The Puppet Masters

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The Puppet Masters
Pm51.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorRobert A. Heinlein
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction novel
PublisherDoubleday
Publication date
1951
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBNNA
 
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This article is about the Robert A. Heinlein novel. For the film adaptation, see The Puppet Masters (film). For other uses, see Puppet Master.
The Puppet Masters
Pm51.jpg
First edition cover
AuthorRobert A. Heinlein
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
GenreScience fiction novel
PublisherDoubleday
Publication date
1951
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)
ISBNNA

The Puppet Masters is a 1951 science fiction novel by Robert A. Heinlein in which American secret agents battle parasitic invaders from outer space. The novel was originally serialised in Galaxy Science Fiction (September, October, November 1951).

The book evokes a sense of paranoia later captured in the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which had a similar premise. Heinlein's novel also repeatedly makes explicit the analogy between the mind-controlling parasites and the Communist Russians, echoing the then prevailing Second Red Scare in the United States.

Plot[edit]

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 Section (the officially nonexistent agency tasked with protecting national security), goes to Des Moines, Iowa, with Sam and Mary, two of his best agents, to investigate, not so much the flying saucer that was reported near Grinnell, as the disappearance of the six agents sent to investigate it. They discover that the slugs are steadily taking over Des Moines, but they can’t 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 (hence the Italian title). 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.

As the army prepares a counter-attack in the most heavily infested areas, Sam goes alone to Kansas City to get an estimate of the number of slugs involved. There he learns that he can kill a slug by crushing it with his hand. He also discovers that the slugs can multiply themselves through fission. Escaping from the city, he returns to Washington too late to stop the counter-attack, which fails.

After a short leave, during which they get married and kill a slug that seems to have been targeting Sam for repossession, Sam and Mary return to work. Together with the Old Man, they go to Pass Christian, Mississippi to inspect a flying saucer that had made a bad landing. Inside the alien ship Mary is overwhelmed by repressed memories from the time she was a child on Venus and had been possessed by a slug. The slug had died from Nine-day Fever but Mary, luckily, had survived the disease.

It’s biological warfare at its purest. Nine-day Fever and its cure are produced in sufficient amounts to cover the country and then infected slugs are allowed to escape into the heavily infested areas. Several days later thousands upon thousands of medics are air-dropped into those areas to give the cure to those people whose slugs have died. Sam and the Old Man join the effort in Jefferson City, Missouri, but the Old Man is possessed by the last healthy slug in the city and he knocks Sam out.

Sam regains consciousness in an air-car that the Old Man is flying to the Yucatan, where the slug intends to restart its effort to conquer Humanity. With the car on autopilot, the Old Man slumps over the steering wheel and the slug begins to fission so that it can possess Sam. In desperation Sam kicks the controls, causing the air-car to accelerate so sharply that the Old Man is slammed back against the seat forcefully enough to crush the slug. The air-car’s emergency system mitigates the resulting crash and Sam and the Old Man wait to be rescued.

Some years later Sam and Mary board a spaceship headed for Saturn. At its destination the ship will visit Titan and the crew will begin the process of exterminating the slugs.

Characters[edit]

Alternative version[edit]

Heinlein's original version of the novel was 96,000 words, and was cut to about 60,000 words for both the 1951 book version and the serialization in Galaxy Science Fiction. For the Galaxy version, editor H.L. Gold also did extensive rewriting, to which Heinlein strenuously objected.[1]

In 1990, two years after Heinlein's death, an expanded version was published with the consent of his widow, Virginia Heinlein. This edition contained material that had been cut from the original published version, because the book was deemed to be too long and controversial for the market in 1951. The uncut version was more risqué in 1951 than it was nearly 40 years later. For example, in the uncut 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; the older version omitted all mention of her. The 1951 version does mention that men possessed by the invaders lost all sexual feeling - an essential element in the early parts of the plot; but the original publisher completely cut out a reference to the "puppet masters" later discovering human sexuality and embarking upon wild orgies, broadcast live on TV in the areas under their control.

Reception[edit]

Boucher and McComas characterized The Puppet Masters as "a thunderously exciting melodrama of intrigue", noting that Heinlein displayed "not only his usual virtues of clear logic, rigorous detail-work, and mastery of indirect exposition", but also unexpected virtues like "a startling facility in suspense devices [and] a powerful ingenuity in plotting".[2] P. Schuyler Miller, noting that the novel's "climactic situations seem to be telegraphed", suggested that Heinlein presented his background situations so effectively that readers solve the story's mysteries more quickly than Heinlein allowed his characters to.[3] In his "Books" column for F&SF, Damon Knight selected the novel as one of the 10 best SF books of the 1950s.[4]

The book was also reviewed in the 1951 Jun 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews. The reviewer wrote, “The recurrent enigma of the flying saucer is finally solved when an aerial pieplate is caught with its exhaust down by the F. B. I. of 2007. Hero Sam penetrates the contaminated area, brings a ‘master’ back – a gelatinous gray mass which attaches itself to a soldier’s body and controls his thought processes. Sam and his girl spot further landings, plan a counter campaign and eventually are able to rid the solar system of its parasites. Exciting, even if it exacts a strong stomach.”[5]

Foreign Publications[edit]

Publication History[edit]

An extensive list of the novel’s publications can be found on the Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase at http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1358 (Retrieved 2014 Oct 23)

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations[edit]

The Brain Eaters, a 1958 film directed by Bruno VeSota, bore a number of similarities to Heinlein's novel. Heinlein sued the producers for plagiarism. The case was settled out of court.

The theme of the novel is echoed in "The Invisibles", an episode of The Outer Limits aired in 1964, and also in "Operation: Annihilate!", the last episode of the first season of Star Trek in 1967. Similarly, in the story line begun in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Coming of Age" and completed in "Conspiracy", aliens from a faraway sector invade the bodies of high-ranking Starfleet admirals in an attempt to compromise the command structure and spearhead an invasion of Earth.

The novel was adapted, with some plot and character changes, into the 1994 film of the same name starring Donald Sutherland. The film followed the story rather closely except for the setting changed to modern-day, thus losing most of the advanced technology, but it was not successful with either the critics or the public.

The 1998 film The Faculty, directed by Robert Rodriguez from a Kevin Williamson screenplay, is about a fictional high school at which the faculty and staff become taken over by alien parasites. In the film, the character Stokely mentions that Jack Finney's 1955 novel The Body Snatchers is "a blatant rip off" of Heinlein's novel. In turn, the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is based on that novel.

Kenneth Von Gunden's 1990 novel Starspawn takes the same basic premise into a Medieval setting: England in the time of the Third Crusade is secretly invaded by parasites from space who attach themselves to knights and gain control of castles, and whose plot is eventually foiled by a wise and dedicated monk.

External links[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Giuseppe Lippi (introduction) (1990). Il terrore dalla sesta luna. Mondadori. ISBN 8804341033. 
  2. ^ "Recommended Reading," F&SF, February 1952, p.105
  3. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, March 1952, pp.159
  4. ^ "Books", F&SF, April 1960, p.99
  5. ^ Found in the Kirkus Reviews archive at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/robert-a-heinlein/puppet-masters/ Retrieved 2014 Oct 27
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pg. 215. ISBN 0-911682-20-1
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Internet Speculative Fiction Database at www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?1358 (Retrieved 2014 Oct 23)

Sources