18 February 2015

Books: The Puppet Masters By Robert Heinlein (1951)

In the summer of 2007 Earth is under clandestine attack. Slug-like creatures, arriving in flying saucers, are attaching themselves to people’s backs, taking control of their victims’ nervous systems, and manipulating those people as puppets. The Old Man, the head of clandestine national security agency called the Section, goes to Des Moines, Iowa, with Sam and Mary, two of his best agents, to investigate a flying saucer report, but much more seriously the ominous disappearance of the six agents sent previously. They discover that the slugs are steadily taking over Des Moines, but they cannot convince the President to declare an emergency. Sam takes two other agents and returns to Des Moines to get more evidence of the invasion. They fail and are obliged to leave the city quickly, but in the confusion of their fleeing the city’s television center a slug sneaks onto one of the agents. Back in Washington the team discovers the slug and captures it, but later it escapes and attaches itself to Sam, using Sam’s skills and knowledge to make a clean escape. Thoroughly puppetized, Sam begins to infiltrate more slugs into the city, using the Constitution Club as a recruiting center. He’s gotten off to a good start when the Old Man captures him, takes him to Section’s new headquarters, and interrogates the slug through Sam. Under drug-induced hypnosis Sam reveals that the slugs come from Titan, the sixth moon of Saturn. After recuperating from his ordeal, Sam finds that the President and Congress are ready to accept the idea that the United States has been infiltrated and they mandate a law that requires people to go naked to demonstrate that they are not carrying slugs.
According to Wikipedia, Heinlein's original version of The Puppet Masters was heavy edited, mostly because it was considered too risque for the 1951 audience -in the original version the book begins with Sam waking up in bed with a blonde whom he had casually picked up the evening before, without even bothering to learn her name!! Anyways, in 1990, two years after he passed, his widow authorized a new expanded version that reinstated a majority of what was cut 40 years previous. However, there is also a few unintentional humorous phrases that may have not seemed funny back even in 1990 -Schedule Bare Back- but now make me snicker every time I read it. Then there is how liberal he made the US, including the idea that everyone who did not want to be possessed by the titans was walking around naked. I'm certain, no matter what, there would be plenty of Americans (stuck in their Puritan ways) who would never walk around in public without a stitch of clothes on. I can see why some of these parts were edited out in 1951. 
As I've mentioned before, reading these novels later in life rather than when I was in my teens, I'm not so impressed with the plotting or the science. The Puppet Masters does try to invoke the Cold War aspect between the United States and Russia (set in 2007 there has been a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the West which left both sides battered but unbroken, but then we fell back in another Cold War), but all I could think about was how this book shared a similar premise with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, even though that film was not released until 1956. But like Asimov's Foundation book, the story is a bit dry -a lot of talking with some minor action. Meanwhile, on the science side, in Heinlein's early 21st Century we have flying cars, we have space stations, and have a colony on Venus. Still, there is no communication satellites and TV broadcast are still line-of-sight as they were when Heinlein wrote the book. While this plays into the plot, it was hard part for me to grasp in 2015. 
I'm guessing that if I continue to read these books from long ago, I'm going to some how figure out how to understand them better. It's not that they're poorly written and all, it's just everything I've grown up with, all those science fiction movies and TV series are all built on the foundation people like Heinlein created. I've got to get passed the block in my mind that says "Seen this done before. Next."
You know what I mean?

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