As you’ve probably already gathered by my reviews of books of his, such as God is My Broker, But Enough about You, and Wry Martinis, I think that Christopher Buckley is one of America’s funniest contemporary authors. His ability to ruthlessly satirize any subject, especially ones related to D.C. and the denizens of it, is amazing. He makes me laugh out loud on pretty much every page. Little Green Men, a book of his from 1999, is no different. It is so funny I was, at times, laughing so hard I was crying.
As a bit of background, Little Green Men is Christopher Buckley’s response to his spat with famous author Tom Clancy. I already discussed the details of that fight in Wry Martinis, so I won’t delve into too many of the details here, but his main critique of Clancy was that he gave too many irrelevant details and wasn’t a particularly good writer.
While I think some of that criticism is unfair, as Clancy’s use of detail helps his books seem realistic, Buckley’s parodies of that aspect of Clancy’s writing in Little Green Men is quite funny. Normally, I would cover that in my analysis of the book but, as it might seem a bit “off,” I think it is worthwhile to cover early on.
Summary of Little Green Men by Christopher Buckley
In this summary, I’ll avoid giving away any plot details from this novel, as I think that would be unfair to both the reader and Buckley. I’ll try to stick only to details from the back cover and first chapter or two. But, if you’re the type that wants to avoid knowing any plot details before starting a book, you’ll need to skip it, as I will focus on the plot in this section.
Before you start Little Green Men, picture Chris Wallace, the Fox News personality. Think of everything you dislike about his aura, personality, interview style, etc. He’s stuck up, difficult, pretentious, but undeniably popular (or, at least he was before the first presidential debate).
Now, imagine if Chris Wallace thought he was abducted by aliens and suddenly, over one random weekend, decided to dedicate his life to proving that aliens exist. Imagine if every book he wrote, article or ope-ed he penned, interview he hosted, speech he gave, or “talking head” segment in which he spoke was about aliens, UFOs, and alien abductions. That is, essentially, what Little Green Men is about.
That is essentially what this novel is about. The main character, Oliver Banion, starts off the book as a man that has it all. A former Senate aide turned pretentious pundit, Banion is a hilariously stuck up and stuffy talk show host that is the stereotypical Beltway insider. He goes to all the cocktail parties and brunches, has the major lobbyists and politicos on speed dial, and is highly influential. He can even embarrass the president on live TV and be praised for it.
But then, for reasons you’ll understand if you read the book, Banion thinks he was abducted and probed by aliens while playing golf on his own. While trying to brush off and ignore that experience, he’s abducted again and devotes his life to uncovering the truth about UFOs and aliens.
He meets with all the other abductees, no longer meets with his old friends, and spends all of his time and energy trying to expand awareness about UFOs. I’ll avoid going any more into plot details, but I think those should be enough to show you what Little Green Men is about and why it has the potential to be so funny.
And funny is certainly what it is. Sure, some of it is serious or hints at serious problems with how policy is made in America. But most of it is funny, even if the satire is piercing and/or hits dangerously close to home for those of us that are more conspiracy-minded.
And in the novel, Buckley satirizes everyone. The executives and marketing departments that advertise on famous shows. High-end criminal defense attorneys. Lobbyists. Pundits. WASPs. Conspiracy theory kooks. The people who try to cash in on conspiracy theory kooks. Self-important government officials. Slightly too touchy, elderly politicians. Secretive government programs and those employed by them. Media executives. And everyone else associated with D.C., government, or aliens that you could think of.
Even if you or something you are interested in is satirized by someone in Little Green Men, know that everyone else will be too. It’s just in good fun, but it’s all so witty and pointed that it remains very funny and entertaining throughout.
My Take on Little Green Men
As will probably not surprise repeat readers of my book reviews, I was enthralled by Little Green Men. Like he always does, Buckley satirizes everyone and everything in ways that no other contemporary author can. It’s like The Canterbury Tales, but about aliens and D.C. rather than late-medieval England.
And that pointed and varied satire is what makes the novel so fun to read. It’s not bitter or a downer. While Buckley makes fun of how D.C. works, he doesn’t seem embittered or burdened by that knowledge, he just seems amused by it and the self-important people that have made D.C. that way. And, from his depiction of the people at UFO conventions and on alien-focused TV shows, I have the feeling he’s, at the very least, skeptical of the claims of many people who claim to be UFO abductees (as I am and most every reasonable person also is).
Furthermore, the subject matter of Little Green Men makes it even funnier. It would be funny enough if, like Thank You for Smoking, it was just about lobbyists, pundits, and self-important politicians. But it’s not; it’s also about a paradox. That paradox is how we view the people who believe in conspiracies and how we think about those conspiracies when left to our own thought.
We can all recognize the ridiculousness of the UFO movement and its many, self-aggrandizing proponents. Characters like the portly and slovenly Colonel Murfletit, a companion of Banion as he uncovers the truth about UFOs, are the type of people we associate with such conspiracies. Similarly, their terms for aliens in the novel, like “Tall Nordics,” are ridiculous and show the unhinged nature of the UFO conspiracy people. Buckley does an excellent job of satirizing that aspect of American life, one that most people can relate to in one way or another, quite well.
But what makes that a paradox is that, deep down, most Americans also think that UFOs and aliens might be real, a fact that Buckley points out many times in Little Green Men. We might disregard what people like Col. Murfletit have to say because they are so ridiculous, but, deep down, we sometimes want to believe what they are saying.
Little Green Men is great because it brings that full circle. Banion, whatever his flaws, is a seemingly reasonable and level-headed person, unlike Murfletit. What if he started focusing on aliens? Because he’s the stereotypical pundit, would we treat him any more seriously?
That paradox and Buckley’s exploration of it makes the novel endlessly entertaining. What Banion is saying seems crazy, but he himself seems sane. How would you respond if you were watching that? Would you believe in aliens?
Of course, it’s just a novel. Everything in it is made up and ends up having a reasonable explanation (that is another subtle jab, I think, at Clancy). But, it is an interesting thought experiment and allows Buckley to satirize everything even more thoroughly because the reader gets drawn into the details, which then become open for even more satire.
You won’t expand your mind by reading Little Green Men. It’s not one of those books. There are no real moral dilemmas or historical facts. Everything is made up and serves only as a conduit for Buckley’s satire and exploration of what would happen if a reasonable person had a random experience and suddenly started saying unreasonable things.
But it is certainly a fun read. These are trying times, times that try men’s souls. Any humor seems much needed right now. And Little Green Men is `certainly humorous and entertaining. The plot carries the reader along at a reasonable pace and will keep you interested, and Buckley’s humor, as always, will keep you laughing out loud, page after page.
Finally, it relates to no contemporary political topics. Yes, the D.C. types will always be an object of satire. But that’s not a contentious, partisan issue. Flogging them is something that everyone does. So, if you need an escape and want something funny to read, Little Green Men is the book for you. It’s hilarious and, despite being a work of political humor, generally apolitical.
By: Gen Z Conservative