With The Secret School, Strieber retreats yet further from the traditional alien contact/abduction scenario to explore something far more ineffable and sublime - his own mind. Recalling his night-time childhood visits to a wooded area of San Antonio, Texas, Strieber shares with us the teachings of a mysterious nun-like entity called The Sister of Mercy, who initiated him and eleven other children into the secrets of time and space.
It's a well written book, coming across as a collision between The Celestine Prophecies and an angst-free Philip K. Dick. Through the use of deep trance techniques, Strieber vividly recalls numerous childhood escapades. Predictably, his adventures are not those of your average 50's kid. He visits the pyramids on Mars, experiments with virtual reality - four decades ahead of its time, witnesses the birth and destruction of the earth, relives past lives spent marvelling at the high civilisation of the Leonine era c.10,000 BC, wanders ancient Rome (where as Octavius' Greek tutor he takes credit for keeping Rome alive and setting the scene for the arrival of Jesus), plummets from the Bastille during the French Revolution, and picks his way through the remnants of our own shattered future.
Strieber seems unclear exactly how to interpret these memories, are they real or some form of imaginative remote viewing? Recounting his childhood 'Virtual Reality' experiences he says, "we could not distinguish a vivid multimedia presentation from reality", yet he happily accepts as fact the cosmic theme park rides that he's taken on by his own feverishly active imagination. His own uncertainty is clear - and understandable given the circumstances. "I am not asking that my stories be taken as fact" he tells us at one point before, a few pages later, reassuring us that the book "is a true story about real, factual events"
He does provide us with some fascinating insights into his early life, during which he admits to being "interested in causing confusion and creating inexplicable mysteries". In classic visionary mould he was struck by severe illness at a young age, undergoing a Near Death Experience and running a fever so high he "was probably lucky to escape without brain damage".
But there are problems. He was, he says, obsessed with the planet Mars throughout his childhood, driven by memories of visiting the pyramids there. Yet in Report on Communion, fellow experiencer Ed Conroy's 1989 investigation into Strieber's story, there is no mention of such an obsession. In fact, though he first saw the Mars face in 1989 it was not until 1995's Breakthrough that he refers to it and the Pyramids at all, some time after Richard Hoagland and friends had dented the public imagination with their own theories. Likewise Strieber's recollections of human high civilisation and its destruction 12,000 years ago Why does he only remember this era of the Sphinx builders now, so soon after Hancock, Bauval and others have made public their ideas? Did reading The Orion Mystery trigger off such previously long buried memories? Or are these fugue-state fantasies being genuinely mistaken for real memories, as suggested by Martin Kottmeyer's Boundary Deficit Hypothesis (Magonia 32, also on the Magonia website)?
In the final section, Strieber journeys into the future and leads us into the realm of prophecy. His predictions range from the mundane - glass fronted fridges seen in childhood visions, to the extravagant - the collapse of the US federal system after an atomic explosion in Washington DC. This is triggered by a conspiracy involving the KGB, the Iranian secret police and shadowy religious and political groups within the USA. (Interestingly, remote viewer Courtney Brown, he of the Hale Bopp UFO, has predicted a nuclear strike on New York City, though this is to be perpetrated by evil reptilian aliens.)
Strieber is steering us towards "a new vision of mankind", one that is "free in time and space" and has ascended to "a higher, freer and richer level of being." Ultimately, it seems, we are to become the Visitors themselves, though I can think of a few in the UFO community who might not be too happy about that. With its optimistic tone and seamless blend of popular fringe ideas such as astral travel, remote viewing, mystical history and only a slight hint of the usual UFO conspiracy paranoia, The Secret School is clearly targeted beyond the usual UFO crowd at a more general New Age market It will be interesting to see what impact, if any, it has on its intended audience and UFO belief in general.
NB: Streiber followed the book's release with seminars and a 'meditation tape' but has announced that his next book is to reveal hard proof of the UFO cover up. Could the path to self-discovery have lead to a dead end for his publishers? --Mark Pilkington, from Magonia 62, February 1998.