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The Puppet Masters by Robert Heinlein

The Puppet Masters (original 1951; edition 2009)

by Robert Heinlein

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Title:The Puppet Masters
Authors:Robert Heinlein
Info:Baen (2009), Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Your library

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The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein (1951)



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Science fiction at its best - mind-controlling slugs from outer space! I love reading the originals! ( )
  krista.rutherford | Aug 10, 2014 |
Before reading this, I didn't realize I hadn’t read a NON-juvenile Heinlein novel- I was beginning to think they all had spunky pre-teen protagonists thrown into gee-whiz scenarios where they nonetheless manage to outshine the adults. My previous two RAH novels, “Time for the Stars” and “Have Space Suit, Will Travel”, share all the same 1950’s cultural colorations seen here, but are restrained in their violence, profanity, and sexual content due to his audience. Reading Heinlein less restrained in these areas was enjoyably disturbing. There’s something odd about the juxtaposition of 1950’s gender chivalry in one scene followed quickly by man-bisecting ray gun violence in the next that held my attention like a cold war “red alert” duck-and-cover drill. As in “Have Space Suit”, this story is about the early detection of an alien invasion, although what comes out of the saucers is much more gruesome this time. A lot of thought went into the methods a mid-controlling invader would use to subjugate the human race, and I appreciate the subtleties of counter-insurgence played out between the opposing species. The theme of personal freedom plays out on at least two levels: the struggle against literal slavery at the hands (psuedopods?) of aliens, and the second struggle against bureaucratic and paternalistic government authority. The final denouement chapter provides the satisfying full-throated vengeance on both that Heinlein, in his Libertarian zeal, must have fantasized about. I kept expecting a more direct parallel on McCarthyism and Red Scare politics, but found it only passingly mentioned; seemingly a missed opportunity. Just as you can never be immediately sure if the stranger seated beside you on the subway is an alien agent, you can likewise not discover a communist sympathizer with superficial inspection. ( )
  SciFi-Kindle | Aug 3, 2014 |
Unfriendly aliens from Titan have arrived on Earth and are planning to conquer us. To do this, the slug-like beings latch onto the backs of their human hosts and take over their bodies and minds. The aliens are rapidly spreading in the Midwest and they??ve managed to infiltrate the Treasury Department. To make world domination go even faster and easier, theyƒ??re planning to get the President of the United States. Thatƒ??s why Sam Cavanaugh, secret agent, has been called in from his vacation. Heƒ??s teaming up with Mary, a beautiful red-head, to stop the invasion. But Sam and Mary soon learn that even secret agents are susceptible to alien body snatching.... and falling in love.

Thereƒ??s plenty of action in The Puppet Masters ƒ?? chases, capture, torture, escape, reconnaissance missions, hide-outs, vehicle crashes, parachute landings, vigilantes, and even a plague. And since this is Robert Heinlein... Read More at Fantasy Literature: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/reviews/the-puppet-masters/ ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
This is a Heinlein classic first published in book form in 1951. That makes it a sci-fi classic, with everything you'd expect. Men are still gallant, the technology is both advanced and primitive, and political and economic predictions are way off. Its always fun to read the older sci-fi to see how they did not anticipate personal computing and entertainment advances, but how far behind we are in space travel.
Otherwise this is pretty classic 50's scifi. Alien parasites land on Earth and start taking over, while a super secret government agency tries to fight them off. There is an original Star Trek episode that borrows heavily from this concept, so its hard not to visualize images from the show while reading the book. Pretty standard, unsurprising science fiction without any great political or philosophical insights. ( )
  Karlstar | Oct 2, 2013 |
I must have read Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters twenty or thirty times, easily, since the first time I read it in my mid-to-late teens. I can't say it's his best, but it's certainly one of the better works from what I consider to be his golden period. But in all those re-readings, I somehow failed to catch a rather huge logic hole in the plot - until realization suddenly burst in on me today.

The Puppet Masters is, arguably, the classic mind-controlling-aliens-invade story (if anyone has another candidate to suggest, please do). The Titans control their hosts (human and otherwise) through physical contact, most often at the spine just below the neck. They reproduce extremely rapidly, and soon posses an extremely large percentage of the population - large enough that the protagonist, Sam, calls it a "saturation" point, and the Titans actually drop the masquerade.

The goal of the Titans is to possess the entire human race - effectively, to spread themselves and their control to the uncontrolled portion of humanity. In North America, that uncontrolled population resides on the East and West coasts. They primarily advance this goal through infiltration, and also by using dogs and some other animals as carriers at night out of the Red (i.e. Titan-saturated) zone into the Green (free human) zone.

The goal of the uncontrolled humans, on the other hand, is to resist takeover, to free the enslaved population, and to kill the Titans.

Now here's the problem: early in the book, in chapter three, Heinlein introduces a drug called "tempus fugit". It's freely available in pill or injectable liquid. It increases subjective perception and reaction time by - well, Heinlein contradicts himself within the same paragraph:

...I took them occasionally to make a twenty-four-hour leave seem like a week. ... Primarily, though, they just stretch your subjective time by a factor of ten or more - chop time into finer bits so that you live longer for the same amount of clock-and-calendar. Sure, I know the horrible example of the man who died of old age in a month through taking the pills steadily...
Note that ten-to-one is given as the minimum alteration (despite Heinlein's earlier referral to an effective seven-to-one ratio). In chapter 21, Sam says "Suppose we have just twenty-four more hours; we could fine it down to a month, subjective time." Since he's proposing this to his new wife, this thirty-to-one dose is presumably not dangerous. Even higher subjective speeds are specified later, in chapter 24:

The doctor gave me a short shot of tempus and I spent the time - subjective, about three days; objective, less than an hour - studying stereo tapes through an overspeed scanner.
That is, at a minimum, a 72-to-1 increase in perceived time, and when he takes it, he's recuperating from serious burns. I'm afraid I've over-explained, but here's the basic point: why weren't the free humans dosed with tempus every time they invaded the infected zone? From the first time, when they were trying to get video proof of the titans' existence, to the last, when they went in to give antitoxin to the human population, tempus would have made their task about a thousand times easier. And yet they didn't use it, or even discuss using it.

And what about the Titans? They have access to tempus too, but are never mentioned as using it at all. Which raises an interesting point: does tempus affect the Titan who is controlling a human, if the human takes it? If so, the Titans could have created high-speed assault & infection agents very easily. On the other hand, if the tempus does not affect Titans, then that raises a whole new interesting question. What happens when a human being controlled by a Titan is dosed with tempus? Suddenly they're thinking and reacting ten to 72 (or more) times faster than their master. Can the Titans exert meaningful control over their host under those conditions? If so, virtually unstoppable high-speed infectors seem to be an obvious option for them.

And if not, why didn't the free humans send tempus-dosed troops to inject tempus into infected humans in zone Red?

Yet another odd lapse in the story appears in chapter 24:

What we needed was [...] something that would disable humans or render them unconscious without killing, and thereby permit us to rescue our compatriots. No such weapon was available, though the scientists were all busy on the problem. A "sleep" gas would have been perfect, but it is lucky that no such gas was known before the invasion, or the slugs could have used it against us.
But when we go back to chapter 8, when the Titan-ridden Sam is recaptured much earlier in the story:
With his other hand he thrust something against my side; I felt a prick, and then through me spread the warm tingle of a jolt of "Morpheus" taking hold. I made one more attempt to pull my gun free and sank forward.
Okay, it's an injection rather than a gas. But it knocks out a highly trained agent before he can do anything about it. It's even called "Morpheus", for god's sake! Leaving out the absolutely obvious possibility (which absolutely nothing in the book rules out) of sending tempus-dosed troops with Morpheus injectors to knock out the population, Morpheus alone seems to be an invaluable weapon for either side. They're obviously both aware of the drug. And yet it is only used once, in the above passage.

Perhaps I'm being unfair to Heinlein. But he himself described the care that he put into his work - I recall an anecdote he wrote about spending a week with his wife writing calculation after calculation on huge rolls of butcher paper, in order to derive a point about an orbit or trajectory that went into only one line in a novel. Two logic holes such as this in one of his golden age novels...well, that's just astonishing.

Or perhaps this is one of those occasions where his editors overrode his wishes and forced him to self-censor? I've only read the original edition, so I can't be sure.

Another minor point that occurred to me: To defend themselves from the Titans, the free humans adopt mandatory nudity. Several times, they mention a concern that the weather will soon be getting colder. Why wasn't transparent clothing ever considered?

It's still a great read. Heinlein was, without question, a master storyteller. Which may explain why I never noticed these gaping logic holes before! ( )
1 vote PMaranci | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Robert A. Heinleinprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
James, LloydNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Shaw, BarclayCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0345330145, Mass Market Paperback)

Earth was being invaded by aliens and the top security agencies were helpless: the aliens were controlling the mind of every person they encountered. So it was up to Sam Cavanaugh, secret agent for a powerful and deadly spy network, to find a way to stop them--which meant he had to be invaded himself!

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:21:29 -0400)

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When alien slugs with mind control abilities begin infecting people, Sam and Mary, federal agents whose work is only known to the President, try to stop the invasion and kill the aliens without harming their hosts.

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