When you exclude the peripherals, from the table of contents and acknowledgements, to the foreword and afterward written by Nick Redfern and Greg Bishop respectively, The Cryptoterrestrials, the final work by the late Mac Tonnies, comes in at a slim 98 pages. However, in a prime example of quality over quantity, Mac has left us with an impassioned and thought-provoking clarion call for a new way of thinking, not just about the UFO phenomenon or even the paranormal in general, but about ourselves.
The UFO phenomenon is the focus of The Cryptoterrestrials, at least on the surface. Mac takes direct aim from the beginning at the purveyors of ufological orthodoxy, namely those people who are convinced that the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis is the Extraterrestrial Fact (a subject I've written about here). He pulls no punches, skewering the majority of ufology both for their blind adherence to the ETH, and for their willing self-marginalization.
"The ufological 'community' suffers from creative anemia," he writes. "While its luminaries might noisily claim otherwise, ufology collectively wants to be marginal. With the lamentable exception of a few spokesman who feel the need to 'explain' the phenomenon's intricacies to a wary public (often in the guise of would-be political discourse), the ostensible UFO community remains afraid of stepping into the rude glow of widespread public attention. And it has a right to be afraid." (p. 25)
It's not that Mac rejected the ETH - indeed, in the book he writes that it remains a viable, if shopworn, hypothesis. What he rejected, and what people like Nick, Greg and I reject, are those who say that the ETH is the only answer, or even the best answer. After all, how can one say any hypothesis is the "best" hypothesis when faced with something as weird as the UFO phenomenon? With the ETFacters, it isn't a matter of science anymore, or logic, or following the evidence to where it leads - it's become all about the perpetuation of their belief system within an ever-shrinking community of flying saucer evangelicals. People like Stan Friedman have done more to undermine the cause of the ETH within the broader public than a hundred Seth Shostaks or James McGahas, not necessarily because they are wrong, but because they are so convinced that everyone else is wrong. Mac rejected, as Greg, Nick and I do, their intellectual rigidity, as well as their lack of any true sense of wonder, or appreciation for the mystery of it all.
If Friedman et al have spent the last few decades hunkered down in the ufological equivalent of an intellectual Jericho, then Mac is the guy standing at the walls with the trumpet, and The Cryptoterrestrials is the blast that should bring the whole decrepit edifice of certainty crumbling down. In his foreword, Nick compares Mac to the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, the brash and liberating antidote to what had become a stale status quo. It's a perfect metaphor, for there will indeed be more than a few people who read The Cryptoterrestrials and think Mac is the ufological version of the Anti-Christ. But if anything could use some anarchy, it's ufology.
In the end, however, it doesn't matter whether people within ufology "get" what Mac is saying, because he was aiming his sights a lot higher. Rather than just reinforce existing views, or rehash old ground, Mac takes the foundations that have been built by writers and researchers as diverse as Jacques Vallee, John Keel, Whitley Strieber and David Jacobs, and expands upon them, even as he points out the flaws in their theories. His goal is not to find a definitive answer, or to create an alternative orthodoxy, but rather to ask as many questions as he could, and try to come up with some ideas about where we may find the answers. He was a true revolutionary, a New Light for the paranormal.
So, what are the cryptoterrestrials? In Mac's hypothesis, they are a race of indigenous humanoids who share this planet with us. Technologically superior in many ways (but not, perhaps, all ways), they are on the decline, even as we continue to ascend - they are, if not a dying race, then one whose time has passed. And we are the noisy, and in many ways dangerous "new" kids on the block. Unlike Vallee or Keel, Mac does not sidestep the physical reality of the UFO phenomenon - in his hypothesis, they exist in this world, literally.
I interviewed Mac in Kansas City in 2006 about a number of subjects while filming Best Evidence, including the cryptoterrestrials.
Does the cryptoterrestrial hypothesis make any sense? Anyone who reads The Cryptoterrestrials will be hard pressed not to admit that it makes as much sense as any of the other theories on offer, and perhaps even more. What began as a thought experiment for Mac (I know, because I was there when he first started thinking about it seriously, on a trip to Los Angeles) became in the end a thorough review of the evidence and the literature, and some pretty grounded speculation about what it all points to. But it wasn't Mac's intention to write a definitive conclusion to the discussion about the UFO phenomenon, or the paranormal; rather, it was his intention to get that discussion started again, and to get people thinking, for the first time in a long time, about what really might be going on - including the possibility that we are being visited by beings from another world.
Unable to disprove a negative, I have no choice but to concede that some UFO encounters may originate in space. And it would be the height of arrogance to proclaim that the Extraterrestrial Hypothesis and the Cryptoterrestrial Hypothesis are mutually exclusive. And of course, cryptoterrestrials don't preclude "inter-dimensional" travelers either. (p. 52)What was important to Mac, at least at this stage, was to ask the correct questions, because only then might we be able to get back on the road to finding some answers, if not about the phenomenon itself, then about ourselves, and our almost symbiotic relationship to it. "If we're dealing with a truly alien intelligence," Mac concludes, "there's no promise that its thinking will be linear. Indeed, its inherent weirdness might serve as an appeal to an aspect of the psyche we've allowed to atrophy. It might be trying to rouse us from our stupor, in which case it's tempting to wonder if the supposed ETs are literally us in some arcane sense."
Earlier in this review, I called Mac the "New Light of the paranormal." Most readers won't understand the reference. Let me explain. In the late 18th century, in the Maritime colonies, religion was dominated by the Congregational Church, which maintained a rigid, Calvinist orthodoxy. In 1776 a young preacher, Henry Alline, began to travel amongst the communities of the colonies, talking about a better way - free will, an almost mystical view of faith, and a personal experiential relationship with the divine. Most important, he rejected all of the man-made conventions that he called "non-essentials," over which various denominations argued incessantly, as nothing but hindrances to the central message - the redeeming love of God. Like Mac, Alline died far too young (in 1784, at the age of 36). He was derided by the guardians of the old order, who called him the "ravager of churches," in much the same way as I suspect Mac will come to be viewed as the ravager of the ET orthodoxy. Finally, like Mac, he presented a simple, concise, and transformational message. He was a true "New Light" - and so was Mac, who insisted that we must not lose sight of the central message: that we are dealing with a non-human intelligence which remains a mystery. Amidst the noise, that is the signal.
In a world where hyperbole has become the lingua franca, The Cryptoterrestrials is that rare work which merits the appellation "a must read." It represents a true paradigm shift in our understanding of the mysteries of the paranormal. This is a book that deserves to be read and discussed far and wide, and which offers up an opportunity to revitalize the UFO subject, and make it relevant again - but only if we are courageous and intellectually honest enough to embrace it.