The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, September 21, 2009

Skiffy skeptics

I suppose every job has its taxi driver question, and for SF writers it's: 'Do you believe in all that, then?'

'Believe in all what?'

'You know - little green men.' (Or flying saucers, or whatever.)

The first time this happened my lengthy explanation was trumped by the driver saying, 'I gave that Erich von Daniken a lift once.'

I've heard it said that SF fans tend to be more sceptical of UFOs and paranormal claims generally than most people, but in my teens I certainly wasn't, so it's cheering to see tale of how a bit of outreach can change someone's mind.



Sadly that taxi driver is likely to believe that he has now driven both a "crazy Sci-Fi" guy and a serious scientist around...

I remember when I was in my early teens, keen on SF (and had just read and been blown away by 'Chariots of the Gods') having a heated argument with my dad about UFOs and how "some of them are real", backed up with photos of flying hubcaps and vacuum cleaner bits from some "UFOs Exposed!" tome I was reading at the time. I still blush with embarrassment at the memory, and I only wish I'd remembered to apologise to him in later years, before it was too late.

Long ago, I gave a (decidedly negative) talk about von Daniken and his crazy theories to my "History of Anthropological Thought" class. I was pleased that no one else in the class seemed to have heard of him, but also a bit worried that they might become interested in him after my talk!

Claire - that was exactly my experience in the Hisotry of Anthro Thought I taught in Birmingham. . .

You're not me, are you?

It can be done. I once heard a guy called Tim Taylor give a talk about Graham Hancock, from which I learnt
a) that Hancock is a loon of the first water
and, more importantly
b) quite a lot about diffusionism.

My old man used to read a lot of Isaac Velikovsky, who doesn't seem to have had Von Daniken's staying power. Maybe he didn't have such good illustrations.

I was about to dispute that, having the notion that it was the other way round, but Google returns twice as many hits for von Daniken as for Velikovsky. Maybe the difference is that Velikovsky impressed people who were better educated than those bamboozled by von Daniken, because Velikovsky had a more scholarly-looking base of research.

I think velikovsky just had the misfortune to be too early, he helped keep it all going or kick start the modern phase of such looniness. Plus, although I've not read much by him, finding his style too impenetrable (Which wouldn't help popularity) his ideas were in some ways not hand wavy enough and were roundly rebutted by the science community of the time, or so I have read.
Whereas Daniken came along a little later and wrote nice easy to read books which were not quite as specific, left the reader to fill in the gaps and much easier to read and more user friendly in size.
Of course he too has been panned in various ways, but by then it was too late.
He has been overtaken by the modern equivalent, your leigh and Baigent, Knight and Lomas, the pyramidiots of various stripes and so on.
There is a whole alternative reality out there which as far as I can see does not intersect the world of the SF fan, i.e. UFO's and paranormal stuff have lost all links to SF in the last few decades. The woosters and others have created a self re-inforcing paradigm which utilises pseudo-science to give a veneer of respectability, but is the usual madness. Look up ORMUS for example.
(my name is guthrie but it is not accepting my login)

May the Non-Existent Gods of Puny Earth bless Von D, even so. He did a hell of a lot for me when I was about 13; not least, a fascination with his books showed me that it's possible to see a story completely differently ...

... in other words, it's possible to write fiction.

- Mat C

Mat - von Daniken certainly shook me up at about that age, too, though not in the same way. I was more of a literalist.

guthrie - As far as I know the main continuing intersection of trad-SF fandom and paranormal stuff might be Fortean Times, partly because FT has adopted the fannish style of organising (pages and pages of readers' letters; the annual Unconvention) and partly because Charles Fort influenced quite a few SF writers. I first became aware of Fort through reading Eric Frank Russell.

(And, of course, FT is a cut above the usual credulous guff about these subjects.)

We are property, and the human-farmers don't want us to know it. -- Charles Fort

While von Daniken's and his fellow pseudo-historians should be spurned and laughed at, I do admit that some of their material makes for great pulp, conspiracy, and horror (especially Cthulhu Mythos) material for role-playing games.

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