Monday, April 28, 2014

Book Review: Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley (1999)

Little Green Men, by Christopher Buckley, 1999.
Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley’s 1999 novel Little Green Men does a great job at capturing the millennial craziness America experienced in those closing years of the 20th century. The main character in Little Green Men is pundit and talk-show host John O. Banion, a typical Beltway insider who has an exaggerated sense of his own self-importance. As the novel opens, Banion has just finished grilling the President on his TV show, and he’s set to moderate the Presidential debates in the fall. 

Seemingly on the opposite end of the Washington spectrum from Banion is Nathan Scrubbs, who works for MJ-12, the top secret government organization that orchestrates all of the alien and UFO sightings in the United States. MJ-12 began during the Cold War: “The idea was simple enough: convince Stalin that UFO’s existed and that the United States was in possession of their technology.” (P.31) Eventually, the mission of MJ-12 expanded, as the leaders in charge realized the organization could prove useful in other ways: “...MJ-12 could serve another, even higher purpose: keeping the taxpaying U.S. citizenry alarmed about the possibility of invasion from outer space, and therefore happy to fund expansion of the military-aerospace complex.” (P.31) In order to keep citizens believing in aliens, MJ-12 oversees alien “abductions,” which are actually carried out by humans, called “baggers,” wearing costumes. MJ-12 has been very successful in its goals, but they deliberately don’t abduct famous people, as they don’t want to attract too much attention. But as Scrubbs drunkenly watches Banion’s talk show one Sunday morning, he impulsively decides to override the computer algorithm and authorizes an abduction of Banion. 

While practicing his golf swing one day at Burning Bush Country Club, Banion finds that his golf balls are strangely veering off into the woods at seemingly impossible angles. When he goes to investigate, he sees the flashing lights of an alien spacecraft. After he’s “abducted,” Banion spins his initial ramblings about seeing aliens as a head injury from a golf cart accident. When Banion doesn’t go public with his experience, Scrubbs orders him abducted again. After his second experience with aliens, Banion goes public in a big way about his experiences. As Banion starts talking about UFOs and aliens, he finds his image as a Washington insider ruined. As Banion’s lecture agent tells him, “You know what these groups want. The Washington insider stuff, what it’s like to have the president for dinner, what Cokie Roberts smells like. And you give them The War of the Worlds.” (P.69) But just as Banion’s wife and Washington friends dump him, the UFO community embraces him, and he meets Roz Well, an attractive editor of a UFO magazine. 

What will happen to John O. Banion? Will he ever command large lecture fees again? Will his new TV show Saturday, which focuses on UFOs and aliens, become as big a hit as his old TV show, Sunday? Will he ever be able to consummate his relationship with Roz? Will he be able to discover the truth about who’s behind all of the alien abductions? Will his “Millennium Man March” on Washington be a success or a resounding failure? For the answers, you’ll have to read this entertaining satire. 

Christopher Buckley is a satirist with deadly aim, and his arrows all hit their targets in Little Green Men. There are wonderful little jokes strewn about throughout the novel, like how Banion’s book about the welfare state is called Screwing the Poor. The sponsor of his TV show Sunday is an electric company called Ample Ampere. As Banion’s TV show Saturday debuts, Buckley writes, “Except for the name, time slot, announcer’s voice, theme music, set, graphics, guests, and sponsor, Banion’s new television show was just like his old one.” (P.139) If you find these jokes funny, you’ll be positively delighted with Little Green Men.

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