Imagine my surprise when I found that Vallée, who I will remind you sits on multiple corporate boards of directors and has started multiple venture capital funds, hired a PR agent named Lorna Garano to promote a second round of crowdfunding and to ask media figures and bloggers to help spread the word and raise $12,000 in cash for the book. The authors plan to collect around $100,000 by selling 500 copies of the deluxe revised edition at between $180 and $220 per copy. And Garano asked me to help. Of all the nerve.
Instead of simply selling the finished books, the authors are asking potential readers to subscribe to the book through crowdfunding, receiving copies as rewards. They also have funding levels that do not allow readers to receive a copy of the book.
Penguin, the publisher of the original Wonders, has contractually limited them to 500 copies. The first round of crowdfunding sold 150 copies.
Based on the book description, it’s not entirely clear that the authors have improved entirely on the original. They are offering subscribers a reproduction of a French token depicting the Shield of Numa, which they take to be a historical UFO event. Here is how they describe it in their funding campaign, with text taken verbatim from the 2009 edition of Wonders:
It is said that on March 1st, 707 BC, during the outbreak of a plague, the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius, witnessed the fall of an oval shield from the sky during a ceremony. Somewhat astonished, he sought advice from the nymph Egeria and the nine Muses, who assured him that Jupiter had dropped it as a sign of his benevolence. The pestilence soon came to an end, so the grateful king had eleven identical copies made by an armourer, and those were used in dances and celebrations every year.
Plutarch notes that this small shield was of bronze, but if we were to take the text literally—and there really isn’t a reason to—the Greek implies that a somewhat flat and probably irregular metallic disc fell out of the sky. But since the story was written down 800 years after the fact, there’s really no reason to assume it has any basis in reality, particularly since shields fallen from heaven were a Classical trope signaling divine favor. In fact, we might suspect Plutarch’s story of being less than it seems since an earlier form of the story of Numa’s shield doesn’t come from ancient history but from poetry. Ovid describes the same event, in almost the same words, in Fasti 3.361ff. Ovid wrote a century before Plutarch, and the latter seems dependent on the former since both disagree with our other source: Livy makes reference to the twelve celestial shields still earlier (History of Rome 1.4.20), but he differs from Ovid and Plutarch in stating that these shields were as old as if not older than Rome itself and he ascribes divine origin to all twelve, not just one (1.5.52).
The story seems to be an ex post facto explanation for the festival celebrating the war god Mars Gradivus (his form as god of battles) in which shields were paraded around the city of Rome and returned to his temple. These were sacred object of soldierly devotion (Horade, Odes 3.5). Viewing the shields in that context takes away much of the impetus for seeing an archaic myth of heaven-sent shields as literally true, though of course we cannot prove it conclusively. The poet Lucan, writing around 60 CE, euhemerized the story in Pharsalia 9 by proposing that high winds carried away a soldier’s shield, creating the impression it fell from heaven. This story is, quite obviously, meant as humor, to take a bit of the solemnity out of the war-totems.
Anyway, such complications led me to laugh when Dr. Garry Nolan, a geneticist and sometime ancient astronaut investigator, is quoted in the crowdfunding material as saying “Meticulous attention to scientific detail is a hallmark of Vallée’s books, and Wonders in the Sky is a case study in objectivity.”
By writing about this at all, I have of course given the Vallée and his publicist some of what they wanted. You now know that he wants your money, and that he wasn’t able to sell more than 150 of the 500 future copies of Wonders in the Sky he put up for sale late last year. Sadly, in order to tell Garano how insulting it was to be asked to help a wealthy man make money off of my unacknowledged work, I had to turn down the offer of repayment in the form of an interview with Vallée. I can’t imagine how that would have gone: “So, Mr. Vallée, why did you repeat the same faulty translations, fabrications, and errors from Passport to Magonia in 1969 to Wonders in the Sky in 2009 until I finally caught you, all while holding yourself out as a scrupulous and rigorous investigator?”
I’m sure that would have gone over well.