Non-Fiction Reviews

The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture

(2005) Jason Colavito, Prometheus Books, US$19.00, trdpbk, 398 pp, ISBN 1-591-02352-1


If you read supposedly factual accounts by those 'kidnapped' by aliens of what it is like in their spacecraft then the account will depend upon the year the alleged incident took place. In the 1960s apparently the insides of flying saucers were packed with equipment that had glowing vacuum tubes and electrodes with static electricity sparks much like the laboratories of the old Frankenstein movies. Then in the mid-1970s there were black and white TV screens and toggles switches. In the 1990s descriptions included full-colour monitors... And so the description purported abductees gave reflected the human technology of the day and the descriptions of technological equipment provided by science fiction of the day. So it would seem that popular science fiction has had an impact on what might be termed the 'UFO' brigade.

All well and good but then in the late1960s (which was later translated into English) Eric von Daniken wrote Chariot of the Gods that popularised the notion that UFOs had been visiting us throughout history and that in the past these visiting aliens had been mistaken for gods. Now, whatever you may think of such notions, science fact and science fiction Concateneers tend to discriminate their fact from fiction albeit using the former to enhance the sense of wonder of the latter and not the reverse. Even so, it is a legitimate Fortean question to wonder whether there was some pivotal work, or works, of speculative fiction that triggered this wave of pseudo-fact?

Here Jason Colavito presents the idea that H. P. Lovecraft's work had a fundamental influence on a number of the early proponents of palaeo-ufology and as a result a major formative impact on this cult as a whole. Here of H. P. Lovecraft's works, The Call of Cthulhu was one of the more significant.

I have to say that like a number of hard scientists (the hard core sciences being biology, chemistry and physics) I have little time for the humanities that dress themselves up as science (social science) but without employing the scientific method. (I'm sorry if this offends some but in the course of my work I have witnessed literally millions of tax-payers' money being wasted on flawed social science in the area of science and society: maybe I have been unlucky.) So normally I am wary of such works and hugely disappointed that Ufologists have failed to deliver. (Wouldn't it be marvellous if there were proof-positive of alien visitation!) Consequently I'm doubly wary of ufology type books...

It was therefore a pleasure to find that Jason Colavito presents his argument coherently and with decent notes and proper references for those wishing to check them out. (Here an admission: I've not but the references are there for any soul that wishes to and that's what counts.) His style is easy to read and at the end of the day he has a meaningful message. This, among a couple of other germane points, is that many (or perhaps a small but significant proportion) in the population turn to easy-to-believe alternatives as they feel betrayed by science. This last is a topic in itself (which fortunately Colavito leaves off exploring in depth) but is important. If science fiction has value in instilling a sense of wonder and in encouraging some to study, and even go on and have a career in science or technology, then surely this is no bad thing. On the other hand a genre with its seductive elements as SF, can be nefariously used for economic gain at the expense of rational thought, the gullible, and genuine understanding of phenomena and history, and so the genre has its dark side. I for one accept the positive things SF has to offer, but equally consider it important to bear in mind its negative aspects as Jason Colavito has.

Relatedly, as I mentioned earlier, there's much about the social sciences I simply do not rate and, other than biographies I have less than a dozen good non-fiction books on SF on my shelves. (The rest I have recycled (rather than inflict on someone else) save one that won a major SF award, which demonstrates that you can fool some of the people some of the time.) However Jason Colavito's book I will keep as it is one of the few non-fiction books about SF as a genre in a societal context that actually is coherent, well presented, decently written (no pseudo-academicese here), properly referenced and which has something meaningful to say. Well done to both the author and the publisher.

Jonathan Cowie

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