Saturday, July 09, 2016

Encyclopedia of ETs

     Wayne Douglas Barlowe et al. Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979 & 1987) With an introduction by Robert Silverberg. A nicely done survey of 48 extraterrestrials as described by 40-odd writers. Barlowe has done his best to interpret descriptions of varying completeness and vagueness into accurate renditions of their appearance, as well as summarising what the stories say or imply about their biology, social structure, political role(s), and so on.
Several of them contradict my visualisations (e.g., Dickson’s Ruml, from The Alien Way), others are wonderfully unearthly (e.g., the Dextran). It is after all logically impossible to imagine anything that is utterly alien: all ETs are inevitably extrapolations and interpretations of what we know about life on Earth, and what we can estimate about the physics and chemistry of exoplanets.
      Nevertheless, both writers and artists have tried to convey the sense of the Alien as something other than a human in a weird costume. The notes to the illustrations sometimes come close (e.g., Radiates, starfish shaped beings from Mitchison’s Memoirs of a Spacewoman, “will join an interlocking wheeling dance”).
      A well done compendium, that any SF fan will enjoy. It should be on the reference shelf of anyone contemplating devising an SF movie or book. ***

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