A Close Encounter with Whitley Strieber's Alien Beliefs
Alan Dumas, Denver Rocky Mountain News

Whitley Strieber was a popular and successful author of horror fiction (The Hunger, The Wolfen) when he published his first work of ''nonfiction'' in 1987. Although Communion sold millions of copies, it also caused a lot of people to brand Strieber either a charlatan or lunatic.

Communion was about Strieber encounters with ''the visitors,'' non-human creatures from some other place or time.

''We became persecuted by people who thought we should be punished for writing Communion,'' said Strieber on a visit to Denver to promote his latest book about the visitors, Breakthrough (HarperCollins, 297 pages, $23).

''I guess they thought it was fraud. My son suffered, we had to take him out of one school because the headmaster was so set against this kind of thing. We lost a lot of our friends, and I'm persona non grata with the in- crowd in New York these days, but that's OK. I find I like the company of the visitors better.''

When dealing with Strieber, an earnest, intelligent, soft-spoken man, you do have to face up to one of several uncomfortable thoughts: He's lying, he's crazy or he really does get visited by little men with oval shaped heads and enormous dark eyes.

Whatever the case, Strieber is far from alone; there are hundreds of similar stories of alien encounters being told, with amazing consistency of detail. A recent book, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind by respected mainstream journalist C.D.B. Bryan, focuses on the 1992 MIT conference looking into the phenomenon. It concludes that something weird is going on. Strieber couldn't agree more.

''There's an almost universal perception that we are experiencing alien contact. But what if we are being visited by something equally strange but completely different?"

''But what if these visitors really are aliens,'' he speculates, ''edging closer to our culture to let us get over our fear. Eventually, they'll take a big step, like a huge saucer flyover of New York, and suddenly we're all convinced they're real. What happens then?"

''Everything we think we know about them, all that folklore, suddenly becomes engraved in stone. The most potent folklores are the ones based in reality. I say we should proceed very carefully, or the folklore and the reality will become all mixed up.''

Strieber says he enjoys speculating about what the visitors might be if they're not space aliens. Time travelers? An ancient race from earth that left and is now returning?

''But the fact is I have no idea,'' he said. ''I knew from the beginning I'd have to keep an open mind or I wouldn't make any progress.''

Strieber's new book, Breakthrough, is much more upbeat than Communion, which featured several vividly described and terrifying encounters with the visitors. Strieber says that part of him is still very frightened, but another part misses the visitors when they're gone.

''There's a chemical stew that's released into the brain if it perceives a predator, and after that experience, you perceive and respond to that creature differently, with an automatic sense of biological fear,'' Strieber explained.

''I'm sure that's what's happening with the visitors. We have no frame of reference for them, and so automatically see them as dangerous. In this book I wanted to emphasize the part of my personality that missed them over the part that was afraid.''

In Breakthrough Strieber, tells of how the visitors broke off their contact with him, and how through cautious concentration and meditation he was able to re-establish communication. Most encounters are still very brief and tentative, but Strieber says he's touched and spoken with the visitors.

They told him: ''Have joy.''

''I think the mistake we make is wondering weather they're good or bad,'' said Strieber. ''The question isn't relevant when applied to us or them. We're all very gray things, and we've all had failures. Some of the contacts are very bad and don't work, and others do because there's emormous effort on both sides.

''I'm very careful not to draw conclusions, but it's hard. I feel like I'm in a relationship with them now. I can't help but believe that they are absolutely real, whatever they are.''


A Close Encounter with Whitley Strieber's Alien Beliefs
Alan Dumas, August 6, 1995, Sunday, Spotlight, p.77A
© 1995 Denver Publishing Company
Denver Rocky Mountain News
Photo by Steve Groer