Of Fort's four books, this volume deals most frequently and scathingly with astronomy (continuing from his previous book New Lands). The book also deals extensively with other subjects, including paranormal phenomena (see parapsychology), which was explored in his first book, The Book of the Damned. Fort is widely credited to have coined the now-popular term teleportation in this book, and here he ties his previous statements on what he referred to as the Super-Sargasso Sea into his beliefs on teleportation. He would later expand this theory to include purported mental and psychic phenomena in his fourth and final book, Wild Talents.
It takes its derisive title from the tendency of astronomers in Fort's days to make positivistic, overly precise, and premature announcements of celestial events and discoveries. Fort portrays them as quack prophets, sententiously pointing towards the skies—inaccurately, as events turn out.
Lo! is arguably Fort's most popular book, perhaps due to the fact that the book deals with an extremely wide and diverse range of phenomena (as can be seen below), and Fort by then had a clear theorem. His book is divided into two sections: the first on the above phenomena; the second, on his above-mentioned attacks on astronomy. The reason for this is that Fort had been working on a follow-up to The Book of the Damned, but he scrapped the idea and incorporated many of the subjects into this one.
Lo! is used extensively in Blue Balliett's book, Chasing Vermeer.
Part One: Teleportation
Fort established his thesis for this particular book early on—that some sort of mysterious force, known as the "cosmic joker" (in his words), is responsible for the teleportation of people, animals, and materials. This thesis would be revised later to accommodate Fort's research on psychic phenomena in Wild Talents.
Fort starts this book largely where he left off in The Book of the Damned: mysterious falls of animals and strange materials, flying stones, poltergeist activity, etc., and incorporates these strange phenomena into his new theory on teleportation, saying that teleportation from the Super-Sargasso Sea can explain these phenomena. Fort also briefly touches on UFOs again in this book, and writes extensively on a number of other topics which he feels can be explained by the teleportation: cryptozoology (including the Jersey Devil and various out of place animals), animal mutilations and attacks on people, strange swarming of insects, the appearance of various strange people from nowhere (the famous cases of Princess Caraboo and Kaspar Hauser), and the mysterious disappearances of others (including the diplomat Benjamin Bathurst, and vessels such as the Mary Celeste, Carroll A Deering, and USS Cyclops, presaging later interest in the Bermuda Triangle phenomenon). He writes a particularly extensive chapter on the winter of 1904-5 in Britain, where a widespread religious revival in England and Wales coincided with numerous other strange occurrences: the appearances of ghosts, poltergeists, a few purported cases of Spontaneous Human Combustion, and a ravenous wolf (or perhaps werewolf) mutilating sheep and other farm animals in Northumberland.
Fort feels all of these anomalous phenomena can be explained by his teleportation theory—though he later apparently retracted this theory to an extent in his final book.
Part Two: Astronomy
Astronomy was in vogue since the discovery of the Planet Pluto, supposedly by calculation. Astronomers were frequently cited in the press making extraordinarily precise claims, which subsequent events did not confirm regarding the orbits of comets, transits of the Sun, and other subjects. Fort may have had a point—the discovery of Pluto was not quite the triumph of mathematical astronomy that was portrayed in the popular press and scientific journals, and had an element of the accidental. Most comets or other bodies are still more likely to be discovered by the comparison of a time series of images of a sector of the sky, than by a priori celestial mechanics. Once discovered, a retroactive viewing of such images may show the new body was recorded years earlier.
Fort seems to have been among the many people skeptical of Albert Einstein's theories of relativity and the claim that these could be confirmed by a transit of the Sun. He was skeptical of the accuracy of the mathematics and the observations involved, and pointed out many seeming contradictions and anomalies in scientific pronunciamentos in the press. He rightly pointed out that many astronomical calculations were overly precise: just because you can carry out a calculation to eight places below the decimal doesn't mean that you should.
Some of this criticism was well-founded and some of it was nit-picking. For example, it is easy enough to understand today why comets and asteroids failed to perform as advertised—we now know much more about the chaotic orbits and composition of these bodies. But in Fort's day, the neat, deterministic Euclidean or Newtonian simplicity of the solar system prevailed in the minds of many scientists, not to mention journalists and the public. Arthur Stanley Eddington famously calculated the number of protons in the Universe down to the very last proton, which would astonish a physicist today.
We now know that much of the solar system can only be considered debris of innumerable unrecorded collisions and gravitational stresses. Not only is it impossible to anticipate the chaotic behaviour of the immense numbers of bodies in question, it is potentially a mathematical impossibility seeing as mathematicians have not solved the problem of calculating the gravitational interactions of three bodies, much less trillions. Little wonder that flying rock-piles and snowballs do not behave in a simple, deterministic manner.
Fort's bone-picking with astronomy illustrates the strengths and the weaknesses of his empirical methods and phenomenological philosophy. The positivism which he so gleefully attacked is still with us, but many of his anomalies and criticisms have now been incorporated into modern science. Fort would have appreciated the irony—indeed the inevitability—of much of his damned data coming in from the cold and being welcomed in the comfortable pews of orthodoxy.
This book was recently released in a paperback version, and it is included in Dover Publications' The Complete Works Of Charles Fort, with Fort's other paranormal writings. An online version of the book is linked below.