Review of The Puppet Masters (1951)


Robert A. Heinlein (writer).

Read in 2016.

For such an early work of his, it’s strangely dominated by Heinlein’s fetishes and hobby horses. He clearly relishes having designed an alien invasion threat that forces everybody to walk around naked as a rational countermeasure. The design is otherwise quite good. I especially enjoyed the brief glimpses into Titanian-human society, where bankers still exist.

There’s an obvious moral charge to the threat, but Heinlein brilliantly sets up the use of the central nervous system by the Titans. If it were possible to dominate people, this is precisely how one would want to do it: No possibility of resistance or aversion even by a hero protagonist, no access from the host’s mind to the parasite’s, no sense of communication with the parasite, just all resources of the host at the disposal of the parasite.

The scenario does not conform to the stereotype of making the hosts “unemotional”—despite Mary’s initial radar power—or greatly stressed, but the use of flying saucers seems like an unnecessary cliché. The rate of reproduction is excessive, and the terrible hygiene is a plot hole needed for the solution to work, but it’s more elegant than Who Goes There? (1938). Given the identical DNA of the Titans, an engineered plague would have been natural, but for all its satellite communications and cell phones, Heinlein’s vision of the early 2000s doesn’t cover genetic engineering. The super-agent premise is dull throughout, clearly a convenience for magazine serialization.

References here: Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958), “The Imagination of Disaster” (1965), “Conspiracy” (1988), “Far Beyond the Stars” (1998), Rick and Morty (2013).

text fiction