Presented with a book entitled Picturing Extraterrestrials written by a retired professor of the history of art, you would probably expect a glossy book full of gorgeous colour illustrations of aliens taken from book and magazine covers, film posters and the whole gamut of modern kitsch. What you get, apart from 16 pages of black and white illustrations, is mountains of text, discussing alien abduction narratives from a generally sceptical viewpoint. Some good points are made, and there are attempts at humour.
There is no doubt that this a wide ranging study; not many UFO books will cover the influence of Swedenborg and Eliphas Levi on symbolist art in the same pages which discuss the genesis of the American cultural icon Betty Crocker (don’t worry, fellow Brits, I’m as baffled by this name as you are). The thesis seems to be that the the abduction narratives are part of post-modernist commercial culture; they are capitalist commodities, phenomena of the world of TV and other pop kitsch images.
This is interspersed with general sceptical comments on the abduction scene, and UFO history (of course Americocentric, and containing a number of careless howlers). These are often sensible enough but they have been made many times before, and hardly seem the province of the art historian.The cover describes this book as "accessible", but I am afraid that this description is somewhat of a terminological inexactitude; reading it was rather like swimming through treacle. With a good, slashing editor, parts would have made interesting Magonia articles, but the chapters just don’t add up to a coherent book. Why cannot Prometheus Books employ good quality editors to make the manuscripts they receive actually readable? The feeling is that anyone wearing an 'I Love Randi' badge can walk into the office and get their manuscripts published regardless of literary merit. -- Peter Rogerson, from Magonia Supplement 49, February 2004.