Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979)

Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1979) is a fun little book that looks at aliens from a variety of science fiction stories through the (slightly) in-universe framing of a field guide, complete with notes on ecology and biological functions.

Artist Wayne Barlowe’s selections are an interesting cross-section of the genre (I don’t recognize a lot of them, honestly) and his interpretations (of the ones I do recognize) always walk the fine line between capturing something essential that I pictured in my mind’s eye while also being surprising or unexpected in many ways. Among the beasties I did not photograph are the Overlords from Childhood’s End, the Puppeteers from Ringworld, the Izchel from Wrinkle in Time, the Masters from the Tripod books and Ursula Le Guin’s Athsheans.

In a way, the Guide feels like an extension of the larger interest in fantastic art in the ‘70s, embodied most in the Gnomes, Fairies and Giants books. It, and its Fantasy companion certainly wouldn’t come out today, but for me, they’re just amazing. They gave Barlowe a whole book to draw monsters and aliens; monster and alien enthusiasts like me got a pile of rad illustrations to look at; and a stack of sci fi writers got low-key advertising for their works. Wins down the line.

Worth mentioning that this is likely a direct inspiration for Call of Cthulhu’s pair of Petersen’s Field Guides (Cthulhu Monsters and Dreamlands), right down to little nuances of layout formatting. I would bet that they were also on someone’s mind when the Ecology articles began to appear in Dragon Magazine (those started in ’83 with the Piercer).

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