37th-parallel-scanned

Sadly, the new non-fiction book, The 37th Parallel, by the well-known writer Ben Mezrich does not definitively answer the question of alien existence.

But by the end of the book, you wish it had.

Mezrich is known for his extensive research and feature-style approach to journalism over his 19 years of professional writing. This is a man after all, who once body-packed a quarter of a million dollars in currency through airport security as research for his book Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions. Another book of his, The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, a Tale of Sex, Money, Genius and Betrayal, was adopted by Aaron Sorkin for the film, The Social Network.

No doubt Mezrich has chops, writing and otherwise. And he brings the full Mezrich treatment to the UFO phenomenon in the southwest of the United States. The 37th Parallel follows the journey of Chuck Zukowski over several decades, from youthful space enthusiast to hard-core independent UFO hunter and cattle mutilation investigator. Intersecting scenes of Zukowski’s obsessions are historical accounts intersperse with insights of real-life characters like his older sister, Debbie Ziegelmeyer, the current Missouri State Director of the MUFON (the Mutual UFO Network), and Zukowski’s long suffering loyal wife, Tammy.

Mezrich uses language with ease to nestle anecdote within anecdote making a compelling story – one part UFO, one part American psyche. He excels at using words to illustrate why people do what they do. For instance, he writes:

“Bright Lights, flying saucers, and little green men. Glancing down into the lens of his portable telescope, eyes adjusting to the brilliant splashes of light painted across the ink-black sky, Chuck knew, deep down, he was chasing something bigger than his own internal need to believe. And, hell, hobby or obsession or whatever Tammy wanted to call it, Chuck figured there were plenty of worse ways to spend his free time.”

Structurally, the book is compact, flows logically, and does a wonderful job at laying out a roadmap of phenomenal events for reference. For this reason alone, it is a must possession for anyone remotely interested in ufology, the unexplained, or big bad government conspiracies.

Enter stage right, the mysterious Robert Bigelow, founder of Bigelow Aerospace based in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bigelow began as a small investor in rental property in the area and grew his business over many years into the Budget Suites of America hotel chain. With money earned, Bigelow founded Bigelow Aerospace, a large private aerospace company that designs and manufactures inflatable space station modules including one successfully tested last May on the International Space Station.

But it is Bigelow’s other enterprise Mezrich targets with his narrative – Bigelow Aerospace Advanced Space Studies (BAASS). A sister company of Bigelow Aerospace, BAASS is Bigelow’s private group of UFO investigators and scientists who work closely with U.S. governmental agencies for the search of extraterrestrial life. In fact, BAASS is now listed in Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) manuals as the contact point for UFO reporting. Mezrich writes with astonishment that if a pilot upon seeing a UFO and wanting to report it, the pilot has to contact a secretive private company rather than a government agency. He makes the point that the U.S. Government has effectively outsourced its UFO investigations to Bigelow, at least on a tangential level. Recently BAASS has partnered with the civilian group MUFON to cooperate on UFO field investigations with various degrees of interaction, conflict, and ill-feelings.

Often compared to a James Bond villain by UFO types, the judgment on Bigelow is still out. There are simply too many questions and not enough answers about him and his organization. If he was not suspicious enough, in the mid-1990s Bigelow purchased the infamous Skinwalker Ranch in Utah, a phenomenon all of its own.

Personally, I find the UFO subculture to be highly interesting because it speaks to so many pressure points in American political ideology and culture, namely the distrust of central authority and the need for existential meaning. I am reminded of the Han Solo line regarding the Force in the last Star Wars film, The Force Awakens, in which Solo utters “Crazy thing is it’s true . . . All of it. It’s all true”. I’m waiting for this particular UFO film to appear from the night’s sky though.

The 37th Parallel’s film rights have been optioned by the New Lines Cinema. I would expect the movie to arrive at your local UFO landing pad in the not so distant future.

PS. Mr. Bigelow, if you are looking for investigators, message me.

8.2

Story/Writing

9.0/10

Characters

7.5/10

Pacing

8.0/10

Emotional Connection

7.5/10

Wildcard

9.0/10

Pros

  • Research
  • Anecdotes
  • Subject Matter

Cons

  • Creative License Taken
  • Simplicity in Narrative
  • Subject Matter