Selling space-alien fiction as truth

The Argument

Publishers, not to mention authors, who peddle lies for profit deserve to be punished


March 23, 2003|By Steve Weinberg | Steve Weinberg,Special to the Sun

Authors and their publishers who push books labeled "nonfiction" about UFOs carrying aliens to earth -- where the aliens then sometimes implant foreign objects under the earthlings' skin and engage in a form of sexual intercourse -- ought to be publicly scolded. Instead, academics who should know better, book reviewers, retail booksellers and readers themselves allow the misleading "nonfiction" labeling to go unpunished. As a result, those publishers who know they are selling lies for profit (or else are employing editors deluded to the point of being psychologically unbalanced) remain in business with no apparent adverse consequences.

Two of the best-known alien abduction authors write for publishers who devote much of their nonfiction lists to responsibly researched and argued volumes -- St. Martin's Press and Crown / Random House. Dozens of additional author-publisher combinations are also complicit.

Amid all the trash are a few volumes about UFOs, alien abductions and related phenomena that actually say the emperors have no clothes. In a stack of books accumulating at The Sun over the past few years -- books that form the basis of this essay -- only one stands out like a diamond in a feedlot overrun with manure. More about this diamond later.

Probably the most visible offender among mainstream book publishers is St. Martin's Press, which profited from Whitley Strieber's Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens Among Us? (1998, 324 pages, $6.99).

At the time of its publication, I started to read Strieber's book with an open mind. The term "hard evidence" attracted me, and gave me hope that finally an author who said he had experienced an encounter with aliens would finally deliver proof that a skeptic (but not a cynic) like myself could accept.

Strieber failed the hard evidence test miserably. The eyewitness accounts, from himself and others, can easily be explained away based on theories far more likely than alien travel to Earth. As for the tangible objects found in the homes or on the persons of the inexplicably chosen earthlings: Those objects -- some shown in photographs -- obviously came from somewhere, but Strieber presents no evidence to make me conclude that aliens were the source.

It is one thing to state that other planets, other solar systems, might support what we on Earth call "human life." I have no trouble accepting that possibility. It would be hubris to think otherwise. It is quite another matter to state that those theorized human life forms have conquered unimaginable time, space, navigation and materials-science obstacles to arrive on and depart from Earth at will.

Confirmation is Strieber's 10th solo book (he has also collaborated with James Kunetka), six of them clearly labeled fiction. He and his publisher appear to have trouble finding the normally clear line between fiction and nonfiction.

St. Martin's is not merely a neutral purveyor of a controversial book, able to defend itself on noble First Amendment or other free-speech grounds. The hype written within the St. Martin's workplace for the cover of Confirmation is anything but neutral.

It says "Warning: After You Read This Book, You WILL Believe in Alien Life ... bestselling author and UFOlogist Whitley Strieber boldly explores the vast territory of alien encounters, uncovering the most conclusive evidence of all, PHYSICAL EVIDENCE that aliens may really be here. Marvel as Whitley Strieber tells his own compelling story -- and those of countless others -- while you discover shocking new close encounters, many involving groups of people; thousands of sightings worldwide, many captured on video; shocking evidence of five mysterious implants surgically removed from human bodies; and much, much more! The most compelling question in the universe has remained unanswered for centuries. Now, finally, there is CONFIRMATION."

Other than Strieber and St. Martin's, the most infuriating author-publisher combination among the books sampled is John E. Mack and Crown. The book is Passport to the Cosmos: Human Transformation and Alien Encounters (1999, 306 pages, $24).

Mack and Crown exploit his advanced degree (an M.D. with a specialty in psychiatry) by noting it in huge letters on the dust jacket. His faculty position at Harvard University Medical School is mentioned, unsurprisingly. One of his major credits is stated in a potentially misleading manner on the cover: "Pulitzer Prize-Winning Author of the Best-Selling Abduction." The book Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens, which set the stage for Passport to the Cosmos, is indeed by Mack. But it has nothing to do with his Pulitzer Prize.

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