suspension of disbelief, Samuel Coleridge thought, was a necessary
precondition for a reader’s enjoyment of fantastic tales: fiction so
obviously, so egregiously, fictitious that only a person prepared to pretend
to believe it, and for that moment to abandon reason and judgment, could
hope to like it.
though--when folks seem ready to believe literally any absurdity and
lovingly embrace it--a less exacting, more postmodern, critical standard
might be worth considering: call it the gentle tug of plausibility.
UFOs? Sure. We got
‘em. Earlier this year the U.S. Navy admitted being flummoxed by the nature
of the Tic Tac-shaped “unidentified aerial phenomena"--UAPs, the Navy’s
preferred acronym--which bird-dogged fighter pilots 15 years ago over the
Pacific, at speeds and with a maneuverability not technologically possible
on planet Earth.
government agencies? Take your pick. CIA. NSA. NRO. NGO. DARPA.
History’s full of ‘em. The Maccabees. The Knights Templar. The Knights
Hospitaller. The Mamluks. The Mahdists.
theories? Everyone’s got a favorite. Roswell. Men in Black. The Illuminati.
The Trilateral Commission. The Shroud of Turin. The Priory of Sion. The
death of Pope John Paul I, of Roberto Calvi, of Jeffrey Epstein. Korean Air
Flight 007 and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
All of which is to
say that the early 21st century is a great time for the writers of fantastic
tales to be alive, because the truth may or may not be out there, but the
grist of plausibility certainly is.
Dan Coffman, for
the last 38 years a Chesterton resident, has just released his latest novel,
The Coming, in which he explores the implications of a premise
straightforwardly accepted by tens of millions of intelligent, rational
people who have weighed the odds and the evidence for themselves: namely,
that extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) is real, that it’s perfected the
means of interstellar travel, and that for reasons of its own has visited
Earth and made contact with select human beings.
Then, based on that
simple and--for so many--uncontroversial premise, Coffman unpacks a series
of What Ifs:
If the Pope of the
Roman Catholic Church, in the spirit of comity, were signaling within the
Vatican his plan to publicly acknowledge the existence of ETI and to declare
it no threat to the Good News of the Gospel, either on Earth or anywhere
else in the Creation. . .
If a militant sect
of the Church, persuaded instead of ETI’s demonic origins, were to take any
action necessary to preserve the secret. . .
If a U.S.
intelligence agency had its own agenda in deep-sixing the truth of close
encounters. . .
All of this is
entirely plausible. We know it’s plausible because we’re all too familiar
with the bureaucracy of organized religion and the self-interest of
government apparats. Coffman has mixed verity, supposition, and a healthy
dose of paranoia, and produced a crackerjack of a read: a fantastic tale, to
be sure, but one leavened by a truthiness which makes a peculiar kind of
intuitive sense at the rump end of 2020. As Coffman tells the Chesterton
Tribune, “A premise of the story is that evil exists on Earth, major
societal institutions are flawed, and ordinary folks can overcome even the
Unlike one of the
heroes in The Coming, Coffman himself is not a ufologist. Far from it, in
fact, Even so, he’s willing to give what Charles Forte called “damned facts”
their due: the anomalous phenomena which science conveniently brackets and
ignores because it can’t explain--like strange objects and lights in the
sky. “I am fascinated by all things mysterious,” Coffman says. “While many
people believe the purpose of life is satisfactorily explained by their
faith, others consider it the ultimate paradox. For all but this one
existential enigma, I am a total skeptic.”
The Coming, then,
is something of a thought experiment, Coffman suggests: an “intertwining of
both historical and contemporary facts with fictional illusion to produce
thought-provoking explanations to all manner of puzzles.” Readers will want
to read The Coming with Google at the ready, since Coffman’s novel is
chock-a-block--as Dan Brown’s novels are--with “actual places, events, and
beliefs” whose incremental effect is to make the action “tantalizingly
plausible.” Among other things, Tesla’s theory of scalar waves, the legend
of Shambhala, the Maltese Knights, Taoism, Carthage College’s Griffin
Observatory in Kenosha, Wis., the Grotto of Vermillion Brightness at Mount
Loufo in Guangdong Province, China, the fresco art in the Visoki Decani in
Kosovo, and the Jesuit missionary and astronomer Johann Adam Schall von Bell
all have their role to play in The Coming.
peppers the plot with the arcana of ufology and contemporary Christian views
on ETI. "Only readers with an intimate knowledge of the UFO saga are likely
to appreciate the numerous real people and events in this book,” he adds.
“Recent UFO reports by reputable military personnel and the struggle of
Christian denominations to reconcile the possible existence of
extraterrestrials with their religion’s historical dogma are two current
events examined in depth in my book.”
conspiracists, and just plain old fans of suspense will find The Coming an
altogether satisfying read (even if Coffman himself admits that it barrels
into a “completely impossible climax"). Be warned, though: the novel does
conclude ambiguously. Declares a character after Earth has been saved from
an extinction-level event, “Whether aliens are Satanic demons, malevolent
superhuman beings, or principled policemen of the universe, we may have just
played a part in one of God’s miracles.”
information on Coffman’s work, visit his Facebook page: VerityFable.
The Coming is
available at Amazon, the iTunes store, and Barnes & Noble.