Ryook Phyoo

Donald A. Wollheim's Preface to The Book of the Damned

      The Ace edition of Charles Hoy Fort's The Book of the Damned included a preface written by Donald Allen Wollheim, who was the editor-in-chief of Ace Books. Wollheim was undoubtedly responsible for the Ace editions of Fort's books.
      The preface refers obliquely to an early experiment in laser ranging with the Moon. Shining a laser beam directly onto the Moon's irregular surface failed to provide the results for accurate ranging; but, later experiments in laser ranging, by placing reflecting mirrors on the Moon's surface, have succeeded in very detailed distances over a period of decades.

Mr. X



Donald A. Wollheim

      Had you been standing in a certain crater valley on the moon a few months ago, you would have suddenly experienced what people have come to call a "Fortean" phenomenon. For a few seconds, the crater would have been bathed in an inexplicable reddish glow, lighting up the area from no apparent source in a faint but definitely real, eerie, blood-color glow.
      And had you told the others with you what you had seen they would doubtless have scoffed, pointed out that there was no possible source for such an illumination on the moon--there had been no eruption, no moon-being had turned on a light, nothing had exploded in the sky, and so forth. In short, they would likely have disbelieved you, and filed your observation in their own book of material damned by science for its improbability.
      Nevertheless you would have been right and the scoffers wrong. For the reddish glow on that lunar scene had actually occurred, and it was not subject to normal lunarian scientific explanation. The origin was a new type of light beam invented on another planet--the third from the sun--and that special type of light projector had been turned on the moon from that other world for a few seconds.
      To the moon-being, this light baffled respectable conservative scientific analysis; therefore, it would have been best to call it an illusion or just ignore it.
      Reading The Book of the Damned over forty years after it was compiled, one is forcibly reminded of such strange glows from the sky: there are many such listed as having happened on Earth to Earth people. And in view of what we ourselves can demonstrably do to another planet, we have scarcely any right to doubt it could happen to us.
      That's one possible explanation. Charles Fort would delight in throwing in a few other possibilities. But to disbelieve anything because for the time being no credible answer can be found is one thing that no one who has read Fort can ever quite do. Because we are beginning to realize now that science is subject to changes internally and externally and that the line between the possible and the impossible is purely arbitrary. It depends on how much your own mind is prepared to bless and how much it too prefers to relegate to the limbo of the forgotten--the damned realms of data ignored by science.
      Reading Charles Fort was certainly one of the formative influences of my life, as it has been on the lives of countless ten of thousands of others. From the writings of this acidulous compiler of the outré and unexpected, one can only achieve that very necessary widening of the mental boundaries that has become almost vital to stability in this highly unstable age. It is an education in re-education for the intellectually curious, for the person determined to keep out of the rut of complacency and simple-minded acceptance, for the reader who delights in the thrill of finding out in detail what a real whacky wonderful universe we inhabit.
      Certainly the flotilla of flying saucers seen int he past two decades had their home port in the pages of Fort. Certainly a great part of the science-fiction thinking that dominates both the literature of deliberate fantasy and the indeliberate fantasy of the Atom Age journalism and politics must owe a good deal, consciously and unconsciously, to Fort's relentless plowing through pages of newspapers to bolster up his theme that the only sure attitude for a sane mind is to doubt that which is accepted and to accept only that which is subject to doubt.
      If this baffled you, it should also serve to intrigue you into reading for yourself The Book of the Damned, the work of the one of the truly original minds of this century, a book from which you cannot emerge as quite the same person you were when you first started its fascinating pages. It is an experience akin to a needle-shower of the mind--exhilarating, exciting, and endlessly stimulating.

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