CAPTURED BY ALIENS by Joel Achenbach


The Search for Life and Truth in a Very Large Universe
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Captured he wasn’t, yet captivated Achenbach surely is, not only by the scientific search for extraterrestrial life, but also by the nonscientific convictions of true believers in aliens. Washington Post readers are familiar with Achenbach’s wry style of conveying science in humorous columns he later parlayed into books (Why Things Are, not reviewed, etc.). Much of that same wit is displayed here, along with a depth of information, conjectures, findings, and controversies inspired by data from the latest space probes and rock samples. Much of Achenbach’s charm derives from his extensive interviews with scientists like Carl Sagan and Frank Drake, who pioneered initiatives (SETI, Project Ozma) to listen and search for signs of life out there. They and other academic experts believe that life elsewhere is possible or even inevitable but admit, like NASA Director Dan Goldin, that no data confirm their belief. Others echo the famous question posted by Enrico Fermi——Where are they?”—or, like the late great biologist Ernst Mayr, simply pooh-pooh the idea. Since Achenbach himself is no believer (he calls himself the “invalidator”), it is especially interesting to tag along with him to UFO conventions and alien-abductee group meetings and listen in on his interviews with assorted cult leaders and followers. Here he displays a reporter’s skill at attending with a sympathetic ear, even though the messages get tedious at times. He even lets a “Starseed— (someone abducted by an alien) try to hypnotize him to reveal his own alien persona. Achenbach is occasionally dazzled by the brilliance of the odd cultist or space scientist with really wild ideas on intergalactic travel. Generally, however, the believers come off as harmless souls in need of some Meaning to Life, with one exception: the tragedy of Heaven’s Gate, told here through an interview with a defector who left the cult seven years before the mass suicide. The book ends on the refrain that the search/yearning will go on, may even heat up, but the earth gets the last word. (10 b&w photos) (Author tour)

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-84856-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1999


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