When Robert Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters was filmed in 1994, many reviewers noted its striking (or for some, tedious) similarity to the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Heinlein’s novel in fact preceded that film and the novel on which it was based, The Body Snatchers (1955) by Jack Finney. Although Heinlein may not have been the first to establish the alien mind-control invasion story, the philosophical twists he puts on the motif make The Puppet Masters a highly complex and intellectually challenging novel.
Heinlein presents several other forms of “puppet masters” beyond the mind-controlling slugs, forms of mind control that existed before the era of space travel. The first is a human phenomenon that, at one point in the novel, becomes a kind of defensive mechanism enabling humans to detect the presence of the aliens: the human sex drive. In chapter 2, Mary senses the lack of it in a man who later is revealed to be an alien-ridden zombie. In chapter 11, Sam resents his own sexual attraction to Mary being used to coerce him to do something against reason and his will.
The second puppet master is the phenomenon of obedience. The Old Man is characterized as a naturally charismatic leader whom people obey by reflex. In Sam’s case, that reflex is complicated by a cultural predisposition of filial obedience. Such obedience is proper up to a point, the novel makes clear, but Sam reaches a...
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