physically based off a young woman with whom I went to a gifted kids camp my junior year of high school, though her demeanor is her own. Her younger sister Chrys is a combination of a few younger siblings I know (including my own younger brother). I wanted to capture a sibling irritation that had, at its core, mutual love.
Several of the remarks and theories mouthed by the characters at the ALEENS meetings in my book were paraphrases of things I overheard at United Friends Observer Society meetings, but none of those characters has a real world counterpart.

If Artificial Gods ever became a movie, who would play the lead characters?
Most of the actors I would want are too old for the roles now, but here is my best attempt:
Jasmine Woods: Yaya Alafia in her late teens, early twenties
Chrys Woods: Dichen Lachman as a teen
Dylan Zimmerman: Ben Foster, circa "Six Feet Under"
Charles: Walter Day from "The King of Kong"
Sterling: M. Emmet Walsh, less a few decades.
Eileen Devareaux: Lisa Kudrow now

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings.

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