IMPOSSIBLE TRUTHS: AMAZING EVIDENCE OF EXTRATERRESTRIAL CONTACT
Erich von Däniken | 208 pages | Watkins | 2018 | ISBN: 978-1-78678-083-6 | $24.95
For the second time this year, the godfather of the ancient astronaut theory has released a new book promising to be the latest and greatest sequel to his Chariots of the Gods, which turns fifty years old this very month and will be celebrated with sumptuous hardcover reissue in July from Berkley Books, a division of Penguin RandomHouse. I won’t lie. I’ve seen the book design for that edition, and from the cover design on down, it is simply beautiful—a gorgeous aesthetic carefully gilding a half-century-old turd. But that book is for another time. Instead, today I am looking at Impossible Truths, a book that was published last month but which I have not had the time to review due to the growing number of high profile releases in the fringe history category this winter—the most active publishing schedule in the field in years. Frankly, I blame the whole alt-right, “alternative facts” complex for making these books mainstream again. But more to the point: Two von Däniken books in two weeks is two too many.
Impossible Truths is set up as a picture book providing images of artifacts and locations that the author, henceforth abbreviated EVD, believes are associated with space aliens. In this, it is very similar to his much earlier book In Search of Ancient Gods: My Pictorial Evidence of the Impossible (1973), but that book took the whole world as its canvas, and here EVD confines himself almost exclusively to the Andes Mountains, without ever really establishing that this was his goal. Instead, the sloppiness of the book—which has no real opening or closing—suggests that it was cut down from a longer work to make a series of shorter books, or else that EVD wrote the book from one set of notes on one topic and then grew bored and decided to stop.
In an apparently tacked on introduction almost entirely unrelated to what follows, EVD states that he assembled—“wrote” is too generous a term—this book because “a new generation” of people has never read his earlier, better, but hopelessly old books and is entirely ignorant of the ancient astronaut theory. That this introduction is utterly at odds with the book he published less than two weeks before this one, The Gods Never Left Us, in which he crowed that Ancient Aliens had spread his ideas to nearly all corners of the world and to a new generation, goes unnoticed. That he repeats the same contradictory claim later in this very same book speaks only to EVD’s general sloppiness in his dotage.
The remainder of the book is actually a volume on the mysteries of South America, but neither the author nor the publisher seems to have noticed or appreciated the fact that the focus never leaves the Andes. Instead, all involved treat this as a general, global ancient astronaut book.
The first chapter focuses on Pre-Columbian South American deities and presents a number of photographs of pre-Incan masonry and carvings of various gods. EVD is particularly incensed by the stele and slabs of Chavín de Huántar, which he says defy human understanding because they depict jaguar gods with iconography that defies explanation. After noting that archaeologists describe the image as a man-jaguar, EVD suggests that it is actually a robot wielding a sword, which he illustrates with a silly cartoonish computer-rendered image, borrowed from mystery-monger Wolfgang Volkrodt, of what was basically a robot from an old Bugs Bunny cartoon.
EVD misrepresents some century-old speculation about whether the Chavín de Huántar received influence from another culture to imply, falsely, that the “outside” from which their cultural complex may have derived not another Andean civilization but—wait for it—the Jews! Quoting himself from earlier books, he bases this on the Book of Mormon, which he pretends to take seriously as a true guide to Jewish wanderings in the Americas.
He also throws in some familiar questions from Chariots about whether the Biblical God was really a space alien, and he references, at times with almost pornographic excitement, the Watchers from the Book of Enoch, without whom no fringe history book would be complete. He’s really interested in how they “started having sex with the daughters of humans” as soon as they disembarked their UFO. Most of the material is heavily recycled from earlier books, but there is a new wrinkle: EVD has accepted Zecharia Sitchin’s fantasy about rebel factions of gods and now describes the Watchers as “mutineers” who rebelled against other alien gods. In his new telling, though, the main body of aliens stayed in the Old World, while the rebels colonized the Americas. Because they did not have access to the full range of technology of their brethren, these fallen rebels produced an inferior civilization, which (and here I am spelling out an implication, not quoting directly) is why the American natives lacked things like wheels and bronze. Also of note is EVD’s offhand claim that he knows the secrets “encoded” in the Gold Library of Ecuador, which he admitted in the 1970s to never having visited and which the rest of the world knows never existed. What are those secrets? He’ll never tell you, at least not at a $24.95 price point.
Other familiar topics include the Colombian gold insects, mistaken for airplanes, and two large carved tracks that he imagines were used to launch airplanes into the sky.
The second chapter examines Andean stonemasonry. EVD concludes that the stones are either too big or too perfectly cut to be the work of unaided humans, even though the Spanish watched such stones being cut and moved in historic times.
The third chapter begins by stating, probably incorrectly, that there are 200 books about the ancient astronaut theory in print. Sometimes I feel like I’ve read them all, but I believe the number to be much larger if we take the whole of c. 1950 (the start of the UFO publishing industry) to 2018 as our canvas and the entire world as our library. That said, EVD claims that 90% of such books come down on the side of the ancient astronaut theory, and he uses the argumentum ad populum to imply that this means his ideas must be correct. A few pages later, he suggests that the 20,000 books he claims were written on Atlantis prove the island really existed. Instead, it means that publishers find them profitable. He went on: “Only established so-called ‘science’ turns its back on the notion of extraterrestrial visitation. So often my conversations with scientists lead me to believe that there are few scientists who have any idea of the depth and scope of the evidence that exists to point toward ET intervention.” He adds that many scientists have written to him in support by refuse to let their names by published for fear of losing lucrative professorships.
EVD crows in triumph about the 65 million book copies he has sold over 50 years of Chariots alone, and he seems to have forgotten his own introduction to this book when he next repeats his boast about Ancient Aliens being the most successful program in the history of the History Channel, reaching millions. Point of fact: Curse of Oak Island routinely outdraws Ancient Aliens by a factor of three in the United States; however, Ancient Aliens has more viewers globally thanks to lucrative deals with foreign broadcasters.
This chapter reviews standard ancient astronaut material about the basalt logs of Nan Madol, the cart-tracks of Malta, the misunderstood Yonaguni “monument” (a natural formation), the hoax Ica Stones, the Coso Artifact (a 1920s spark plug mistaken for a billion-year-old one), and even the Paluxy River tracks that creationists falsely assert to be those of a dinosaur and man walking side by side. (The “human” tracks are those of a three-toed dinosaur.) EVD credits Cremo and Thompson’s decades-old Hindu creationist opus Forbidden Archaeology for his knowledge of many of these fake mysteries. He throws in some more recent anomalies of no great interest, and he happily quotes Soviet propaganda from the middle twentieth century as proof that ancient sites were built on an energy grid. “Is this all nonsense?” he asks, expecting that the reader will answer “No.”
He devotes part of the chapter to defending the long time periods assigned to primeval kings in various ancient myths as real accounts of actual time, and he attacks the theory of evolution, praising what he calls “one hundred or so volumes of anti-evolution literature” that he has collected. He doesn’t understand the difference between biological evolution and cultural evolution, and he conflates both with Social Darwinism, his true enemy. So, it is therefore no surprise that he expresses outrage that “evolution” would make Atlantis and Lemuria impossible (no, that’s geology), when, in theory if not practice, anatomically modern humans would have been around to live on Atlantis if such a land ever existed. The kicker, though, his is red-faced denunciation of the entire practice of science:
Today, we are seeing steadily fewer objective scientists than ever before – science has become partisan and scientists lack courage. And because we are so willing to easily accept the works of boastful, swaggering scientists, humanity ends up with an unscientific world-picture that nonetheless bears the label “thoroughly scientific”. If all there is is evolution, cultures such as Atlantis, Lemuria or Kásskara are impossible. The false labelling of evolution ideology prevents flexible thinking. Amen.
The next chapter, which is a very lightly rewritten version of one appearing in EVD’s 2002 book The Gods Were Astronauts, examines Buritca, Colombia, where a series of terraced ruins can be found. Using Weimar-era German ethnological information, EVD concludes that the Kogi people of that area obtained their mythology from an antediluvian civilization. The next chapter focuses on Nazca and claims that geoglyphs prove that aliens routinely flew overhead, or else no one would create monuments meant to be seen from the air, a claim dating back to Chariots, when EVD wrongly called Nazca an airport. He never quite explains how he can tell the difference between real gods in the sky and the belief that such gods might be watching.
The final chapter begins with EVD lamenting that his 2009 book Twilight of the Gods generated no serious response. “The only responses I got to my book directly were from colleagues – who were, as you would expect, of the same opinion as me.” This is false. I wrote a seven part analysis of the book (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7), so it is untrue that no one responded critically to his claims. In this chapter, EVD picks up the refrain from the earlier book that the ruins of the ancient site of Puma Punku in Bolivia are the only proof of alien presence anyone could ever need. He repeats a number of false claims, including the allegation that the stones at the site were “prefabricated”—in reality, no two are identical—and that their carving is accurate to less than a millimeter—in reality, their angles are off noticeably when compared to a straight edge or square, as we even saw on Ancient Aliens when David Childress tried and failed to prove that one angle was exactly 90 degrees, and then said it was anyway.
The book has no ending or conclusion. It simply stops with the discussion of Puma Punku and nearby Tiwanaku. This makes for a frustrating reading experience, and also an unsatisfactory end to a book review.
Over the past fifty years, EVD’s writing skills have changed little, but his books are worse now than they were then for two reasons: First, he is more repetitive than ever, recycling old material shamelessly. But second and more important, publishers no longer employ editors to revise and rewrite his work into something memorable. Chariots of the Gods, as media reports of the era revealed, had largely been rewritten by writer and editor Wilhelm “Utz” Utermann, an ex-Nazi. Without that level of professional intervention, EVD indulges in all manner of literary sins that make each new book exasperating and also pointless for anyone who has already consumed his first few volumes.
I gave the book an extra star because the photography is pretty.
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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