UFOs have made author – and broken him
By Bob Shemeligian
Las Vegas SUN, January 24, 1997

Over the last decade, author and “doubting Thomas” UFO buff Whitley Strieber has generated almost as much controversy as the alien beings with “mesmerizing black slanted eyes” he writes about. Until 1987, Strieber was known for his horror fiction, such as The Wolfen and The Hunger, which were both made into films. A decade ago, Strieber published his first ostensibly nonfiction book.
     Communion describes how huddled figures “that did not look at all human” painfully probed Strieber's mind and body in a cabin nestled in the woods of upstate New York. The 1987 book would sell 10 million copies and was made into a film starring Christopher Walken. All of a sudden, Strieber was a household name – and the experience has caused the blue-eyed, silver-haired author more pain than he has ever endured at the hands of beings from other planets.
     “I can honestly say that my life has been ruined,” the 51-year-old author said this week during a visit to Las Vegas. “My commercial life as an author and screenwriter has been extremely precarious. My son has endured relentless discrimination from teachers and other students at his school. My wife effectively lost all her friends and we were eventually driven out of our home in upstate New York by people who invaded the cabin and attempted to burn it down.”
     Why would an account of alien visitors by an author who carefully questions everything he experienced generate such intense reactions?
     “Why did someone spit at me at an airport?” Strieber asks. “Why did another person refer to me as a cult leader on the order of Jim Jones? For goodness sakes, I don't have a cult. I'm not making a lot of money off this stuff. My website ( is free.”
     A more relevant question might be: After all this, why has Strieber written yet another account of a paranormal experience?
“Because it's true,” Strieber says about his latest book, The Secret School: Preparation for Contact (HarperCollins, $24), in which the author writes about surreptitious lessons he and childhood friends received from a cloaked and hooded figure in a wooded area of San Antonio, where the author grew up 40 years ago. The lessons, dictated to the Texas youths who sat quietly on wooden benches, covered everything from the origins of the universe to time travel. The book is a prequel to Communion, and as sure as flying saucers have cool lights and make eerie noises, it will generate controversy.
     Why has Strieber waited until now to relay the story about this “secret school” to which Texas youths were taken in the dark woods near San Antonio? Were the memories hidden?
     “They weren't really hidden, they became buried – perhaps because they didn't fit any framework of reality that I had ever known,” Strieber said. “In conventional school you're certainly not taught that you can pass through time; that you can recover the past by going back to and seeing what it was like; or that you can look into the future and then find later what you saw was real.”
     Journalist Ed Conroy, who in 1989 authored Report on 'Communion,' writes in an afterward to The Secret School that he accompanied Strieber to the site. He writes that San Antonio's Olmos Basin “is a place rich in folklore, surrounded by residents who have a strong sense of place,” and that four centuries ago a massive earthquake caused an eight-square-mile section to subside about 40 feet. Conroy also wrote that he found an old, rotted wooden bench at the site of the“secret school,” a hillside deep in the woods.
     “It's very odd to find wooden benches way up on this hillside in the middle of nowhere,” Conroy said in a telephone interview from San Antonio. “It had obviously been rotting for 30 or 40 years or more. How did it get there? Did someone carry that bench up a 40-degree grade?”
     To Conroy, what is even more impressive than the artifacts he claims he found at the site is Strieber himself.
     “It's the technique he uses, the self-analysis, that impresses me,” Conroy said. “He's not another George Adamski, who back in the '50s claimed he met Venusians who came here aboard flying saucers, and who resembled tall blond guys. What Strieber relays is not your typically American classic UFO story.”
     In addition, Conroy points out that Strieber was already a successful novelist when he wrote Communion. Strieber had nothing to gain and a career to lose.
     ”This is a successful, educated person. He was a successful novelist and he began asking questions, and look what happened to him. But still, he urges others to ask questions.”
     Conroy also credits Strieber with helping to bring UFO discussion into the mainstream of American culture.
     “It's not like the '40s and '50s, a time when those who spoke of UFOs were considered candidates for psychiatric treatment.”
     Certainly, there are more people today open to talk of extraterrestrial life. Last year, scientists announced that there could be fossilized organisms on an asteroid from Mars that crashed into Earth millions of years ago. Meanwhile, researchers are investigating a strange, face-like feature on the surface of Mars, captured in photos from the Viking orbiter in 1976.
     “I think these findings are extremely significant,” Strieber said, “and, if nothing else, they will help change the minds of people who are turned off to the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.”
     Strieber, naturally, has no doubts there is intelligent life on other planets and that beings have visited the Earth.
     “I don't think there's any question about it. The problem for most people is that these planets are really far away, and it's hard to grasp the idea that you can travel faster than the speed of light, but obviously they have the ability to do that.”
     After only a few minutes, the interview was over. Strieber had to rush from his hotel to a book-signing. Outside the hotel, waiting for his car, Strieber looked out across the glittering lights of the Strip.
     “This place is amazing,” Strieber said. “The development is phenomenal, and it's hard to understand. I simply don't get it, this gambling craze. I can't figure out why people put all their money into machines and then the money's gone.”
     And then, Whitley Strieber, the most famous UFO buff in America, eased into the driver's seat of his car and sped off. ~