Strieber, Whitley 1945-
Strieber, Whitley 1945-
(Louis Whitley Strieber)
PERSONAL: Born June 13, 1945, in San Antonio, TX; son of Karl (a lawyer) and Mary Strieber; married Anne Mattocks (a teacher), November 20, 1970; children: Andrew. Education: University of Texas, B.A., 1968; London School of Film Technique, certificate, 1968. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Strieber has participated in archaeological projects in Central America and has been involved with the attempt to authenticate the “Holy Shroud” that has been undertaken by a scientific group.
ADDRESSES: Office—5928 Broadway St., Ste. 263, San Antonio, TX 78209-5236.
CAREER: Benton & Bowles Advertising, New York, NY, media planner, 1968-70; Norman, Craig & Kummel (advertisers), New York, NY, account supervisor, 1970; Sullivan, Stouffer, Caldwell & Bayless (advertisers), New York, NY, account supervisor, 1971-74; Cunningham & Walsh Advertising, New York, NY, management supervisor and vice-president, 1974-77; writer, 1977—.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Authors League of America, Writers Guild, Science Fiction Writers of America, PEN, Empire State Society, Sons of the American Revolution.
AWARDS, HONORS: Olive Branch Award, Writers and Publishers for Nuclear Disarmament, 1986, for Warday: And the Journey Onward.
The Wolfen, Morrow (New York, NY), 1978.
The Hunger, Morrow (New York, NY), 1981.
Black Magic, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
The Night Church, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1983.
(With James Kunetka) Warday: And the Journey Onward Holt (New York NY) 1984.
Wolf of Shadows, Sierra Club/Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.
(With James Kunetka) Nature’s End: The Consequences of the Twentieth Century, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1986.
Catmaic Tor Books (New York NY) 1987.
Majestic (also see below), Berkley (New York, NY), 1990.
The Wild, Tor Books (New York, NY), 1991.
Billy (also see below), Berkley (New York, NY), 1991.
Unholy Fire, Dutton (New York, NY), 1992.
The Forbidden Zone (also see below), Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
The Last Vampire, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2001.
The Key, Walker & Collier (San Antonio, TX), 2001.
Lilith’s Dream: A Tale of the Vampire Life, Atria Books (New York, NY), 2002.
The Path, Walker & Collier (San Antonio, TX), 2002.
The Day after Tomorrow (based on a screenplay by Roland Emmerich and Jeffrey Nachmanoff), Pocket Star Books (New York, NY), 2004.
The Grays, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2006.
2012: The War for Souls, Tor Books (New York, NY), 2007.
Communion: A True Story (also see below), Morrow (New York, NY), 1987.
Transformation: The Breakthrough, Avon (New York, NY), 1990.
Breakthrough: The Next Step, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
(With wife, Anne Strieber) The Communion Letters, HarperPrism (New York, NY), 1997.
The Secret School: Preparation for Contact, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens among Us, St. Martin’s Press (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor) Whitley Strieber’s Aliens, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1999.
(With Art Bell) The Coming Global Superstorm, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and author of introduction) Michael Hesemann, The Fatima Secret, Dell (New York, NY), 2000.
(Editor and author of introduction) Don Ledger and Chris Styles, Dark Object: The World’s Only Government Documented UFO Crash, Dell (New York, NY), 2001.
Communion (based on his book), New Line Cinema, 1989.
(Contributor) Murder in Manhattan (stories), Morrow (New York, NY), 1986.
Also author of the screenplays Majestic, Billy, and The Forbidden Zone, all based on his novels. Contributor of short stories to Omni.
ADAPTATIONS: Wolfen was filmed by Orion Pictures in 1981; The Hunger was filmed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artists in 1983; 2012: The War for Souls has been optioned for film. Many of Strieber’s works have been released on audiocassette.
SIDELIGHTS: Whitley Strieber’s career has been a strange and unique one. After a decade in the advertising industry, he sold two horror novels—The Wolfen, which retold the werewolf legend in modern New York City, and The Hunger, which did the same for vampires—both of which were made into movies. During the mid-1980s, Strieber teamed with Robert Oppenheimer biographer James Kunetka to produce a pair of cautionary tales, Warday: And the Journey Onward and Nature’s End: The Consequences of the Twentieth Century. Then, in 1987, Strieber published Communion: A True Story, in which he described his own abduction by alien “visitors” and the experimental procedures to which he was subjected. Almost overnight, Communion topped the nonfiction best-seller lists, making Strieber the subject of both praise and ridicule. Since its first appearance, Communion has sold in excess of ten million copies and has spawned several sequels, almost all of which have proven to be bestsellers.
The plot of Strieber’s first novel, The Wolfen, builds upon the traditional legend of the werewolf as portrayed in literature and folklore. The creatures it concerns differ somewhat from the popular concept of werewolves, however. The Wolfen, wrote Joseph McLellan in the Washington Post Book World, “are not human beings who turn into wolves on nights when the moon is full, but wolves who have evolved independently up to a humanoid level.” Strieber sets his tale in the South Bronx, where a pack of these creatures lives an organized but hidden existence, venturing out at night to search for the food on which they survive: human beings. When the creatures are discovered by two policemen (who have difficulty persuading the world that the werewolves exist), a battle for survival ensues. While McLellan called The Wolfen “standard adventure fare,” Strieber’s unique contribution to the genre is captured in the critic’s commentary: “The book’s real interest lies in its social criticism, its comparison of lupi and human behavior in a whole spectrum that ranges from mating patterns to basic social structures. The book is a howling success.” Likewise, St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers contributor Don D’Ammassa deemed The Wolfen an “amazingly effective debut novel [that] turned the werewolf story completely on its head… [It is] breathtakingly suspenseful throughout.”
The Hunger deals with another of horror fiction’s classic characters: the vampire. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the book’s “fast-paced, intriguing plot” laced with “plausible scientific ‘findings’ skillfully ensnares the readers.” The story line of The Hunger follows the attempts of the vampire Miriam to find a human companion with whom to share her immortality. Though Miriam’s lovers drink the blood of humans in order to survive, they are not true vampires; their lives last a mere two hundred years, after which they rapidly age and expire within a few days. When the vampire’s present lover, John Blaylock, reaches the end of his two hundred years, Miriam enters into a relationship with sleep and age researcher Sarah Roberts, with disastrous results. D’Ammassa commented that, in The Hunger, “the erotic side of vampirism comes through clearly, and the eerie fate of the protagonist’s consort almost makes the reader sympathetic.”
In an interview with CA, Strieber theorized about the popularity of his horror novels: “I believe that people who are happy not only enjoy being frightened but need to be frightened from time to time in order to relieve a certain amount of guilt that builds up in any kind of situation…. Horror stories can play a rather healthy role in a happy society. It can even be a civilizing role as long as [the stories] don’t exploit aggressive or hostile emotions, and I hope mine never do.”
Strieber’s third and fourth novels, Black Magic and The Night Church, were also steeped in the macabre, but the former also introduced the author’s concern about the possibility of nuclear war—a concern that formed the basis for his 1984 novel, Warday. “I feel that the world we live in is, in a certain sense, coming to a climax,” Strieber explained to CA shortly after the publication of Warday; “the amount of tension is so high on so many different levels that we face a very real prospect of an explosive and civilization-destroying war. I don’t feel that anyone with communication skills should ignore the problems that we face right now.”
Set in 1993, five years after a very limited nuclear skirmish between the United States and the Soviet Union, Warday describes humanity’s efforts to live on after the disaster. Presenting the novel as a series of journal entries, Strieber and coauthor James Kunetka cast themselves as reporters who travel across the United States, assessing the damage. Though he warned that Warday “sounds ominously as though it were conceived with the movie-rights sale in mind,” the New Republic’s Gregg Easterbrook found in the novel “many virtues… The reserved, adult tone of Warday is rare in antinuclear writing, and somehow more chilling than anger or outrage—especially when it forces you to think about the sheer practical details of living out your life in a nuclear poverty that could have been prevented by only a few moments’ common sense.” Nation’s Edward Zuckerman, however, complained that “the problem with Warday is that it isn’t much of a novel. It convincingly evokes a postnuclear-war world, but it is handicapped by not having a plot, and D.G. Myers, in the New York Times Book Review, remarked that Warday “would be a marvelously detailed spoof if the coauthors shared a sense of humor. Instead, the book is a ceaseless alarm.”
Strieber followed Warday with Wolf of Shadows, another novel that describes the aftermath of a nuclear war—this time from the point of view of a wolf—to examine how such a catastrophe would affect animals and the environment. In this way, Wolf of Shadows serves as a perfect transition to his next novel, Nature’s End. Again written in collaboration with Kunetka, Nature’s End presents a world in which the warnings of conservationists have gone unheeded, a world ravaged by overpopulation and complete environmental collapse. To help relieve the overburdened earth, a powerful political group known as the Depopulationists has suggested that one-third of the planet’s inhabitants take a lethal dose of poison. “The characters in Nature’s End tend toward the well-roundedness of cardboard, and some of the plotting devices verge on the trendy-silly,” commented Dennis Drabelle in the Washington Post Book World. “But on balance the novel is entertaining and intelligent.”
Strieber considered the publication of Warday and Nature’s End to be a turning point in his career, a transition from horror novels to more serious fiction. Nevertheless he continued to contribute to the horror genre, publishing novels regularly through the early 1990s. Billy tells of a man’s obsession with a young boy—an obsession that leads to kidnapping and torture, all in the name of love. The works Unholy Fire and The Forbidden Zone, like Strieber’s earliest novels, show the author tipping his hat to the masters of the horro genre: Unholy Fire is Strieber’s contribution to the canon of demonic-possession tales, while The Forbidden Zone is his homage to the master of gothic/pulp horror, H.P. Lovecraft. “Whitley Strieber remains one of the major players in the horror genre, although his recent novels rely more on conventional storytelling skills than on the original concepts that made his first two so memorable,” concluded D’Ammassa.
The true turning point in Strieber’s career occurred in the late 1980s. On December 26, 1985, Strieber reports that he was awakened to find a figure standing in his bedroom doorway. Stricken with fear, he passed out, reawakening an indeterminable amount of time later naked and unable to move, while three beings transported him to some sort of vessel. While there, Strieber was subjected to a number of experiments, including one in which a long needle was inserted into his brain. He was returned to his home, remembering nothing of the experience; several days later, however, the suppressed memories resurfaced suddenly, along with others—memories which indicated that Strieber had been abducted numerous times over several decades.
Much of Communion describes the long psychoanalytical sessions Strieber underwent during 1986, many of which involved hypnosis. These sessions unearthed further details of alien abduction: descriptions of the extraterrestrials as small-bodied creatures with large, bald heads and dark, slanted eyes; abductions when Strieber was a child, for years disguised as dreams or hidden behind “screen memories”; even an instance when the aliens informed Strieber, “You are our chosen one.” “I thought I was going crazy in an extremely embarrassing way,” the author told Michelle Green in People. “I became rather suicidal. I suffered with this, and it was a great relief to find that others had had the same experience. It’s a very scary thing, but I want to let people know that they can cope if it happens.”
The publication of Communion caused an immediate stir—particularly among literary critics, most of whom expressed serious doubts as to the veracity of Strieber’s tale. “I am in every way disposed, by temperament… and intellectual proclivity… to take seriously this book about extraterrestrial contact,” wrote Commonweal’s Michael Zeik. “But I don’t.” A critic for the West Coast Review of Books, too, expressed some reservations: “A best-selling science fiction and horror author suddenly comes out with a supposedly non-fiction book detailing his encounters with apparent extra-terrestrials. Yeah, right, and his house is haunted and he has ESP.” By far the most stinging castigation came from the Nation’s Thomas M. Disch, who devoted nearly eight pages to expressing the opinion that Strieber was lying to his readers, suggesting that following his previous novels with a “non-fiction” work would be “the end of a logical progression.” Disch continued: “Perhaps (we ought to at least consider the possibility) [Strieber] is making up the whole story just as if he were writing fiction! Novelists, especially horror novelists, know all kinds of ways to make the implausible seem plausible. It’s what they’re paid for.”
Reviewers were not the only ones to question Strieber’s sincerity. Publishers Weekly writer Edward Beecher Claflin began a new series on publishing issues with the article “When Is a True Story True?,” discussing the wisdom of marketing Communion as nonfiction. In that article, Gregory Benford, a physics professor and novelist, berated both Strieber and William Morrow & Co. (the publisher of Communion) for their actions. “This book is part of a deplorable trend in publishing,” Ben-ford declared. “It is catering to the flagrant irrationalities of the public with tarted-up Potemkin-Village science. The re-emergence of the Shirley MacLaine/Bridey Murphy subgenre is a chastening reminder that we are not, in fact, a deeply rational society in spite of our technology. I regard these people as unwittingly in the same camp as the Fundamentalists.”
To defend his book, Strieber embarked on a publicity tour that included several appearances on such television talk shows as The Tonight Show and Phil Donahue. At each stop he reiterated his story, pointing out that he had submitted to a polygraph test to prove that he, at least, believed that the story was accurate. He even contributed a page-long essay to Publishers Weekly, in response to the article by Claflin. “The suggestion [Claflin had made] was that the nonfiction publication of a book making such outrageous claims was questionable,” Strieber pointed out. “But where are the outrageous claims in Communion? They aren’t there, unless extracted by out-of-context quotation.”
In all of his writings and appearances, Strieber told of the tremendous amount of mail he was receiving from readers who described having similar experiences to those described in his book. “Judging from my reader mail,” he wrote in Publishers Weekly, “Communion did well because it asked questions, not because it convinced people that I had met aliens.” The book, he went on, “was written to bring into question the idea of alien abduction. It was intended to enrich speculation about this experience by placing it in historical perspective and—at the same time—acknowledging its power and the startling sense of physical reality that accompanies it.” In addition to the support it gave the book, Strieber credited the massive reader response with providing him with emotional support.
Strieber followed Communion with more books addressing the issue of otherworldly visitors: Transformation: The Breakthrough and Breakthrough: The Next Step. In Breakthrough Strieber describes a visit to an alternate universe, recounts an abduction that saw him transported from New York to Colorado where he witnessed an alien experimenting upon a young girl, and recalls an incident in which a telepathic alien took up residence in his home. “Fans will be captivated; others will be skeptical or wonder what it all means,” remarked a contributor in Publishers Weekly.
Strieber has also published the novel Majestic, a fictional account of the government’s attempts to cover up evidence of alien contact; Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens among Us, an investigation of alien implants; and The Secret School: Preparation for Contact, an autobiographical exploration of alien activity in Strieber’s childhood. Like Communion before them, these volumes ignited a conflagration of criticism. “Whitley is back!” announced Disch in one Nation review. “Those who treasure the more exotic forms of untruth will need no further prompting.” Remarking upon Strieber’s recounting of how aliens abducted him, his son, and even his cat, Disch mused: “Surely a large part of Whitley’s readership approaches his books in a spirit of connoisseurship rather than credulity, relishing the spectacle of his effrontery as one might the penitential tears of Jimmy Swaggert.” In a review of Majestic, Voice Literary Supplement writer Pagan Kennedy observed that the once-skeptical Strieber “now writes with the fervor of the converted,” and Katherine Ramsland of the New York Times Book Review considered the novel’s precarious balance of facts and fabrication to be “engaging as science fiction, unnerving as possible fact,” but ultimately “failing to present contact with aliens… as an opportunity for enlightenment.”
However skeptical the critics remain, publishers have been willing and eager to represent Strieber on their lists. As Booklist reviewer George Eberhart noted in a piece about Confirmation, “Strieber’s genuine wonderment about the UFO phenomenon will please his many fans and may bring new ones into the fold.” Strieber travels around the country giving lectures on his experiences and investigations, and among believers in alien abductions he has achieved nothing less than heroic status. Some of the nearly one quarter million letters he has received appear in his book The Communion Letters, coauthored with his wife, Anne. A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: “Strieber claims for himself (and for all of us) the power of prophecy. He travels into the future and foresees a world devastated by political and economic upheaval, environmental destruction, and the US government destroyed by a nuclear bomb.… Strieber believes himself on a mission to save the world.”
Strieber has not confined himself to writing solely about his UFO experiences, however. In 2001, after an eight-year break from fiction, he published The Last Vampire, a sequel to his acclaimed horror work The Hunger. “I started out as a writer of fiction, and I think of myself as a fiction writer,” the author told Publishers Weekly interviewer Jeff Zaleski, adding, “I’m ready to return to this exploration.” In The Last Vampire Miriam attends a centennial conclave of vampires, hoping to find a mate. She soon discovers, however, that she is being hunted by CIA operative Paul Ward, whose team of vampire slayers follows Miriam from Thailand to Paris to New York City. Though Library Journal critic Patricia Altner felt that the novel “reads like a hastily conceived first draft,” a critic in Publishers Weekly remarked that The Last Vampire “offers a tour de force of mythmaking (as Strieber redefines the world through vampiric eyes) and emotionally intense action (as Ward’s team stalks Miriam and her ilk).”
In Lilith Dream: A Tale of the Vampire Life, inspired by the tale of Adam’s first wife, an ancient vampire awakens after a centuries-long sleep and journeys to New York, where she meets CIA agent Ward and his son, Leo. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that “Strieber remains a superb prose stylist,” but the critic added that “the entire novel…. exudes a frantic air.” Booklist reviewer Kristine Huntley wrote that the author “takes a while to get things going but rewards us with an exciting climax.”
Strieber’s The Grays, “a quantum leap back to his fictional form, powered by his newer, nonfiction obsessions,” as Ray Olson described it in Booklist, centers on the Callaghans, an Indiana family whose teenage son, Conner, possesses extraordinary intelligence, the result of contact with extraterrestrials. When rival factions within the military learn that aliens are approaching the earth, Conner becomes the focus of an intense manhunt. According to a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, Strieber’s “depiction of black ops intrigue and military espionage is a first-rate exercise in literary paranoia.”
Despite the success of his science fiction and horror novels, Strieber is best known for his Communion experiences. “I’m always portrayed as an eerie, extremely scary person,” the author told Science Fiction Weekly interviewer Michael McCarty. “Actually, I am very happy.” Streiber added, however, “I feel I have been punished by a lot of people and a lot of reviewers who felt that I had perpetrated a literary fraud in Communion [that] I did not! The events I described in Communion were described with as much accuracy as I could bring to that process. They happened pretty much the way I said they happened, and I regard both rejection of me and the rejection of the validity of this experience as being fantastic, like an outbreak of cultural insanity.”
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Booklist, May 15, 1995, George Eberhart, review of Breakthrough: The Next Step, p. 1610; March 15, 1998, George Eberhart, review of Confirmation: The Hard Evidence of Aliens among Us, 1178; April 1, 1998, review of The Wild, p. 1314; April 15, 2001, Ray Olson, review of The Last Vampire, p. 1510; October 15, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Lilith’s Dream: A Tale of Vampire Life, p. 396; May 15, 2006, Ray Olson, review of The Grays, p. 6.
Commonweal, July 17, 1987, Michael Zeik, review of Communion: A True Story, p. 426.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1996, review of The Communion Letters; August 15, 2002, review of Lilith’s Dream, p. 1171.
Library Journal, June 15, 2001, Patricia Altner, review of The Last Vampire, p. 106; October 15, 2002, Patricia Altner, review of Lilith’s Dream, p. 96.
Nation, June 23, 1984, Edward Zuckerman, review of Warday: And the Journey Onward, p. 771; March 14, 1987, Thomas M. Disch, review of Communion, pp. 328-336; November 14, 1988, Thomas M. Disch, review of Transformation: The Breakthrough, p. 498.
New Republic, August 6, 1984, Gregg Easterbrook, review of Warday, p. 40.
New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1984, D.G. Myers, review of Warday, p. 14; March 15, 1987, Gregory Benford, review of Communion, p. 15; October 1, 1989, Katherine Ramsland, review of Majestic, p. 26.
People, May 11, 1987, Michelle Green, “Making Communion with Another World,” pp. 34-39; September 10, 1990, Jeff Brown, review of Billy, p. 31; October 29, 2001, review of The Last Vampire, p. 53.
Publishers Weekly, December 12, 1980, review of The Hunger; July 18, 1986, Sybil Steinberg, review of Murder in Manhattan, p. 82; August 14, 1987, Edward Beecher Claflin, “When Is a True Story True?,” pp. 23-26; October 2, 1987, Whitley Strieber, “What Communion Really Said,” p. 72; May 8, 1995, review of Breakthrough, p. 279; June 25, 2001, review of The Last Vampire, p. 45, and “PW Talks with Whitley Strieber,” p. 46; September 16, 2002, review of Lilith’s Dream, p. 55; June 5, 2006, review of The Grays, p. 33.
Voice Literary Supplement, June, 1982, review of The Hunger, p. 18; November, 1989, Pagan Kennedy, review of Majestic, p. 8.
Voice of Youth Advocates, August 1, 1995, review of The Wild, p. 146.
Washington Post, November 17, 1989, Allen Appel, review of Majestic, p. 4.
Washington Post Book World, October 5, 1978, Joseph McLellan, review of The Wolfen; April 6, 1986, Dennis Drabelle, review of Nature’s End: The Consequences of the Twentieth Century, p. 11.
West Coast Review of Books, Number 2, 1987, review of Communion, p. 40.
Science Fiction Weekly,http://www.scifi.com/sfw/ (April 14, 2003), Michael McCarty, “Whitley Strieber Communes with Aliens, Werewolves and the Creative Muse.”
Whitley Strieber’s Unknown Country,http://www.unknowncountry.com (August 10, 2007).*