Book review: Communion by Whitley Strieber.

Communionalien

A typical ‘grey’ as depicted on the cover of Striber’s Communion: Fact, fiction or figment of the imagination?

 

First an admission: I don’t really have an interest in the whole alien question much beyond what most people (I’m supposing) would think, which are thoughts along the lines of ‘are we alone in the universe?’. And for what it’s worth, my own views on the matter are that a) I don’t know and b) if there were aliens it wouldn’t surprise me if they gave Earth a wide berth given the odd behaviour of so many of us earthlings.

Far more interesting to me is the (perhaps) associated phenomenon of UFOs, the emphasis being firmly on the ‘U’ in UFO. I once heard the Chief of Air Traffic Control in the UK interviewed on the radio about incursions of Russian military air traffic into UK air space.  At the end of his interview the presenter half jokingly turned to the topic of what proportion of craft in UK air space in any given month could not properly be identified. The Chief’s answer was, I think I recall rightly, some 5% of it.

Cue surprise from a presenter who had, it seemed, struck gold but who had run out of time to pursue this fascinating avenue.

Of course the Chief’s answer did not imply that we were being visited by inhabitants of another planet/ dimension/ whatever in their craft. But it did lift the lid on what might be flying around up there, whether it be military or secret service craft, unidentifiable civilian craft, spy drones, space debris, little green men and the like.

So anyway I have a vague interest in this stuff because I try to keep an open mind on all things, but wouldn’t say it’s a topic that engages my full attention.

However, having heard Whitley Strieber on a podcast interview some while ago, I finally decided to read on of his books. Communion dates from 1986 and remains something of a cause celebre for the author. Up until that point, Striber was mainly known for his thriller and horror novels.  However, Communion is a memoir of a set of his experiences which began in late 1986 when he was abducted by ‘visitors’. By visitors he means ‘Greys’.

At this point it gets tricky. Greys, of course, are by now firmly part of the modern culture, and they’re widely assumed to be those responsible for the majority of cases of alien abduction. Are the Greys real? Does abduction really occur?  Strieber says they are real, and the book is his account of being abducted. However, he is at pains in the book to point out that he doesn’t know really who they are or where they’re from, hence his use of the term ‘visitors’ rather than ‘aliens’, with its extra-terrestrial connotations.

The book gets off to a blistering start by telling you exactly what happened from his own perspective. Whether you end up believing him or not, this account of his being taken and what happened when he was in the visitor’s craft is really well done. Strieber the novelist is in control at this point in the book, and it shows in the level of detail and pacing. This is not the kind of thing you want to read by yourself late at night and the already dark nature of the material is given a stronger flavour by the fact that this is published as a memoir and not as fiction.

That said, while it reads extremely well, you still either believe him or you don’t. To stress the point that it was real to him, he includes as an appendix the findings of a lie detector test that he took. Even with this as evidence, if you are a sceptic about the UFO and abduction phenomenon, you may not come away from this book having changed your mind. In fact, Strieber’s experiences as described are so extreme that you may find it just too outlandish.

Clearly at the time of writing he was in torment and definitely confused about the real explanation for what happened, and so large chunks of this book are given over to attempts to explain who the visitors may be and what they may want. However, because Strieber won’t commit himself to one explanation this leads him into several layers of explanation. For example, he could have committed himself and said that he thought these were aliens from another galaxy, but he didn’t. I understand why he did this, but ultimately it makes for some rather wooly theoretical passages where he explores all the various possible origins and explanations.

All in all this is a very worthwhile book, but don’t come to it looking for any concrete answers. There’s plenty of insight, but then again you have to take a leap of faith and believe him in what he says for this to be of much value to you.

As for me, I rate it pretty high as a tale, less so as a work of science/ psychology, but it’s still worth dipping into nonetheless if you get the chance. I suppose what prevents me from dismissing it as all a figment of a troubled imagination is the fact that he published the story at all. He’s said on many occasions since that going public with his abduction story caused him a lot of aggravation. If the book is fiction masquerading as fact, then why publish and bring a lot of notoriety and ridicule down on himself?

Like the strange 5% of unidentified things floating round in UK air space, the answer perhaps is up in the air.

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