I make very few bones that Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein is one of my favorite books, and possibly my second favorite of his works (at least now, those change through the years.)
Yeah, I know he wrote it to order and considered it hack work? So? To date, the work that has netted me the most royalties was a work for hire hack piece on Jane Seymour, wife of Henry VIII which I hated so much having to write that I banged it out in three days. (The title is Plain Jane, and it’s under the house name Laurien Gardner). I get a minuscule royalty at that because it was work for hire.
Writers are the worst judges of their own work. Judging by the success of that book (despite an atrocious cover) it is the one thing I’m likely to be remembered for.
I will also confess that as a fourteen-year-old what got me into Puppet Masters was at first the mention of secret means of entrance and departure, because I loved (okay, still love) such cloak and dagger stuff. It must be a human need to posit secret conspiracies. Partly because it absolves us from responsibility for screwing up. After all, against stupidity the Templars, the gods themselves supposedly strive in vain.
But of course, it’s neat to posit and to read about for fun.
Then the whole idea of the mechanics of American government, the fact there were limits on the President himself drew me on. Because, you know, as a young kid in Portugal this was all fascinating.
Of course, it all works together, because whatever else Heinlein was (and I’d say he was touched by a spark of the divine and created beyond the ability of craft. And as I say that I can feel him glowering at the back of my head.) he was an excellent craftsman.
One of the aspects of the book that works for me is the idea of secrecy, of secret conspiracies, the idea that what we think we know can be corrupted, starting with the very existence of the agency “Sam” works for. Sure, of course, there isn’t supposed to be any of that going on. But in an age when all our Federal law enforcement, domestic and foreign has shown itself to have feet of caca (clay would be stronger, also less odoriferous) the I question have is: are you sure?
Of course, that secret agency is on the side of angels, or better yet on the side of humans, in the story. As is the United States, because this is still a Heinlein book. Or at least most of the United States.
And then there are the aliens.
“Were they truly intelligent? By themselves, that is? I don’t know and I don’t know how we can ever find out. I’m not a lab man; I’m an operator.”
The one thing absolutely true about the book is that it’s a gimmick book. If you haven’t read it, it is about aliens that can attach to a man, speak through his mouth and take over the functions of his brain for the aliens’ use.
It is said that they’re supposed to symbolize communism. Um… Yes, and Heinlein knew perhaps a bit more about the infectious quality of communism than we do. In terms that he would not have known but we do, the ideology of communism being a Christian heresy (no? Think again) is malware designed to take apart western civilization from its Christian roots outward.
And once it takes root in a brain, in a community, in a society, it does indeed seem to use the best of those slaves for its own purposes. Sometimes one or two escapes, and is usually full of hatred for what he formerly spouted, all of it (all of it!) perfectly displayed in “gimmick” form in Puppet Masters.
Since in the late seventies when I read this Portugal was going through a welter of political … ideologies, but always trending left, I was seeing this transformation around me, in many people I’d otherwise considered sane and even intelligent.
Perhaps that was another reason it resonated.
But it held its interest and power.
The part that scares me most is the part about the “masquerade,” when the aliens have taken over entire sections of the country, and are mimicking normal life so well that anyone calling for eradicating them, then, while they’re still vulnerable is viewed as a lunatic, and possibly dangerous himself.
The interrogation of the main character by Congress during that phase hinges on something we’re perfectly familiar with. Faced with tapes, they ask him if he was an actor. He admits to summer theater, and it’s all over. Using minor things to dismiss those disturbing the “peace” of the masquerade – Heinlein said that one of the country’s major parties was wholly taken over by communists by the forties. I see no reason to doubt him – is an all too familiar tactic for us, here in the cultural trenches of the twenty-first century.
Ah well, at least our own particular masquerade is slipping a little. But though there are several zone reds – why do you think they insist on clinging to the color blue, instead of changing as had been done every election till 2000? Okay, probably not the Puppet Masters but the association with communism – in this country right now, they’re not all geographic. A lot of them were determined by what the policy of a now long-dead empire (the snake is dead but the tail twitches) thought a priority when taking over a slave country (which they did several times): invade the media, education, and entertainment. Once you have those you control the country.
And they did, to a great extent, boiling the frog slowly. Until the internet.
But unfortunately, the internet does nothing to check the invasion of the sciences that started by taking over academia.
We all know about “fake news” fortunately thanks to the left trying to discredit everyone else with that moniker, but giving us a handy handle to call out those telling us things we’re supposed to believe, other than their lying eyes.
But those things are not just political, or just crazily twisted reports, like stuff about say the first lady uprooting a historical tree, with no mention of the fact the tree was dying and threatening nearby structures. No.
The left has learned long ago that repeating a falsehood multiple times takes hold. They seem to be catching cold with one of the more obvious “me or your lying eyes” though of course not in their bubble. Their repeated “summer of recovery” lies were laughed out of town. They’re now clinging to Trump only “continuing the Obama recovery” as though those were established fact.
But the thing is the government tampered with the numbers of things like unemployment, so you have to dig (like for example look at the shipping figures) to find that yeah, we’ve only been recovering for about two years.
For just about everything, every publicly available piece of information, you have to dig to see if it says what it claims. You have to look at the internals of studies and polls, and most of the time you find it’s not actually real, not even good Memorex, just a message the “not quite conspiracy” of like thinkers wants loose in the world.
For instance, did you know even the hard sciences are suffering a reproducibility crisis? And that the crisis is worse for the softer sciences?
Yesterday I found myself in an argument with a non-too-bright creature who claimed we “knew” boys read less/retained less than girls. Why? Because there were two studies, one in the UK and one in the US. He seemed utterly unaware that these studies are easily manipulable. All you have to do is do them on books no boy in his right mind would want to read. (Because, yes, tastes in reading are different for males and females, particularly at a young age. In mentoring very young writers, I find girls’ writing is almost exclusively introspection and description, boys’ writing is almost all action and often features the boy himself in daring-do plots. A girl will write “My memories of my mother” and a boy “How I saved the bank and defeated the robbers.” Teachers tend to think the first is more “mature” (it’s not, just different) and choose books for kids according to this.)
There was a study, and therefore he believed, never asking himself a) what purpose the study served (why, to explain why men do worse at school. Just dumb, you know? Not that the schools have been rearranged to favor girls) and b) what happened since the forties, when boys read more than girls and were held to retain more a fact proven by the existence of endless pulps, all thriving, all aimed at boys and young men.
In a complex society, we can’t afford to look at everything personally. And yet we must look at what’s important, and trust no one.
There are people including several branches of our government whose mind has been taken over by an alien way of thinking, one which is inimical to our way of life. It’s not a conspiracy, more of an evangelic fervor and a belief that those who oppose them are evil and must be defeated at all costs, even lies.
Otherwise decent and honest people will do this in the “way of the future.”
Even though we know the way they want only leads to the very same old mass graves.
Unfortunately a lot of the “zones red” are places we depend on for information. Which is why we must trust no one. We must make absolutely sure of the facts behind every catchy soundbite pumped out.
Also, unfortunately, there is no equivalent to the gimmick Heinlein used to rid people of the parasite while keeping the people. The time for that was when the Soviet Union fell, and when the mechanics of its lies and controls could/should be exposed for all to see. But the infection was already in the media, and the masquerade was on.
So all we can do is read Puppet Masters and think about it, and proceed on, verifying all information and making sure we don’t unwittingly become enemy agents. If only it were as easy as stripping naked.
Yet, in the end, we win, they lose, one way or another, because “Me and my kind, we have often been offered that bargain, though maybe not on such a grand scale. It never worked out worth a damn.”
And again it will fail, only let it fail before making us slaves to mindless puppet masters, possessed by an ideology that is at heart anti-human and ultimately anti-all-life.