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Whitley Strieber’s Communion at 30

Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the publication of Whitley Strieber’s best-selling book, Communion. So, with the book now having reached a certain milestone, I figured I would share with you my thoughts and memories on not just the book, but on the impact it had on Ufology back then, what the community thought of Communion, and more. I still recall the anticipation that bubbled in U.K. Ufology when word got out that Strieber’s book was going to be published. There’s no doubt that the book caught the attention of just about the entire UFO field. After all, many (but, certainly not all) of the alien abduction-themed books which came prior to Communion were written by people within Ufology. Strieber, however, was an already established, successful writer of horror novels when Communion surfaced.

Prior to Communion, the only Strieber books I had read were The Wolfen and Warday. Both were very different, but both made for good, absorbing reading. So, I was looking forward to digging into a UFO-themed book from someone who specifically wasn’t a ufologist: it would be a welcome change. And, for me, it was. There was definitely a buzz in the air when the publication date neared. Friends and colleagues in the subject chimed in and offered their opinions as to what the reaction to the book might be.

I had read most of the alien abduction-themed books that came out before Strieber’s hit the bookshelves (such as John Fuller’s The Interrupted Journey, Ray Fowler’s The Andreasson Affair, Missing Time by Budd Hopkins – and the list goes on). So, I was definitely going to get a copy of Communion. And I did. I read the book across a few days, or thereabouts, and came away very impressed by it.

Communion was not your average alien abduction book – something which got certain factions of Ufology fired up, and for various reasons. Just a few weeks after the book was released in the U.K., I attended a local UFO meeting near to where I lived at the time. All of the talk was of Communion. A number of people whined and griped because the book wasn’t what they wanted or expected. What they were anticipating was a book filled with stories of nuts-and-bolts UFOs and accounts of the “aliens are stealing our DNA” kind. Strieber’s book was very different to the average title on alien abductions. But, as I saw things, at least, the fact that the book was not just another average abduction-themed book was its strength.

Strieber certainly covered – and covered extensively – the abduction phenomenon. But, he also delved deep into areas that I know had some readers puzzled and others more than a bit disturbed. That was hardly Strieber’s fault, however. Rather, it was caused by the inability of certain figures in Ufology to look outside of the regular ufological box and realize that something far more significant was going on. Something much weirder, too. It wasn’t all about “alien scientists” whisking us away as a means to save their waning species. In fact, it might not be about that, at all.

I know from speaking with friends and colleagues in ’87 that they were expecting from Strieber something along the lines of the aforementioned The Interrupted Journey and Missing Time. What they actually got, however, was a book that delved into matters relative to the human soul, the realm of the dead, and the links between the Grays and the afterlife. Strange synchronicities were highlighted by Strieber, as were events that spilled over into the worlds of the supernatural and the occult. Strieber made it clear that he wasn’t sure the Grays were even extraterrestrial: maybe they were something so strange that it was beyond our comprehension to understand them and their motivations.

This was all very refreshing to me. Not so much, though, for some in Ufology. The fact is that Communion, by turning established abduction lore on its head, did the field of Ufology a very big favor. It made people realize – some of them grudgingly – that abductions are not what they appear to be. The Grays aren’t what they appear to be. Ufology is very often guilty of playing things safe and staying in specific comfort zones. Strieber made it clear that he had no time for comfort zones, which was very good. For me, Communion remains a classic study of the abduction phenomenon, a book which thankfully did not pander to its audience. Instead, it gave Ufology and the abduction field the definitive “WTF???” they sorely needed to make them open their eyes to other concepts and possibilities.

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  • Ghostdanser

    I have to admit, that I pretty much considered abductees a fringe element until I read Communion. It definitely caused me to rethink my position. Thanks for the retrospective!

  • Yu Efo

    I was on the fence about Strieber until 2007, when he blogged about the hoax ufo drone. From its inception, the drone meme was absurd, yet Strieber posted at least twice about it on Unknown Country, demonstrating his lack of critical thinking. Then in December 2007, he claimed to have actually seen the drone ufo in Santa Monica. That ended his credibility with me for good.

  • Jerry Taylor

    I have always considered the work a masterpiece of science fiction. Many of those same themes can be found in Streiber’s earlier works. I don’t accept that it was objective reality; any more than I do, aliens are visiting us in spacecraft from beyond the solar system.

    It doesn’t mean that the story is not subjectively true for him; but, I myself have experienced an exceptionally vivid hallucination of watching a television show and calling some of my more junior peers at the broadcast operations center at a major entertainment conglomerate having been really excited about our new TV series about a high school that was a mashup of 90210, Buffy, and Peyton Place. Needless to say, I amused them highly and it was only a couple of months later when my health crisis was past, they told me there was no such series. They did offer me condolences that they didn’t record the conversation to give to the executive VP in charge of programming as they said it sounded like a great show.

  • Paul Haresnape

    it was my understanding that the veracity of Strieber’s account has been called into question, yet this article by Nick (whom I greatly respect) appears to take his extraordinary claims at face value. Where is the evidence? After all, Strieber just happens to be a science-fiction writer whom I understand to have made millions from this book, a fact that can’t simply be glossed over.

  • K Alexander

    I think it is still one of the most important books ever written on the ‘paranormal’ it clearly shows the role consciousness plays in our experience of and thinking about the paranormal. It blew open the doors of perception and understanding about the ‘abduction’ phenomenon – doors many are still unwilling to even look through. Contact with a genuine ‘other’ would be bizarre, seemingly nonsensical and very difficult to understand. Strieber’s book was the first to put the ‘whole’ contact experience on the table in all its frightening, strange and weird glory. Anyone wanting even a modicum of understanding of this strange human experience can do nothing better than go back and read this book again – it’s as pertinent today as it ever was.

  • Arcturus

    Ah yes, Linda Howe, always circling around a steaming pile of excrement like the drones.