Shadows in the Sun Essay - Critical Essays

Chad Oliver


Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters (1951) paved the way for “aliens among us” stories three years before Oliver’s novel appeared. The Heinlein invaders, which controlled individual humans as parasitic hosts, intended to conquer Earth. Harl Vincent had a similar idea in “Parasite” (1935), and Edmond Hamilton wrote about disguised aliens controlling humans’ lives in “The Earth-Owners” (1931). The backwater Earth had been depicted by Raymond F. Jones in This Island Earth (1952) in a manner similar to Oliver’s, but in Jones’s version, the Earth characters quickly work their way up to the level of the alien humans and solve their problems for them.

In Shadows in the Sun, the aliens are not would-be conquerors, as are Heinlein’s or those of H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds (1898); they are indifferent toward the fate of Earth humans. Nor do Earth people suddenly prove to have the ability to surpass the aliens, as in the Jones story and many stories appearing in Astounding Science-Fiction, the dominant genre magazine of the period, in which editor John W. Campbell, Jr., insisted on human supremacy. Instead, Oliver, who was working toward a degree in anthropology when he wrote this novel and whose physical characteristics nearly matched those of Paul Ellery, takes an anthropological point of view that almost dominated his later science-fiction work. His aliens are not vastly superior...

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