Saturday, October 24, 2009

Mystery Death: Mac Tonnies, 34

Why do some people die so young, and all we hear is that they passed away of "natural causes"? The two pieces of information do not compute.

Mac Tonnies, 34, a rising intellectual presence in Fortean thought, the "Posthuman Blues" blogger, and the author of the forthcoming book, The Cryptoterrestrials (Anomalist Books, 2010), has departed this plane. He was found dead in his apartment on Thursday afternoon, October 22, 2009. Reports indicate that there was no foul play or suicide involved, and "natural causes" are being blamed for his sudden and unexpected death. There is some indication that he may have been feeling "faint" in the days leading up to his death.

nessie tag

I never met Mac, but he did correspond a few times with me. In April 2008, he was curious about a mysterious graffiti artist that had popped up in his town, who was leaving iconic Nessie stencils around and about. He wrote me and asked if I'd heard about any other incidents like it happening around the country. I posted a brief note on CryptoZooNews about the cryptoart.

The title of Mac's forthcoming book, The Cryptoterrestrials, also, of course, interested me. In talks I had with his publisher, Patrick Huyghe, I understood it would be a book that extended the thoughts of John Keel's ultraterrestrials. I looked forward to seeing what new take Tonnies had on it all, and was open to hearing if cryptozoology played into his intellectual ponderings.

Mac Tonnies had the potential to ask some challenging questions. That seemed to have scared some people.

Strangely, Mac's name appeared at the end of the "death list" of people that a group of extremely youthful ufologists placed in their infamous posting of March 22, 2008, 19 months or so, before the day of Tonnies' death. The so-called "RRRGroup," in their "UFO PROVOCATEUR(S)" blog entry entitled "Death(s) will clean the UFO palate," listed the names of people whom they almost seemed to be wishing would die more quickly so the "future" of the field could dawn more quickly.

They wrote:

When ufology’s old-guard passes on – Dick Hall, Stan Friedman, Kevin Randall, John Schuessler, and even the 60ish Jerry Clark to name a few – taking hangers-on and sycophants with them (and you know who they are), the UFO palate will be cleansed.

That is, the mummified concepts of ufology will be washed away, and new paradigms will be allowed to flourish.

Standing in the wings already is a group of middle-agers who, while not particularly astute about the UFO history and inclined to be cavalier with their observations and characterizations of ufology and UFOs themselves, think they are the news faces of ufology, which is a mantle they hope to change.

Those people include Paul Kimball, Nick Redfern, Greg Bishop, and Mac Tonnies.

...Once the old-guard is gone, and the mid-lifers dismissed because of their foolishness, the young crop of UFO mavens’ newer ideas will hold sway with the public and media....

Blood mixed with ink.

I wrote in their comment section at the time:

It seems incredible to really read these words: "...the young crop of UFO mavens’ newer ideas will hold sway with the public and media, because this new generation isn’t conscripted by former old-think about UFOs, presenting instead original thought and pursuit of the UFO mystery..."
Being a radical Fortean observer watching the coming and going of all matter of writers, researchers, and theorists in the last four decades, you have given me a good chuckle.

Every "new" generation sees themselves as having the "real" solutions or the next best outside-the-box suggestions. Of course, it will only be something you will reflect upon when the next generation after you, the new group of "Young Ones" start nibbling at your aging heels, [and] says something similar to you.

It's always been that way, and it will continue so into the future.

Besides being intellectually dishonest, such a critique as the one from the RRR group has no sense of history or reality. But in terms of karma, frankly, I think it is bad form to put names out there of people you almost seem to be wishing were dead. I am shocked, therefore, to see that Mac Tonnies, the last name on the RRR list, along with Dick Hall, the first one, both now have died. Sad indeed.

The tributes for Tonnies, as often happens in a surprising death like this are pouring in from his deep friends. I recommend those of Nick Redfern, Greg Bishop, and many other of his true friends.

Mac's last tweet was on October 18th, 2009, and he pointed to "sculptural manifestations of audio footage."

I want to leave you with Mac's own words, as he has summed up his own life, here below, from his self-authored biography. Good-bye, Mac:

I'm a Kansas City, Missouri-based author and essayist. I blog daily at Posthuman Blues and tweet religiously. My latest book is After the Martian Apocalypse (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004), a speculative and generally well-received examination of extraterrestrial intelligence on the Red Planet. I'm presently at work on a new non-fiction book titled The Cryptoterrestrials: Indigenous Humanoids and the Aliens Among Us, excerpts of which I've posted on my blog. If you're in the mood for a multiplex Fortean anthology, my essay "The Ancients Are Watching" is included in 2008's Darklore Vol. II. (My first book, Illumined Black, is a collection of naively "Blade Runner"-ish science fiction short-stories. It can still be found in used-book stores and on

I've been a guest panelist at ConQuest, Kansas City's premiere science fiction convention. More recently, I've lectured in the United States and Canada on subjects ranging from exoarchaeology to transhumanism and have appeared on programs such as Coast to Coast AM, Strange Days . . . Indeed, 21st Century Radio, The Paracast, Binnall of America, and Radio Misterioso. My first play, produced and directed by Paul Kimball, debuted in Halifax, Nova Scotia in late 2007. In early 2009 I appeared as the "investigator" in an episode of "Supernatural Investigator," a Canadian program covering fringe beliefs and esoteric science. I also make an appearance in "Best Evidence," an award-winning UFO documentary.

I spend an inordinately large portion of my time pursuing unpopular ideas and esoteric theories with what I sincerely hope is balanced skepticism. I'm a member of the Society for Planetary SETI Research, a group that seeks to use scientific methodology to explore the possibility of extraterrestrial artifacts in our solar system. I read voraciously; preoccupations include cosmology, nonhuman intelligence, UFOs, consciousness studies, and futurism. Writers I admire include William Gibson, Philip K. Dick and William S. Burroughs.

I tend to think in the future-tense. I'm a skeptic, agnostic and existentialist; I perceive reality as a kind of consensual hallucination that forces us to define our sense of identity without recourse to faith or superstition. I have a deep affinity for 80s pop music; some of my favorite bands are The Cure, R.E.M., Portishead, Talking Heads, and The Smiths. Favorite film-makers include David Cronenberg and David Lynch. I can regularly be found haunting the Country Club Plaza, taking pictures, reading cyberpunk novels, and marinating my synapses in espresso. And I'm a voracious doodler.


Consciousness is a potential technology; we are exquisite machines, nothing less than sentient patterns. As such, there's no convincing technical reason we can't eventually upload ourselves into matrices of our design and choosing. It's likely the phenomenon we casually call "intelligence" will cease to be strictly biological as we begin to merge with our machines more meaningfully and intimately. (Philip K. Dick once wrote that "living and nonliving things are exchanging properties." I suspect that in a few hundred years, barring disaster, separating the animate from the inanimate will probably be an exercise in futility.) Ultimately, we have two options: self-mutate by venturing off-planet in minds and bodies of our own design, or succumb to extinction.


Sam G said...

Beautiful write up sad. As always my thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Tonnies family and friends. Way too young.

LesleyinNM said...

I had almost forgot about that post from RRR. Though many of their posts are gutter trash, that one is one of the lowest.

Wm. Michael (Mike) Mott said...

Excellent tribute, Loren.

I too was struck by the strangeness of Mac's demise, but I suppose we can't start exhibiting paranoia about the mystery of it until all the facts are in.

Still, this really reminds me of the sudden, unexpected death of Jim Keith, or even of Richard S. Shaver.

Mac and I shared similar ideas, as you probably know. We were regular electronic pen-pals, and I was really looking forward to his new book. I still am.

As for the RRR Group, I came to Mac's (and his theories') defense there on one occasion when he was more or less savaged in a very irrational and mean-spirited way. You can still find links to it at Posthuman Blues,along with some discussions about the "hidden others" or cryptoterrestrials that haunt our planet and our history.

I spent some time last night re-reading our email exchanges, and the introduction to his new book (probably an early draft) that he sent me some time ago. I know that Mac was an agnostic, but I am not, so I said a prayer for him. I hope he finds that ultimate Truth we are all seeking, the truth that underlies every mystery, every puzzle, everything waiting to be revealed.

Thanks again for this write-up on Mac's behalf. I'm sure he would have appreciated it.

-Mike Mott

The Secret Sun said...

A very sad passing- definitely a great talent. He will be missed.

Let me just say that feeling faint is not something to brush off- it's a major symptom of circulatory trouble, or distress in the heart. Heart problems often go undiagnosed and people are educated with their symptoms. That goes for folks in fringe pursuits, who live more in their heads than their bodies sometimes. So take that if nothing else from this tragic passing.

PAG said...

Nice thoughts Loren. Correct me if I am wrong but I believe about 3-4 years ago Mac almost died from an unusual illness and spent several days in the hospital. His passing was indeed a sad day. He will be missed by everyone who knew him.

cryptidsrus said...

I've already said my condolences at Loren's other blog, as well as Nick Redfern's blog and another, as well.

I agree with Loren and others here. Shame on RRR for doing what they did.

Hopefully us and his loved ones will get to find out what he died from to clear needless speculation as to his death. And 34 is WAY too young an age to die.

May his soul rest in peace.

Christopher Knowles wis right---faintness is not soemthing to be taken lightly. I would not be surprised to hear that Mac had an underlying, undiagnosed condition that was the cause of his death.
You see this at shows like "Dr. G." all the time. Makes it even the more tragic.

Regan Lee said...

Thoughtful and as Sam said, also beautiful post on Mac. I never knew him personally, only had a few simple, small on-line correspondances with him, but respected him. His death is a shock, and I'm praying for his friends and family...

Greg Bishop said...


Thanks so much for the thoughtful article.

I don't think that the RRR people actually wished for the death of Ufologists, and Mac was certainly not on the list of the old guard that they wrote about.

In fact, they said that Mac was one of the new people who would sweep out the old guard. I tend to think that his work adds to the literature and enhances it, and does not refute it.

I also took issue with the statement that Mac and his friends were not aware of the history of the subject. We are not only aware, we acknowledge the history of UFOs and other anomalies and work of those whose shoulders we stand on and work with.

Mac had some health issues which he acknowledged privately, but will most likely be kept out of the public discussion. What it comes down to is something which seemed minor, but has historically caused problems for others similarly afflicted.

Loren Coleman said...

I appreciate everyone for sharing their thoughts about Mac.

Ah yes, Greg, perhaps "death," per se, is not "wished for," but the harshness of the desire for "the mid-lifers [to be] dismissed because of their foolishness" did include you, Greg, as well as Mac.

I stand behind my feelings that welcoming death as a solution to intellectual differences is totally uncalled for, and puts out bad energy vibes, big time, to say the least.

norman said...

I did not know this soul but can see he flew. Still I am sad at his passing.
Coincidently, 'death from natural causes' has been at the heart of a furore in the UK of late!
In my opinion this forcaste of a death can be harmful, working in the opposite way to the placebo effect. In Britsh colonial days, it was reported, a word from a witch doctor was enough to cause the decline and death of someone. My point being, that one needs some defences, not from magic but the negative placebo effect, if that is not magic.

LesleyinNM said...

I totally agree with Loren about the bad vibes. Much of the RRR blog seems to exist simply to spit venom at others, it is far more personal than simply disagreeing with someone. It does send out bad vibes and I believe there is evidence that such vibes can cause damage, though I am not saying they killed Mac, but certainly they don't add anything good to the world.

Anonymous said...

I'd thought that Mac would fill the void of John A. Keel. And now Mac Tonnies has passed on too! So young and just beginning to publish his fascinating ideas on the origins of aliens.

May Mac Tonnies spirit be walking peacefully along the Elysian Plains....R.I.P.

Anonymous said...

Unrelated but have you noticed the spate of priest stabbings lately? Had a couple here in TX and now this one in Jersey

John Ludi said...

I was really saddened to hear this news. I thought of him as probably the most thoughtful and insightful of the new breed of ufologists and a breath of fresh air in a field that is sorely lacking such. I made it a point to catch his interviews wherever I could find them and was always greatly impressed. He seemed to have a truly open mind...and that is rare. His passing is a great loss for modern Fortean studies and I extend my condolences to any of those who were close to him

Greg Bishop said...

Loren and Lesley,

The post was mean-spirited and uncalled for. When called on it, Reynolds or whoever backed off the "wanting to see people dead" aspect. Rightly so.

In any case, RRR posts were (and are for the most part) mainly released for shock value. They are sort of the midday talk/ fight show aspect of online UFO discussion.

I also found that when I didn't strike back with vitriol, they let up on me pretty quickly. They seem to enjoy testing boundaries, and I didn't want to provide them with one.

Mac's book will be around and talked about long after RRR (as a group) is gone, I predict.

john shirley said...

Mac Tonnies was a friend of mine, a good writer, a valued thinker.

Mac revealed to me that he was suffering from deep, deep problems with depression. I suspect that what killed him was either a mix of medication--a bad interaction--or suicide. He was feeling really bad this last year.

AndyCarolan said...

Such a very sad and tragic loss. He was one year younger than myself which I think adds to the difficulty in me believing that he has actually passed on.

Beautiful tribute Loren. My thoughts go out to Mac's friends and family.

Happy trails Mac, wherever you are.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

We might take a lesson from this and celebrate our "Mac Tonnies" still living as an apology to Mac, whom we all agree could have been appreciated so much more had we but known, eh? Greg Bishop and Tim Binnall spring immediately to mind -- Adam Gorightly, even Jeremy Vaeni... there are others.

Rich Reynolds and his real or imagined RRR should be cast adrift on an iceberg even apart from my bias regarding same. Though really, "RRR"... why? What needs are met, what process served... what progress made?

Nuke from orbit just to be sure, stir the ashes, and then nuke again.

Unknown said...

Very sad news.

The sentiments of this RRR group seem rather bizarre and pointless to me. Why should it matter which team has the prevailing view? Did Charles Fort need a constituency to express his ideas? Is there something to be gained by having everyone who disagrees with you dead? Is the goal to achieve some kind of intellectual hegemony? Wacky.

Alfred Lehmberg said...

More than merely wacky, I suspect. Pathological. Psychotic...

Afflicted, ailing, airsick, barfing, bedfast, bedrid, bilious, brainsick, consumptive, crazy, delirious, demented, distracted, disturbed, dizzy, dyspeptic, faint, feverish, feverous, "funny," giddy, gouty, hallucinating, ill, indisposed, infirm, insane, laid low, laid up, light, light-headed, liverish, mad... ...perhaps menstruating, nauseating, displeased, peaked, puked, queasy, regurgitated, retching, scrofulous, seasick, sickish, sickly, intellectually spastic, spewing, stricken, swooning, tubercular, unbalanced, unhealed, unhinged, unwell, upset, vertiginous, vomitous, woozy... but I sugar-coat it.

Coresa said...

I have had Mac on the brain for some time now. I went to high school with him and we were even in a writer's club together. I read some of his original works, shorts and whatever else he brought to club to have critiqued. I was reading one that got published in the schools literary magazine as well. He was profound and now missed.