Review by: KEN KORCZAK
The great thing about reading a Whitley Strieber book is that you’re getting a Whitley Stieber book.
The bad thing about reading a Whitley Stieber book is that you’re getting a Whitley Strieber book.
I’ve been a reader of Strieber since he published his first novel in 1978, The Wolfen. This was made into a fine feature film starring Albert Finney. His next work of fiction also got Hollywood treatment. That was The Hunger, published in 1981. The movie version featured a megawatt cast of David Bowie, Susan Sarandon and Catherine Deneuve.
Other successful novels followed. Whitley Strieber was like a more intellectual and elegant Steven King. His books may not have enjoyed spectacular Steven King-like sales, but he developed a significant following and was considered a premier fiction writer of his time.
Then, in 1985, everything changed for Whitley. That was the year he experienced what could only be described at the time as visitation by aliens, the ET kind, not the border-jumping kind. He wrote a book about it that came out in 1987 – the now famous and infamous COMMUNION. Whitely Strieber’s life would never be the same, including his standing in the literary community.
To add insult to injury to the collective egos of the snobby New York literary elites, Communion sold about a gazillion copies. It parked itself on the NYT bestseller list for weeks. It was also made into a bizarre movie starring Christopher Walken. The controversial American scholar Jason Reza Jorjani called the movie, “a surrealist masterpiece.” It was directed by Philippe Mora.
Communion also sent Strieber’s lofty literary career into a wild spin from which Strieber has never re-emerged. After Communion, he entered the Land of New Age Woo Woo – which can be a lucrative niche in and of itself – but his days as an “acceptable” mainstream author seemed finished.
It is difficult to tell if this fate for Strieber was by his choice or the result of the unexpected furor that erupted over Communion and careened out of control. But consider that he wrote several sequels to Communion. If Communion was an out-of-control situation – Strieber seemed to have decided to just roll with it. He was consciously choosing the path he wanted to take.
He remains a significant figure in the paranormal space – esoteric, New Age, occult, ufology, mysticism, psychic stuff – whatever you want to call it. The thing about Whitely is that his work straddles all these categories. Pinning him down as a just “UFO guy” or a “New Ager” will never hit the mark.
So, this latest book is about the survival of death. THE AFTERLIFE REVOLUTION comes in the wake of the death of his beloved wife, Anne, in 2015. The gist of the book is Strieber’s belief and presented evidence that his wife has continued her existence in the Afterlife and has managed to reestablish contact with him. This book is billed as a bona fide collaboration with the spirit of Anne, who only departed physically. She remains an active, living presence for Strieber today. Anne Strieber is credited on the cover as a co-author.
To be honest, even though Strieber leverages the word “Revolution” in his title, I found very little that was revolutionary in terms of advancing the study of contact with deceased individuals. Don’t get me wrong – there’s some intriguing and authentic stuff offered in these pages – but Strieber offers little (in my view) that goes beyond the hundreds of other books written on this topic over many decades now.
Yes, Strieber is correct in calling it an “Afterlife Revolution.” It’s just that, it began about 150 years ago. (I won’t discuss what the Egyptians were doing in this realm thousands of year ago). In modern times, it was around the mid-1800s that an explosion of interest in seances, table rapping, automatic writing, Ouija board work, trance channeling, spirit writing and mediumship began to spread across European high society and elements of American society.
I’m sure I have read more than 300 books about making contact with the departed. I mention this because a lot of them provide evidence of survival than goes well beyond what Strieber is offering in Afterlife Revolution. I have reviewed many of them on this website. Here are just a few recent examples that you will find here:
RAYMOND or Life and Death by Sir Oliver Lodge — Published 1916
STRANGE VISITORS edited by Henry J. Horn – Published 1871
AFTERLIFE CONVERSATIONS WITH KEN KESEY by William Bedivere — Published 2009
WOLF’S MESSAGE by Susan Giesemann
AFTERLIFE CONVERSATIONS WITH HEMINGWAY by Frank DeMarco
THE BOY WHO DIED AND CAME BACK by Robert Moss
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES by P.M.H. Atwater
GHOSTS I HAVE SEEN by Violet Tweedale — Published 1920
I list this short selection to show just a few examples of works that make a more robust evidential case for the survival of death than does The Afterlife Revolution. There are others, of course, such as the work of DR. STAFFORD BETTY of the University of California.
That’s doesn’t mean Strieber’s book is not a worthy addition to the record. Also, because it is a Whitely Strieber book, it’s well written. I found the stories of Anne’s travails as she battled worsening illness and harrowing trips to hospitals and emergency rooms heart wrenching and profound. Whitley was at her side every step of the way and he masterfully captures the anxiety, fear, sense of hopelessness and desperation as it becomes increasingly clear that the days of his beloved spouse’s sojourn on earth are coming to an end.
My heart goes out to Whitely Strieber for his loss and ordeal, and I know all readers will feel the same.
But now a short additional discussion about Whitely Strieber:
I find Strieber to be among the most vexing of authors to read. He has done an invaluable service to his fellow human beings by sharing the sensational phenomena he has encountered in life — for which he has paid a heavy price.
He has been gleefully savaged by so-called skeptics who belong to the fundamentalist religion of material science. Sure, that comes with the territory for anyone willing to write about personal confrontations with the paranormal, but Strieber has been singled out like few others for some of the most vicious, caustic and flesh-tearing attacks I have seen. It’s largely unfair.
At the same time, it’s painful for me to admit, as an admirer, that Whitely Stieber has brought much of it upon himself. For starters, he has made public claims that are demonstrably untrue – such as saying he personally witnessed the 1966 infamous Texas Tower Shooting shooting at the University of Austin perpetrated by Charles Whitman and killing 17 people. It seems clear he did not, and he has changed his own story about the event a number of times. Even his mother said he wasn’t there.
But Strieber has also created genuine problems for himself by seeming to often mix elements of his fictional works with his books of nonfiction. His ever-hounding pack of critics has pointed to specific passages that appeared in his novels which reappear in his nonfiction. (Note: This can be more complicated because Whitley may not view the differences between reality and imagination in the common way — but that’s a complicated issue I must leave aside here).
Another way that Strieber gets himself into trouble – and this is subtle — is that he is a fantastic marketer of himself. Before he embarked on his literary career, Strieber was a bona fide “Mad Man” – as in the television show about the advertising business. I’m not saying Strieber was debauched ala Roger Sterling or Don Draper – but his advertising background comes across (to me, anyway) when I hear Whitely speak or tune into his podcast, UNKNOWN COUNTRY, where he frequently pitches his own books and other things he wants to sell, such as memberships to his Patreon site.
I know what I’m saying is fantastically unfair – Whitley has every right to promote his stuff and earn a living – but when someone is as good at selling, one must fight off that notion that whispers into the mind: “I’m really being SOLD something here.” Again, I strenuously emphasize that it’s monumentally unfair of me to even say this – so why do I? It’s because my larger point is that — I think the smooth way he pitches his stuff tends to work against him in an unexpected, perhaps even subconscious way in the court of public opinion.
Now I’ll address what is the biggest factor which troubles me the most about Whitely Strieber. It’s the undeniable fact that he is a superb merchant of fear. I think of my sister who once told me that only two works of art prompted her to sleep with the lights on for three months. The first was viewing The Exorcist. The second was reading Communion. In fact, that’s one of the most common kinds of comments I have heard from people over the years who have read Communion. They all say something like: “That book really scared the shit out of me!”
Keep in mind that Strieber began his career as a writer of horror fiction. The Wolfen and The Hunger were not so much blood and gore as they were vehicles of deep psychological terror. But the contract we all have with fictional horror is that we agree to or ask for what is being offered. We willingly plunge into the pages of a horror novel eager for chills and unsettling scenarios – psychologists suggest we like to read horror because it serves as a kind of inoculation against real fear and terror, much the same way a weakened version of the flu virus in a vaccine serves as a prophylactic against the flu itself.
But with Communion, Whitley enters our minds through a loophole in the common literary contract. The work is offered as something that is true and real – and also something that could easily happen to anyone of us. It is extremely difficult to defend ourselves from this form of psychic intrusion. What if it’s real? What if bizarre aliens can come into our homes, into our bedrooms and do anything they want to us – including subjecting us to the most personal and intrusive manner of medical experiments. What if they can control our minds and manipulate every aspect of our lives? Are we little more than rats in a cage for them? What then?
Even when Strieber is writing hopeful, inspirational books – such as The Afterlife Revolution – he can’t help but slip in an element of visceral horror. In this case, he relates an episode with frightening giant spiders – dripping with evil — which he said appeared over the bed of his wife and threatened to drop down on her sleeping form.
The same is true for another recent Strieber book – The Key. Here Strieber lays out for us apocalyptic scenarios that are unsettling to the core. Massive global warming, floods, natural disasters, death and destruction are part of the message Strieber’s messenger from another dimension regales him with during a series of mysterious meetings.
I could go on, but here’s the point: Strieber’s works have injected massive doses of fear into our society. This comes at a heavy cost. The opposite of love is not hate – the opposite of love is fear, although hate is a byproduct of fear. When millions of people are prompted to vibrate the energy of fear, the effect cascades across the collective consciousness of humanity. Think of the way a pebble dropped onto the still surface of a pond sends waves across the whole system. Or think of the way one section of a spider web getting plucked sends a shivering message across the whole network.
For better or worse – and even if we might say he is justified in doing so – Whitely Strieber tends to generate fear with his works, even when he’s attempting to relate us a story of hope and wonder, as in the glorious notion that we all survive death
That’s what’s vexing about Whitley Strieber. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS
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