The novel “Miracle Visitors” by Ian Watson was published for the first time in 1978.
Michael Peacocke is a boy when he has an alien abduction experience. When psychologist John Deacon subjects him to a hypnotic treatment, the memories of those events emerge fully, but Dr. Deacon interprets them as a distorted sexual fantasy, not believing that they’re real memories.
When strange things start happening to Dr. John Deacon, he’s forced to revise his interpretation of Michael Peacocke’s story. However, the situation seems to get more confusing instead of clearing up. What do these events have to do with an Egyptian religious group?
“Miracle Visitors” begins as a story of alien abductions when psychologist John Deacon uses hypnosis to induce altered states of consciousness in one of his patients, who tells him the strange story of a meeting with extraterrestrial visitors. However, that’s just the beginning and soon the plot starts going well beyond UFO folklore.
Initially, psychology is used by John Deacon to provide a rational explanation for Michael Peacocke’s giving it a sexual interpretation. But when the psychologist starts havinv more and more bizarre personal experiences, the Freudian interpretations give way to the ideas expressed by Carl Jung about the UFO phenomenon or at least a part of them.
The results of John Deacon’s investigations seem contradictory and the plot proceeds in ambiguity, with the possibility of alien visitors who seem to be a reality in a chapter and seem to be an illusion in the next one. It’s a way of developing a story used several times by Ian Watson throughout his career because he’s an author who often tells in many ways the limits and ambiguities of what we perceive as reality.
In the case of “Miracle Visitors”, the attempt to expand the perception of reality by John Deacon is carried out through sophisticated hypnotic techniques but in the course of the novel mystical-religious elements are added. A subplot set in Egypt begins independently, adding a new level of awareness of a phenomenon that at that point being called just ufology is strongly reductive.
In the end, Ian Watson uses various cognitive tools to analyze different sides of the phenomenon at the center of the story. In some ways, it’s the story of the elephant and the blind men who touch different parts of the animal giving apparently contradictory descriptions that must be put together in the right way to provide a meaningful result. The author provides abundant descriptions developed from the various points of view given in the novel with the result that it’s idea-oriented with a lot of speculations.
For these characteristics, “Miracle Visitors” is a novel of considerable complexity told on various narrative levels. The pace tends to be slow exactly because new information are being provided all the time, especially through dialogues among some of the characters.
In some ways it’s a product of the ’70s even though Ian Watson was never the typical representative of the New Wave movement, which was important at the time but had only a partial influence on him. This novel shows how the author has little ties in general to genres and subgenres and prefers to develop his stories taking the elements that seem useful regardless of their labels.
Overall, “Miracle Visitors” seemed to me rather heavy and not very homogeneous. Ian Watson always manages to include some intriguing ideas in his novels but sometimes the ensemble of many ideas ends up being more of a flaw than a merit because it makes it impossible to develop them all adequately in stories of limited length. In this novel in particular that ensemble seems an uneven mixed-up.
A few years later, Ian Watson published “The Fire Worm“, a novel that, horror connotations aside, has some elements in common with “Miracle Visitors”, including some flaws. Those are novels that readers who appreciate the themes included and idea-oriented stories can like.