Dreamland: Travels Inside the Secret World of Roswell and Area 51
© 1998 Phil Patton
“What would happen if the U.S. government opened its doors to us and let us see all that was going on? Depending on what is there, we’d either be vindicated or disappointed, but we would also rapidly lose interest. What would we focus our attentions on? Where would we go next?….the greatest thing about Area 51 is its mystery, otherwise nobody would care.”
Dear readers, I have a confession. In middle school, I was way into alien conspiracy theories, specifically the Roswell Incident. I didn’t believe anything had happened, but it was fun to pretend that it did. My bedroom walls were littered with three things: tiger photographs, glow-in-the-dark star stickers, and posters of green bobble-head aliens, sometimes dressed as hippies offering peace signs. So, when I ran into Dreamland while looking for a similarly titled book on rural drug epidemics (Dreamland: the True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic), I had to try it out. Right?
It took me a few check-outs to actually read the book, because it’s an odd kind of investigatory tourism that begins with the paranormal, shifts to completely sober and extensive discussion of military test aviation, and then swings back to more severe paranormal material towards the end. The author plays the part of reporter-tourist searching for the truth, presenting himself as neither credulous nor particularly skeptical. Like Herodotus, he simply reports what he is told, though there’s an obvious personal interests in what ‘Area 51’ truly is.
Dreamland is not solely about ‘the’ Area 51, the conspiracy codename for Groom Lake, Nevada, where experimental jets are/were tested. ‘Dreamland’ as a place covers much of the southwest; it is not merely ‘The Ranch’ of Nevada, guarded by private paramilitary ‘camo dudes’, but the headspace world in which the subjects of this book live — and while some of them believe devoutly in alien visitation and even in-progress takeover, others believe the alien talk is mere coverup for more ominous projects. One interviewee opined that the alien hype is being created by the military which will use a faux-alien invasion to effect a coup. The last quarter of the book is a bizarre mix of conspiracy theories, Christian and Islamic prophecies merging with alien obsession and political intrigue: fear of a ‘New World Order’, so intense in Endtimes believers of the 1990s, is very strong here. My personal favorite, in part because it’s the sort of thing I would do if I were in charge of a secret government project, is that Area 51 is cover, used to distract the public; the real base is in Tonopah. (Of course, if I were in charge of the secret government project, I would put it underground and then stick a shopping complex on top of it.)
Although the first and final fifths of Dreamland are very odd reading, fraught with true-believer syndrome (“Yes, the flying saucer we saw was a B2. But they’re just letting us see it so we won’t freak out about the real flying saucers!”), there’s actually an enormous amount of information on military test aviation throughout the late 20th century, including on projects that were scrapped but which are now declassified. Many of the aircraft mentioned bear little resemblance to conventional aircraft, at least to a public expecting to see something that looks like a commercial transport or fighters. The proposed A-12 Avenger is downright alien. Dreamland features a chapter on the development of unmanned spy vehicles from spy planes like the U2, and speculates that soon these UAVs may be armed. (He was right: three years later after publication, a Predator drone blew up the outside of a Taliban building, wrecking cars and sending the actual target running away instead of crossing the Styx.)
If you’re interested in experimental aviation, this actually has a few chapters of interest. The actual subject of the book may distract from the fascinating bits inside, though, and considering the context of the source I’m not sure how seriously I’d take the information on CIA spy planes and the like.