Journal of a UFO Investigator

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A sparkling debut novel set in the sixties about a boy's emotional and fantastical journey through alien worlds and family pain.

Against the backdrop of the troubled 1960s, this coming-of-age novel weaves together a compelling psychological drama and vivid outer-space fantasy. Danny Shapiro is an isolated teenager, living with a dying mother and a hostile father and without friends. To cope with these circumstances, Danny forges a reality of his own, which includes the sinister ...

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Journal of a UFO Investigator: A Novel

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Overview

A sparkling debut novel set in the sixties about a boy's emotional and fantastical journey through alien worlds and family pain.

Against the backdrop of the troubled 1960s, this coming-of-age novel weaves together a compelling psychological drama and vivid outer-space fantasy. Danny Shapiro is an isolated teenager, living with a dying mother and a hostile father and without friends. To cope with these circumstances, Danny forges a reality of his own, which includes the sinister "Three Men in Black", mysterious lake creatures with insectlike carapaces, a beautiful young seductress and thief with whom Danny falls in love, and an alien/human love child who-if only Danny can keep her alive-will redeem the planet. Danny's fictional world blends so seamlessly with his day-to-day life that profound questions about what is real and what is not, what is possible and what is imagined begin to arise. As the hero in his alien landscape, he finds the strength to deal with his own life and to stand up to demons both real and imagined. Told with heart and intellect, Journal of a UFO Investigator will remind readers of the works of Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Set in the mid-1960s, religious studies professor Halperin's gripping debut is less about aliens than alienation. Danny Shapiro, a 16-year-old UFO geek living in Philadelphia, grows estranged from his normal school friends. His dark fantasies lead him to hook up with a crew of teen UFO investigators who are as hardcore as they are precocious. As his seriously ill mother grows worse, Danny encounters the legendary Men in Black, flies a disk, gets lost in the middle of the earth and on the moon as well as strapped down on an alien operating table. A Jewish kid who doesn't believe in God, he studies the Bible and explores his religious heritage. Strange twists abound as Danny becomes the caretaker of a half-alien female child and gets ensnared in regional hostilities in Israel. While the science fiction talk may put off some, this heartbreaking coming-of-age story of a boy losing and finding his way in this and other worlds will resonate with many readers. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Danny Shapiro is a lonely teen, wishing for the power to save his dying mother. His interest in UFOs allows him to escape his bleak reality and leads him into a fantasyland of adventure and passion. When he is not supposedly flying a spaceship, he is escaping from the "three men in black" and pursuing conspiracy theories that may or may not be real. His mother's death pulls Danny back into life on Earth, where he learns to confront his own reality and to live with it. In his first novel, Halperin carefully walks the fine line between reality and fantasy in the teenage mind as Danny comes of age. The use of religious symbolism heightens the author's concerns. VERDICT Posing existential questions throughout, this book will appeal to readers of sf as well as general fiction readers.—Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Kingston
Kirkus Reviews

An adolescent boy copes with his religious heritage and personal demons through a staggeringly lush fantasy life.

Myth, religion, conspiracy and whimsy converge, clash and ultimately bewilder in this debut novel by Professor Emeritus Halperin (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina). The narrative parallels the coming-of-age of a young Jewish man named Danny Shapiro, the openly unreliable narrator of this extended science fiction saga, tracking his journey from the end of 1963 to 1967. Launching into his story, Danny identifies himself as a student of all things alien: "I've read articles about automatic writing, ouija boards, communication through our souls from the beyond," he declares. "They're written by crackpots. I'm a scientific UFOlogist. If we're to solve the mystery of the disks, as we surely will, if only we keep working at it, ignore the idiots who ridicule us, it will be through scientific research and analysis. Nothing else." Danny has plenty of his own trials with which to cope. His mother is dying, slowly and horribly. His father torments the incessantly sensitive son. In his heart of hearts, Danny harbors an unrequited affection for his blossoming friend Rosa Pagliano, worsened by his rivalry with best friend Jeff Stollard. It all might have turned out as a nuanced and nostalgic rumination on the turmoil of the'60s via a paranoid culture—see William Peter Blatty's Crazy for a good comparison piece. Instead, Halperin throws in everything but the kitchen sink, unleashing an underground culture of conspiracy theorists, sexual discovery, the proverbial Men in Black and the Roswell crash, all in a heady, if baffling, tightrope between reality and existential revelation. By the time readers have been to the moon and back, flown to Jerusalem at Danny's side and bumped into Danny's human/alien hybrid love child, they'll either be along for the ride or they won't.

Whether it's a nervous breakdown with flying saucers or a Burroughs-like odyssey through religious allegory, this novel never coalesces into a convincing story.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670022458
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/3/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

In the 1960s, David Halperin was a teen-age UFO investigator. Later he became a professor of religious studies — his specialty, religious traditions of heavenly ascent. From 1976 through 2000, he taught Jewish history in the Religious Studies Department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Now retired from teaching, he lives in North Carolina with his wife Rose. Journal of a UFO Investigator is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 7 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 24, 2011

    Extremely satisfying. Keeps you on edge.

    David Halperin has written a superb novel of an adolescent's fantasy as a way of dealing with his very disturbed home life and his terrible loneliness. It is so well written that there are times when the reader begins to believe that Danny Shapiro's fantasy is real, as when he encounters three men, who might be aliens, in the Miami airport, or when Rochelle tells him the story of finding Bender dead in his car with a marked book beside him, or when Rosa lifts her skirt to show him marks on her legs left by her mother's beating. These scenes are interspersed by scenes of his home life where his mother is slowly dying of heart disease and his father seems to hate him. The book's resolution brings the fantasy and real together and finds college-age Danny in Israel with friends who played important roles in the fantasy and with a baby he fathered with an alien. It's a remarkable and satisfying ending and you keep asking, "What is real? What is not?"

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  • Posted February 10, 2011

    Infuriating

    Mysterious, maddening book. It was hard to stop reading, which is unusual for me: generally my eye moves across the page at the pace of a garden slug, but the UFO Investigator was impossible for me to ignore. Well done, David Halperin, and thank you.



    George Horwitz

    fishmonger and author

    "La Causa"
    "Indifference"
    grilled Sardines

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    The fluorescent disk beckons. Step through the portal.

    What an achievement - this novel is somehow imaginative, fantastic and escapist while also being dark, weighty, painful, realistic and deeply personal. The book offers the intricate characterizations and the emotional and spiritual exploration of a serious literary novel while avoiding the trap so many of them fall into: bloodless, plotless, morose, wallowing and static scenes and prose. Instead, a relentless, tense, dynamic narrative pulls us at the pace of a thriller through through two continents to the novel's satisfying resolution.

    The first-person protagonist is 1960s high school outcast Danny Shapiro, a Jew at a gentile school trapped in a dysfunctional family with a terminally ill mom and an angry, resentful father filled with contempt for his son's UFO obsession. Danny loses his eighth-grade best friend when they both like the same girl, whom Danny passes up a chance to dance with because he believes that having a shiksa girlfriend might literally kill his mother. Danny tortures himself over this moment of cowardice for years. World events intensify his angst. The U.S. and Soviet Union nearly annihilate the planet in a showdown over Cuba; President Kennedy is assassinated, and Israel goes to war, all as his mother's health worsens by the day.

    Danny does not explode nor numb himself with drugs. Instead, he sinks down, down, DOWN into his own psychic hellscape, spending his tortured, sleepless nights a thin wall away from his mother's labored breathing, sheltering himself in the circle of light beneath his desk lamp, setting down in his journal a fantastic alternate narrative of the past few years of his life. In his journal, he is an unjustly tormented yet heroic UFO investigator assisted by a loyal mentor and friend, desired by a conveniently Jewish seductress and chosen by an alien race ...

    But you'll see. You're in no way prepared for the world(s) you'll enter when you open this book. I marvel at its ambition. And I'm in awe that Halperin not only pilots this mysterious spaceship to accomplish its several missions -- but even figures out how to land it.

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  • Posted November 30, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is a strange yet profound coming of age tale

    In 1966 in Philadelphia sixteen years old Jewish Danny Shapiro worries about his dying mom but finds solace in UFOs as he cannot turn to his hostile father for solace. Over three years earlier, he saw his first UFO, which was not a shocker to him as he had been a UFO investigator for two weeks. His fascination leads to a split from his long time school buddies who find the study of UFOs inane, weird and extremely tedious. Danny is indifferent to being ostracized as he meets new friends who share his interest.

    Danny and his cronies investigate UFO phenomena. He soon finds himself in unbelievable adventures as the three Men in Black interrogate him; he disappears in middle earth and soars to the moon. Before he can come home to see how mom is doing he finds himself as an out-patient in an alien operating room and falling in love with an ET thief. Stunned by all he encounters, Danny becomes guardian to a hybrid ET-earthling, who is the golden child expected to simply save the planet.

    This is a strange yet profound coming of age tale starring a teen isolated from his friends due to his obsession that makes him different in an environ that demands fit to standardization; as variance need not apply. Danny is a sympathetic protagonist who seems lost with no hope to the reader as he creates a world where he is a superhero unlike his Philadelphia neighborhood where he is a scorned pariah. David Halperin provides a discerning psychological tale that uses science fiction elements to tell the story of a lost soul who dreams of great things in his fantasies to escape his realities.

    Harriet Klausner

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    Posted February 8, 2011

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