The comedic Little Green Men develops the stories of John Oliver Banion and Nathan Scrubbs, both involved in the United States government’s program to control information about extraterrestrial beings and their visits to Earth. Banion fancies himself a powerful player in political circles, intellectually superior and able to rip opponents to shreds on his talk show, named simplySunday. As the novel opens, Banion is discussing the upcoming launch of the space station Celeste with the president of the United States. (The president is never named, and Christopher Buckley fudges the facts by identifying him as the forty-second president of the United States—which would be Bill Clinton—but having him running for a second term; in addition, he coyly refers later to the scandal of “a president” allegedly engaging in sexual acts with an intern. An epigraph and author’s note indicate that Buckley was inspired to write this novel in part by Clinton’s statement that he wanted to find out the truth about UFOs.) Banion contends that the president maneuvered to move up the launch date, to just before the elections in 2000, to improve his chances for reelection.
The other primary character is Scrubbs, who has worked for the last two years in the Abductions section of MJ-12, also known as Majestic Twelve, a secret government agency. MJ-12 was founded in 1947 to convince Joseph Stalin that UFOs existed and that the United States possessed their technology. (Buckley draws on the real world here as well; alien conspiracy theorists have written about a secret agency called Majestic Twelve or MJ-12.) Later, the agency’s mission changed to keeping the public afraid of aliens so that they would support spending on the military and space projects. It remains secret and insulated from the rest of the government; its offices are in the basement of the Social Security Administration, following the logic that no member of Congress would ever look into Social Security. Employees are isolated and do not know one another’s names.
After two years, Scrubbs has grown tired of Abductions and asks for a transfer. He had accepted the MJ-12 position only after rejection by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and he now reads Tom Clancy novels at work, wishing for a more glamorous position than supervising faked alien abductions. After his request for transfer is denied, Scrubbs laments his fate at home, tranquilizing himself with a bottle of vodka and television. He sees Banion’s show criticizing the space station and decides that Banion deserves to be abducted; he then makes the arrangements. Mathematicians at MJ-12 have constructed a model profile of an alien abductee, someone who is credible but not so respectable that his or her story will prompt a real search for the truth. Banion—too public and too credible—is far from fitting the profile.
The next week, while playing golf at the Burning Bush Country Club, Banion walks into the woods in search of several golf balls that mysteriously went astray. He finds a ship with blinking lights and two creatures in silver suits. He loses consciousness and comes to inside the ship, where he attempts unsuccessfully to speak to the creatures, then loses consciousness again. He tells his story back at the clubhouse, but on the advice of his wife, he later denies the story, claiming that a golf cart accident prompted hallucinations. He confides only in lobbyist Burton Galilee, the nearest thing he has to a close friend. Galilee advises that he keep quiet about the abduction.
This displeases Scrubbs, who plans another abduction. This time, Banion is taken aboard an alien ship while on the way to deliver a speech in Palm Springs, California. He recalls seeing his driver in the ship, but the driver later denies the incident. Banion arrives late for his speech, and instead of talking about free trade he discusses defense against invasion by aliens. The following week, he makes aliens the topic of Sunday.
Banion’s guests that week are not of the usual caliber. Dr. Danton Falopian is a disheveled physicist and former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) employee, now a leader in the World UFO Congress. Colonel Roscoe J. Murfletit, retired from the U.S. Army, claims to have been on the team investigating the Roswell UFO incident and to have witnessed autopsies of four aliens. Those two become Banion’s allies in his campaign to get the government to release its UFO files and admit that aliens have visited Earth.
This publicity about UFOs is more than MJ-12 desires. Scrubbs’s boss asks who authorized Banion’s abduction; Scrubbs sidesteps the question but begins to fear retribution when his password no longer works on his computer. He decides that it is best to hide from MJ-12 while figuring out his status.
(The entire section is 1978 words.)