Infamous Memoirist James Frey Pens New Ancient Astronaut Novel for Teens Inspired by "Ancient Aliens"
Before we begin with our regular discussion of ancient astronauts, I have brief notice about the ongoing debate over H. P. Lovecraft’s racism and the World Fantasy Award. Last night Salon’s Laura Miller published a bland summary of the issue. There isn’t anything new here, but it’s good to see Miller point out S. T. Joshi’s remarkably puerile behavior (“a remarkable combination of the pompous and the grotesquely arch”) and myopic illogic. I’m not sure, though, that I agree with her assertion that Lovecraftian prose is enjoyable due to its “camp appeal” and “silliness.” I suppose there is an argument to be made there, along the lines of the excesses of the Gran Guignol, but unless you’re the Evil Dead, I’m not sure I’d be praising a horror story for being “silly.”
In Search of Sexist Aliens
The operator of the Archy Fantasies blog has set a goal of reviewing some of H2’s most awful offerings as part of an effort to see how the public at large views archaeology and the type of information they receive from TV. First up is the premiere episode of In Search of Aliens, and the review offers many of the same criticisms I offered in my review of the same. That said, there was a particularly good line that quite clearly stated something I’ve hinted at more than once: The ancient astronaut theory as given by Erich von Däniken and his followers has a weirdly sexist streak:
Also, why are the Aliens always male? Why are women only ever mentioned as being incubators for alien babies? There were/are Goddesses too, are only Gods Aliens and Goddesses are not real at all? And what about human women. All they do is give birth, all the ‘great people’ that come from being alien-human hybrids are men. Are women not a real people to Tsoukalos and Von Däniken?
The answer? Probably not. Von Däniken, when not accusing Black people of being a “failed” race, also thinks that society is too androgynous, complaining in Twilight of the Gods (2009) that we live in an age when “women act like men and the men act like women.” Plus, Apollo astronauts were all men, so naturally alien spaceships must be all-male bastions too.
Ancient Aliens for Teens
What happens when a man famous for lying decides to write science fiction for teens? Why, he decides to use the ancient astronaut theory as the background for the book while winking and nodding that the space beings might just be real. James Frey and coauthor Nils Johnson-Shelton appear to have ripped off The Hunger Games for their new novel Endgame: The Calling, in which ancient astronauts bred twelve tribes of humans to create contestants for a winner-take-all, fight-to-the-death Amazing Race around the world. Here’s some of the lengthy book description:
Twelve thousand years ago, they came. They descended from the sky amid smoke and fire, and created humanity and gave us rules to live by. They needed gold and they built our earliest civilizations to mine it for them. When they had what they needed, they left. But before they left, they told us someday they would come back, and when they did, a game would be played. A game that would determine our future.
This is depressing for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that James Frey, who famously confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he had fabricated large parts of his memoir A Million Little Pieces is still getting paid good money by major New York publishing houses (he has published many novels, including the young adult I Am Number Four). Does it surprise anyone that Frey’s publisher is HarperCollins, the same company that markets Jim Marrs’s anti-Semitic ancient astronaut conspiracy theories as nonfiction? HarperCollins is also the parent company of the Harper imprint that currently publishes the work of Zecharia Sitchin, the originator of the idea that aliens adhere to ancient stereotypes about gold-hungry Jews who secretly run the world.
20th Century Fox, formerly part of the same conglomerate as HarperCollins but now a separate company owned and operated by the same family—the Murdochs, bought the rights to the book and will turn it into another ancient astronaut movie. And whenever that happens, the media go nuts talking about why ancient astronauts might be real.
Teens who read Endgame (not to be confused with Ender's Game, though it seems like the publisher hopes it will be) will have the option of participating in a video game tie-in for a chance at a $500,000 prize—payable in gold, because aliens are gold hungry world controllers who would strip mine our planet to feed their lust for the stuff. I remind you again that HarperCollins offers the same claims as nonfiction through Zecharia Sitchin and Jim Marrs, where in the latter the gold-hungry aliens are also the progenitors of the sacred bloodline of the Jewish Rothschild banking family. And it’s not as if Frey wasn’t aware that he was repurposing claims that space aliens were the Yahweh of the Bible and the creators of the Twelve Tribes.
Frey gave an interview to Matt Staggs (who, full disclosure, interviewed me earlier this year) in which he discusses the ancient astronaut theory, and the fabulist discusses how he sees “a lot of sense” in ideas like those of Ancient Aliens, H. P. Lovecraft, and the X-Files:
Masquerade by Kip (sic) Williams was a huge influence. And Ancient Aliens, the TV show on History Channel was pretty big. And about 300 conspiracy websites on the web. My favorite is www.abovetopsecret.com. […] I love many of the same things and same ideas. They’re fascinating and cool and actually make a ton of sense. I know a bit about about (sic) number theory, and the importance of certain numbers in religion and mythology, much of which I did learn from the Final Testament [of the Holy Bible, his 2011 novel] research. Most of the world’s origin myths are shockingly similar, especially the oldest ones, which predate organized religion. I wanted to play with them, and create my own spin on them.
There is of course nothing wrong with using ancient astronauts in science fiction; the trope is at least as old as Garrett Serviss’s Edison’s Conquest of Mars (1898), in which Martians were responsible for building the Sphinx. But really, a novel based on ideas from Ancient Aliens? That’s about the crappiest foundation for an ancient astronaut novel I can imagine. But using the gold-obsessed quasi-Biblical ideas of Sitchin and Marrs? That’s playing with some dangerous ideas because of their close connection to paranoid anti-Semitic conspiracies.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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