By Derek Gunn
Whitley Strieber needs no introduction to readers of my generation. The superb WOLFEN and THE HUNGER shot him into the limelight and the equally noteworthy COMMUNION and NATURE’S END served to keep him there to this day. We have had mostly non-fiction in later years, though many consider his work on THE VISITORS and alien abductions to be fiction and file it as such in bookstores. While this has been a constant argument with Strieber’s work over the years, and Strieber is adamant that his work on aliens is factual, there is one point that is irrefutable—he is a superb author and capable of delivering fantastic work.
His latest novel, ALIEN HUNTER: UNDERWORLD is the second in his Flynn Carroll series. It is a thriller of the highest order. I had not read the first in the series but it doesn’t take too long to catch up and enjoy the ride.
Flynn Carroll works for a very secret organisation. He is tasked with finding and stopping the most lethal and driven criminals on the planet. To make it even more difficult, the criminals are, in fact, from another world and have access to technology so far ahead of ours that they anticipate every move he makes.
Recent events see Flynn operating on his own and he is forced to seek help from some old friends whose skills may just help even the odds. Added to the mix is the police force from the alien world who want to censure Flynn for their own reasons but are reluctant to help clean up their mess.
Flynn also discovers that all is not as it seems within his own organization and that there are things they do not want him to know. As time runs short and the alien mastermind gets ever closer, Flynn is forced to examine not just his enemy but his own origins as well.
The pace of the novel is frantic and the action never relents. It has the pace of a Matthew Reilly novel but has the authority of Clive Cussler in its execution. The detail of the aliens and how they fit into what we generally accept as the facts of alien sightings and abductions is very clever. The Grey aliens, Roswell, and UFO sightings are all handled with authority and a believable panache that leaves you taking the story at face value and looking up into the sky for that tell-tale shimmer and flash of an approaching craft. I finished the book in two days. In fact, the only downside is the fact that I have to wait ages for the next one.
Whitley kindly took the time to respond to a few questions.
The Alien Hunter series is a wonderful return to fiction writing from your well-documented non-fiction novels of alien abduction and parallel universes. Was this a conscious change or did the story evolve from other work?
Flynn Carroll came to seem very real to me. His experience, in the first Alien Hunter book, of waking up and finding that his wife had disappeared, was one of my own great fears. During the time I was having those bizarre experiences that people—other people—call “close encounters,” I was dreadfully afraid for her. I used to sleep with my arms around her, in a house full of security devices, with a shotgun under the bed and a pistol at my side. Again and again during the night, I would get up and patrol, checking on my son, on the basement, the attics, the whole house. It was all very ominous and, I thought, dangerous, as, perhaps, it was. It is out of the shadows of that experience that Flynn came. He is my heart.
Can you give us an understanding of how your writing process works? Do you have a ritual, do you plan out every detail or do you see where the story leads?
What I am doing when I am writing is committing a story I’ve been telling myself to paper. My ritual is to write hard and continuously through the course of a novel, then to rewrite obsessively. I used to plan everything, but now I let my characters go where they need to go and do what they need to do. I’m no longer their author, but their diarist.
Though firmly set in the thriller genre the story deftly pulls many of the elements from your other works together. How long has Flynn Carroll been percolating in your mind?
All of my characters are still alive in me. I don’t create them, I find them. Just as I found George Wilson and Becky Neff and Miriam Blaylock and all of them, I found Flynn Carroll one day, raging and mourning, and seeking redemption. I suppose he’s been part of me forever.
If you were given one paragraph to convince people to buy your novel what would it say?
I have no idea how to convince people to buy my books. If I did, they would! I suppose that I could say that, if you like thrillers, you will find this one very much worth your while. There is nothing quite like the pleasure of escaping into another person’s darkness from a place of safety. I know how to take you there.
What are your thoughts on e-books? Do they help or hinder the modern author?
I’m afraid I find them dreary. The brain does not engage with a moving image such as the “print” of an e-book the same way that it does a still image like the print on a page. It gets less information from the digital image in the same way that it gets less information from digital music than it does from analog music. This is why music has ceased to matter as much in our lives as it once did. There will never be another Mozart, another Frank Sinatra, another Beatles or Stones. This decline in importance is the curse of the whole artistic world. It is why musicians and now also authors cannot make as much money, because their work has less impact, less importance, as it disappears into the digital cloud. In March of 1950, T.S. Eliot was on the cover of Time. Can you imagine a writer—any writer—mattering that much now?
In between research and writing do you have any time to read? Who do you enjoy most?
I read a great deal, and very eclectically. Alan Furst and Anthony Powell are two favorites. I’ve read the Dance to the Music of Time series twice, and will soon do it a third time. I also love Joyce. When I was in college, I got high on Finnegan’s Wake. I read lots of poetry. Eliot, Levterov, Lowell, Jeffers, Millay, many, many. Right now, I’m reading MIDNIGHT IN EUROPE and Thomas Nagel’s the MIND AND COSMOS and Lee Child’s KILLING FLOOR and David Morrell’s MURDER IS FINE ART. I usually write from nine to four, then have dinner and watch a bit of TV, then write again until midnight, then read until two. I am not a comfortable sleeper and don’t do a lot of it.
I’m working on the third Alien Hunter novel: THE WHITE HOUSE. I also just finished a historical set in Roman Palestine and am working on a nonfiction on the supernatural with my friend Jeffrey Kripal, the Rayzor Professor of Religion at Rice University. It will be a revolutionary re-conceiving of the relationship between the physical world and the eerie, breathtakingly complex, ancient and strange numinous world in which it is embedded.
I am not a believer in gods, aliens, angels, demons, ghosts or any of those things. I am also a believer in them all. It is out of this conflict that my books—all of my books—emerge.
As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to read this book there is also a TV series based on Alien Hunter in development and this would work really well after the success of ‘24’ and other high-octane series.
Alien Hunter: Underworld is released in early August in hardcover from Tor. Whitley has a huge website, and you will see everything to do with his novels and his research, as well as a mine of information from others in the field. This one is well worth a read if you like your thrillers fast and the characters engaging.
Whitley Strieber is the author of many thrillers, from the legendary Wolfen and the Hunger to 2012, Critical Mass and now the Alien Hunter series. Films have been made of Wolfen, the Hunger, Communion and Superstorm. A TV series based on Alien Hunter is in development, as is a feature film of his novel the Grays.
To learn more about Whitley, please visit his website.