Thursday, June 21, 2018

Chicanonautica: J. J. Benítez and His Cuadernos de Campo

J.J.Benítez is one of the most popular and prolific authors writing in Spanish. That makes him one of the most popular writers on the planet. Still, English translations of his books seem to only exist as rumors.

Benítez has been a journalist for over fifty years, and is mostly known as a UFO (en español: OVNI--Objecto Volador No Idenificado) researcher, and in recent decades has branched out into the paranormal--ghosts, angels, afterlife manifestations, other dimensions, apocalyptic visions, etc.

I first encountered him about thirty years ago. I was reading UFO literature in Spanish from the Phoenix Public Library. OVNI lit tends to be sexier, with pulp-fictiony violence, and more bizarre than Anglophone UFO lit. Benítez stood out in this genre; he can actually write.

I checked out a thick volume, the title of which escapes me. (Looking over Benítez’s massive catalog is no help.) It read like a novel, X-Files-ish, with a touch of gonzo journalism. Benítez traveled around the world (having particular trouble getting in and out of the United States) investigating UFOs.  Something seemed to be going on . . . 

Then at the end, he came to an abrupt halt, apologizing for not tying it all together, but promising that maybe he would be able to do it in the next book . . .

If it hadn't been a library book, I would have thrown it at the nearest wall, breaking its spine.

Fans of UFO/paranormal lit are a helluvalot more patient than I am.

Like the X-Files, Benítez tended to be vague. A photo that stuck in my mind was a typical tourist shot of his bikini-clad girlfriend at a Mediterranean beach. The caption said that there was a UFO in the sky. To me it looked like speck of dust on the negative.

I had to admire him for pulling off such a scam, but how long could it last? Surely, his readers would catch on and stop buying his books.


For decades, I kept seeing new books by Benítez. He’s a regular fixture in libraries here in Aztlán. When I went to work for Borders, I found myself shelving shiny new copies his latest, fat volumes.

He dropped the first person narrative, and took to reporting incidents, sometimes interviewing the witnesses, other times retelling accounts reported elsewhere--like Fidel Castro’s UFO sighting in Sólo Para Tus Ojos: Cuarenta y Cuatro Años de Investigación Ovni.

He has an easy-to-read style (I recommend his books for those who need to practice their Spanish). He keeps the reports short, and often doesn’t bother to put them in chronological order. They are also illustrated with photos, maps, and diagram-like drawings from Benítez’s “cuadernos de campo” which give the impression that he’s running all over the planet doing research rather than answering email from people who’ve seen or experienced strange things. 

He provides lots of data, but no real proof.

His audience doesn’t seem to care. When people want to believe, they don’t need to be convinced.

People used to say, “No one will believe that, this is the twentieth century.” In the twenty-first century, the Information Age, people will believe anything.

Is it just me, or is that scary?

Ernest Hogan once saw a UFO over the Superstition Mountains, but remains a skeptical science fiction writer. His novel Smoking Mirror Blues is available in a new edition.

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