Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Puppet Masters Strike

The Puppet Masters, by Robert A. Heinlein, 1951, New American Library


I've read quite a lot of Heinlein's early work but this is one I've missed. Until now. I really enjoyed it. But then I like all of Heinlein's early work, especially those considered to be his juveniles. This one isn't quite a juvenile but it still has the same flavor of adventure and excitement. 

Most of you know that this is an alien invasion story, of course. A ship lands containing what come to be called "slugs," which attach themselves to the backs of people , through the spinal cord, and then take control over them. At first no one knows who is controlled and who isn't. But the human race soon comes up with countermeasures, such as having everyone strip to the waist. The war is on but there are many more twists and turns before the end, which I won't give away.

One thing a little different about this tale is that it takes place at an undefined future time after some great earthly war and after humans have begun to settle on both Mars and Venus. They have blasters and flying cars as well as space ships.

In 1994, there was a movie made from this book starring Donald Sutherland, but as I remember it was set in the modern day, without the futuristic elements. They don't necessarily have to be there to make the story a good one.


The slugs essentially appear to be single cells that function almost like a composite brain and I'm pretty sure this was a big influence on the Star Trek original series episode called "Operation Annihilate!" That first season episode featured single 'brain cell' looking parasites that rode the backs of people that they had taken over.  The similarity is too close to imagine that it was accidental. The episode aired in 1967. 

17 comments:

Bill Crider said...

Read this 50 years ago and loved it. Glad it holds up.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I thought it was a great story and enjoyed the movie as well. Heinlein was a big influence on my own work.

R. T. (Tim) Davis said...

Great little review and baited hook. Update the metaphor: Slugs = computer worms. S/F writers were often so much like prophets!

Keith West said...

Read this one in the early 80s and reread it this past summer. Definitely worth the reread.

Keith West said...

Read this one in the early 80s and reread it this past summer. Definitely worth the reread.

eric1313 said...

I had no idea Heinlien was the originator of the brain slug. I'll have to read this.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bill, I really had fun with it.

Alex, I was telling Lana that we needed to watch the movie again. It's been a long time.

R.T., absolutely.

Keith West, I'm not sure how I overlooked it back in the day.

eric1313, it's a fun book.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Charles, I spotted a few Robert A. Heinlein paperbacks at the Books by Weight exhibition I visited earlier this month but left them alone. Next time I won't.

Charles Gramlich said...

Prashant, very good writer.

oscar case said...

I read a couple of Heinlein's back in the 50's or 60's, but don't remember this. Not much interested in scifi at the moment.

Mudpuddle said...

i read a lot of Heinlein many moons ago; i remember starting this one and quit because of being creeped out; still haven't read it and probably won't; i find myself reading mostly feel good books now, age kicking me into my second childhood...

Charles Gramlich said...

Oscar, I pretty much always enjoy him.

Mudpuddle, Definitely creepy. I found it a good Halloween type read.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

I read it and really liked it when I was a teen. Isn't this the first novel mentioning alien takeovers of humans by attaching to some part of their body?

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernard, I don't know. Might well be. I just read a very similar story in Planet Stories. Will have to look at the dates.

David Cranmer said...

I read your first paragraph about slugs attaching themselves to the backs of people and I immediately thought Trek. That was also the episode where Kirk's brother died, right?

Charles Gramlich said...

David, it was indeed.

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

It came to me the other day when I saw your blog again on my dashboard. I remember the first Heinlein novel I read had political and societal overtones I was immediately drawn to - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Starship Troopers was my next one. The Puppet Masters was the third. :)