(1935- ) Swiss author of a series of purportedly nonfiction books, beginning with Erinnerungen an die Zukunft (1968; trans Michael Heron as Chariots of the Gods? 1969), which, based on a mass of often suspect and internally inconsistent data, argues that the Earth was visited by at least one Alien spacefaring race before and at the dawn of historical time; thus, for example, the Great Pyramid (a Cryogenic chamber) and the Easter Island statues (images of the visiting aliens) were quarried with lasers and lifted into place by helicopters. It is central to his thesis – which was far from original to him – that all ancient peoples were moronic, capable only of copying what the spacemen showed them. Scientific howlers abound, and logical flaws proliferate; yet the books sold in their millions and sparked off a host of imitators, some of which – like Mystery of the Ancients (1974) by Craig and Eric Umland, claiming that the Maya are the descendants of stranded explorers from beyond the solar system – are so entrancingly funny that they may in fact be spoofs. A hagiography of von Däniken is Däniken Intim (1976; trans David B Koblick as Disciple of the Gods 1978; vt Erich von Däniken: Disciple of the Gods) by Peter Krassa. A cheerful and detailed demolition is The Space-Gods Revealed (1976) by Ronald Story (1946- ); there is further useful discussion by E C Krupp in In Search of Ancient Astronomies (anth 1979; rev 1984) edited by Krupp.
The vast publicity given to von Däniken's speculations has had a negative effect on sf, in that the whole notion of ancient astronauts became such anathema, even to those of only moderate scientific literacy, that it became an sf Taboo. It is hard to find a worthwhile sf treatment of the topic in the years since 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), although the idea of an ancient Forerunner race having "seeded" the Galaxy, populating its worlds (see Panspermia) or spreading scientific knowledge to assist their primitive indigenous lifeforms, has become almost a Cliché of Space Opera. An abortive television series based on von Däniken's mythos is The Phoenix (1982). [JS/JGr]
see also: Adam and Eve; Comics; Gods and Demons; Mythology; Origin of Man; Paranoia; Pseudoscience.
Erich Anton Paul von Däniken
born Zofingern, Aargau, Switzerland: 14 April 1935
works (highly selected)
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