Confirming What?

Whitley Strieber, Confirmation. Simon and Schuster 1998.

Call me gullible, but there was once a time when it seemed that Whitley Strieber was genuinely trying to make sense of some very peculiar events in his life. His first three books made for interesting reading as Whitley dealt with all the thorny spiritual, psychological and political tangles that the biz could throw his way. In an what appeared to be an exemplary case of getting too close to your subject, by 1997 the horror-novelist-turned-victim-of-high-strangeness had become a time-travelling seer bearing messages of doom encoded within the Face (and Pyramids) on Mars. What a difference a decade makes.

On more than one occasion in Confirmation, Strieber bemoans his dire financial situation, and this book certainly feels like a hastily compiled wallet-filler. The first half provides a gloss over a few recent-ish developments in UFO culture: the Mexican camcorder wave, the mission STS-48 space shuttle footage, Tim Edwards' admittedly interesting videos from Colorado, and the 'rods'. These are small fleeting, elongated images that appear to haunt only one particular model of Sony digital video camera; some consider them to be a new skyborn lifeform, others a digital artefact of insects, seeds and other airborne objects flying past the camera's lense. As yet no other camera model has produced the same results. Hmmm.

Strieber remains curiously ambivalent about most of the material he's describing. Perhaps he's getting wary after all these years in the business, or maybe he's just bored - all the material he covers has been dealt with in greater depth elsewhere.

The middle section deals with his and others' encounters with the visitors. Strieber has always vacillated between the extraterrestrial and the mystical in coming to terms with his experiences and he offers us no new insights here. He does, however, cover a few psychological bases such as stress-related disorders, false memory syndrome and other vagaries of perception. For this we should probably be grateful, but he soon chucks it all away with the final section, in which he tackles the wonderful world of implants.

Thanks to the work of Kevin McClure and others, the findings of Roger Leir, Derrel Sims et al, have been shown to be, at best, an irrelevant sidetrack to the larger abduction puzzle, at worst a cynical pack of lies. Strieber appears to be equally unimpressed, even when considering his own suspected implant, but he refuses to give up hope. By way of a climax he refers us to a sliver of silicon found in a man's leg, which he claims is truly not of this earth. It would certainly be interesting to hear whether its constituent elements - 99.3% silicon, 0.02% potassium, 0.27% calcium, 0.03% iron (the other 0.38% are traces "too small to be identified without destructive testing of the object") - are as remarkable as Strieber maintains. We're then treated to a quick overview of the CIA's implant experiments in projects such as MKUltra (see Magonia 58), and the usual questions about government mind control. This is still an interesting and inadequately explored area of investigation, but Strieber offers us nothing new.

Finally in an appendix we're treated to an interview with Monsignor Corrado Balducci of the Vatican by "cultural anthropologist-" and purveyor of Billy Meier videos, Michael Hessemann. Sample dialogue: "Q: ...How would the Church react if contact with extraterrestrials were made? A: If such a contact were to occur, it would confirm the truth that extraterrestrials exist." Balducci is well-known in Italy for his outspoken comments about demons and aliens. His appearance in this book is supposed to add credibility, as if a position within the Catholic Clergy precludes you from being a dangerous nutter.

Ultimately, Strieber seems to be less sure of what's going on than ever before. There's an almost overbearing feeling of desperation to the book, that gradually descends into paranoia. "What if my mind was somehow being influenced from the outside?" he asks towards the end of the book. "When I read the books months after writing them, I could see a disturbing difference between what I had written and what I intended." Thank you, Whitley, that's all we needed to know. We're ready for Excommunication now.

By the time it's all over you feel like you've just endured a marathon of paranormal cable TV programming. And guess who's just produced an epic two-hour TV show based on the book's "findings" for NBC? Ever get the feeling you've been had? -- Mark Pilkington, from Magonia 66, March 1999.

No comments: