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Galactic Glastnost : Trends: Extraterrestrial beings have recaptured the public imagination--and not just in the United States.

October 26, 1989|PATRICK MOTT | Mott, an Orange County-based free-lancer, writes often for View.

E.T., phone your agent.

You're big, baby. You're everywhere. Books, movies, TV. Tass!

Russia! You know you've made the big time when you can get the Iron Curtain to go up on your act. Hey, it's getting so people are expecting to run into you or one of your pals every time they step out of the house.

You're saturating the market, baby! Keep this up and you'll be bigger than the Smurfs! Only thing keeping us from putting you on Burger King glasses is we can't agree on what you look like . . . .

Indeed. Take your pick: short with big heads, tall and skinny with little heads, gray skin, tan skin, big eyes, little eyes, creepy, cuddly, nasty, nice.

It's getting tough to peg an extraterrestrial these days.

Everybody seems to be trying, though.

From the Hollywood sound stage to the Soviet Union, extraterrestrial beings are showing up on the A-list.

They star in films, populate television series, zip around in the night sky, and allegedly abduct people and return them shaken and dazzled.

And in the Soviet city of Voronezh, they even reportedly take strolls in the park and make the evening news.

Whether it's all a cyclical fad, a coincidence or the real thing, Outer Space is in.

"I've noticed that the volume of calls I've received has increased substantially in the past six months," said Whitley Strieber, a New York author who claimed in his 1987 book "Communion" to have been abducted by "visitors."

"People are having more sightings, apparently," he said. "There's always the possibility that these stories can be true. Certainly they represent perceptions of an unusual nature, and we don't yet know the origins of those perceptions."

Even the Soviet news agency Tass was willing to report a recent landing. The origin of one prominent sighting, it said, was a park about 300 miles southeast of Moscow. There, in the city of Voronezh, a handful of towering, tiny-headed creatures emerged from their craft and went for a walk, terrifying several residents.

The landing, disclosed early this month, was confirmed by "scientists," said Tass, which reported that a large shining ball or disc was seen hovering over the park by residents. It landed. They saw up to three creatures similar to humans emerge, accompanied by a small robot, said the report.

The aliens, said to be from nine to 12 feet tall, soon re-entered the craft, leaving onlookers "overwhelmed with a fear that lasted for several days."

Vladimir Lebedev, the Tass reporter who covered the story, said later that he had not actually seen the UFO and had based his story on interviews with "about 10 youngsters aged 12 to 13."

A Guessing Game

The Tass report, as well as similar stories in the newspaper Soviet Culture, apparently have triggered widespread interest across the Soviet Union. In the glasnost era, such nationwide reports are something new.

But back in America--in the land of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Superman, Flash Gordon, Mr. Spock, Darth Vader, E.T., Buck Rogers and the Blob--alien mania, never far out of fashion, may be hitting one of its periodic apogees.

And once again the guessing game is: What do they look like?

Kenneth Johnson thinks they have no hair, larger-than-human heads, no external ears, two hearts and reproductive functions that oblige two males to impregnate one female.

Johnson, creator and executive producer of 20th Century Fox Television's show "Alien Nation," also sees them as benign visitors who work at peacefully coexisting with Earthlings.

"You see them walking around on the street and it's pretty clear they don't come from here," Johnson said. "But in terms of their hearts and souls, they're a lot like us. To a limited extent, it's a science-fiction show. What I really wanted to do is to show what it's like to be the latest people off the boat--or the spacecraft as the case may be.

"I think people are always fascinated by the possibilities that face us when we look into the night sky," he added. "Whenever you have someone come here who is different from you, you have a lot of opportunity for questioning."

Conflict is also part of the scene, at least across town at Paramount, where the television series "War of the Worlds" is being produced.

'The Bad Guys'

Unlike "Alien Nation," "War of the Worlds" is just that, a battle between Earthlings and space creatures. And the characters, while advanced technologically and biologically, can adopt human appearances, though sinister.

Greg Strangis, the creator of the series and last season's executive producer, said he hopes real aliens aren't like his creations.

"For the purposes of drama in TV series, there are certain constraints," he said. "You have to have good guys and bad guys, and in this case the aliens are the bad guys. My personal feelings are that any intelligent life possessing the means and interest to pay us a visit would have much more in mind than to do Earth inhabitants any harm."

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