The Puppet Masters


In the opening passage of The Puppet Masters, Robert A. Heinlein asks,

“Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is?

I don’t know and I don’t know how we can ever find out.

If they were not truly intelligent, I hope I never live to see us tangle with anything at all like them which is intelligent. I know who will lose. Me. You. The so-called human race.”

The inference is that humanity can tussle with itself, can take on disease, could even rebuke aliens, but when it comes to a truly advanced intelligence, it will go down in flames. Which, honestly, is a conceit I can roll with. Who are we, anyways? Carl Sagan says “starstuff.” Bob Heinlein says “meat.”

Or rather, “hosts.” The Puppet Masters is about American secret agents battling parasitic invaders from outer space. It’s written in a noir style, like an old-time detective story, only instead of dames and swarthy P.I.s, there’s parasitic slug-lord aliens that live inside your armpits and control your brains.

Once taken over, the human hosts are placated, even happy; “come on in, the water’s fine.” Agents, political figures, entire regions of the country disappear to the other side, keeping up the pretense of “normal” life while adding to the puppet army. The slug aliens seem interested, primarily, in giving Earth a taste of hive-mind. Removing all conflict. Depersonalizing people.

I wonder how long I would last against the slugs. Ultimately, most people want to drink the Kool-Aid rather than run blindly into the jungle, AK-47 in hand. Or walk into something truly insane, clutching Pol-Pot’s clammy hand. And for those who support the masters (the “hagridden”); domination is self-obliteration, a cool sense of purpose and unity. Is this so cruel? Maybe we could use the break from ourselves, ultimately.

But no! We couldn’t! We are humanity, manity, starstuff after all, and although we know very well that we need to change, we won’t: we will fight for our cretinous self-hatred, our mutinous confusion, until the very end. The secret agents connive and ferret out the invaders. Man wins out, temporarily — at least until the really smart ones come.

“Puppet masters — the free men are coming to kill you! Death and Destruction!”


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