Christopher Buckley, son-of-Bill and satirist extraordinaire, has returned. After skewering, among others, the White House and the tobacco industry in book length chuckle fests, he has now taken on a group largely regarded as either pathetic or the fodder for the Hollywood cinema of blowed-up-real-good: UFO true believers. Rather than portraying the space alien faithful as harmless loons, Buckley has chosen another angle: the Federal government's connection to flying saucers.
Buckley has chosen his characters from the current pantheon of media-friendly political and journalistic entertainers, still recognizable in their satiric garb. Central to the plot are three people: a Clinton-like president, a spook named Nathan Scrubbs, and the featured character, John O. Banion.
Banion, a "print-and-pixel pundit," known by many as the host of the top-rated Sunday morning news/interview show, and known by others as a "supercilious twerp." He moves in the stratosphere of Washington politicos accompanied by the lovely, if distant, Bitsy, whose "father could bore a man to death at a hundred yards tracing the family tree back to the Precambrian era."
He is brought to even greater prominence owing to his abduction by aliens, engineered by one
Nathan Scrubbs, an obscure funtionary in Majestic Twelve, "the only kept secret of the United States government." Spawned in "golden Cold War summer of 1947," the agency's mission "was simple enough: convince Stalin that UFO's existed and that the United States was in possession of their technology. That would keep Uncle Joe on his toes."
However, MJ-12 realized that their agency could serve another function: "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. A country convinced that little green men were hovering over the rooftops was inclined to vote yea for big weapons and space programs."
There were difficulties, though, in MJ-12, such as, "finding dwarfs with security clearances" to wear the alien outfits.
Having been kidnapped and suffering from two "alien" probings, which violated both his dignity and a major bodily orifice, Banion becomes convinced that UFO's are real. Using his journalistic celebrity as a means of getting out the message, Banion is rejected by the Beltway insiders, and embraced by a mobile, three-million strong UFO constituency.
Despite his preening, egoistic prissiness, Banion is not unsympathetic, as when he shares his reaction to attending a concert of modern music: "Banion wondered which was worse-being sodomized by aliens, or having to sit through two hours of Charles Ives."
His crusade comes to a climax during the launching of the NASA project Celeste, whose launch date has been moved up suspiciously to coincide with the presidential elections. Banion is convinced that the payload contains material hostile to the aliens, and he and his followers must stop the launch. Will the spacecraft leave the pad? Will Nathan Scrubbs confess that he engineered Banion's abduction? Will anyone sue Christopher Buckley for slander?
Buckley entertains us less with the plot than with his skewering of recognizable public figures: George Will, Henry Kissinger, Bill Clinton, Gerry Spence, Vernon Jordan (as Burton Galilee, who had "a great talent: he made white people feel good about themselves"), and Buckley's arch-nemesis, Tom Clancy, sporting a moniker unfit for a family newspaper. The minor characters share the spotlight, too, such as "Linda Moulton Howe, Ph.D., the grande dame of bovine mutilation."
The ridicule is gentler here than in the more strident-and funny-Thank You For Smoking. No one is hurt, unless you count the cows, and everyone gets to go home happy. So will you.