The Host - Stephanie Meyer
Since mankind as a species started to tell stories to each other one theme has been around; the intrusion of one personality on another. This has taken many forms over the years from the religious; such as demonic possession to medical with multiple personalities. Perhaps the most popular variation is in science fiction. In 1956 the ground breaking movie ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ was released. Based on the story by Jack Finney; most agreed it was an allegory for the main threat of the fifties, the advance of communism. In the years since there have been many remakes of this story most of which could not hold a candle to the original. Now the same basic premise is taken on in Stephanie Meyer’s latest novel, ‘The Host’. After reading the synopsis that relates that the book is about a alien race that takes over humanity by replacing our minds with their own I thought this would be just another imitation of a great work of Sci-Fi. After only a handful of pages I discovered I was pleasantly proven wrong. This is one of the most original, intriguing and well written novels I have read in over a decade. I barely got started reading when I realized I was completely hooked and I was loving it. Now I have been reading science fiction for almost five decades now so it takes a lot to impress me but this book managed with ease.
The idea of another mind taking over your body is one of the frightening themes in Sci-Fi. The concept that the people around you may look and even act normally but actually are harboring an alien invader is the ultimate in paranoia. ‘The Host’ takes this rather simple idea and weaves it with one of the strangest love triangles possible, a survival story and an unblinking look at the heights and depths that mankind is capable of reaching. Even if you are prone to reading quickly you will want to slow down and savor every word in this novel. For such a simple premise it is amazing just how complex the book is with plots and twists that will keep you turning the pages. Most of the fan base for Ms Meyer is older teens and young adults. Her ‘Twilight’ series about a young woman who has fallen in love with a vampire has given her a loyal group of followers and this novel is certain to add it them. Even if you are not part of the typical younger demographic, I certainly am long past that age, you will find her writing intelligent, witty and captivating.
The novel is set in the not too distant future where mankind has been successfully invaded by an alien species. This invasion was not with ray guns or space ships; it was far more insidious. These creatures, who call themselves ‘Souls’, look like silvery multi-tentacled organisms that are inserted via a small incision at the base of the neck usually by specialist called ‘Healers’. Once inside the host they Souls take on the memories of the human being and eventually completely replace all that is human. The invasion was covert; most people didn’t realize that their neighbors were turned into aliens. In a short time almost every human being on earth had been replaced. The Souls have been going from planet to planet replacing the native population for many centuries. Most have never even been to the home world of the species. On that world, long ago, they were a species that floated along communicating with telepathy. This allowed them to create a mental unity that they then expanded by taking over the inhabitants of other planets. Each member of their society is considered equal although there are committees and some work related hierarchies to keep things moving smoothly. Besides Healers there are other set job functions. Comforters are those that help the Souls adapt to their new hosts, for example. The Seekers have the primary purpose of locating the last remaining non-transformed members of a species being taken over. They also monitor the recently implanted souls just too make sure they adapt properly. When an individual is taken over normally the Soul fully replaces the host pushing that personality completely out of the picture. The memories of the host are usually available to the Soul so for the most part.
The protagonist of the novel is called Wanderer. It has a record of eight full lives, each on a different planet. It has been a sea creature with minimal sight, a sentient plant and numerous other forms. When Wanderer was asked to take on a ninth life in a human it thought that this would be just another life to live. Wanderer was not a skipper, a Soul that moved from host to host not staying for the full life span. What Wanderer did not realize was that this new host Melanie was stronger of will than most. While on the run in Chicago Melanie was trapped by the Seekers. Rather than give in and be implanted she tried to commit suicide by tossing herself down an elevator shaft. The Healers are very good at their job and she was saved and ready for implantation. One Seeker in particular was very anxious to have Wanderer access Melanie’s memories and lead them to a pocket of free humans. The big problem in the plan was Melanie’s consciousness did not go away; it coexisted in her body with Wanderer. Together in the same body Melanie and Wanderer escape from the perfect society of the Souls to find Jared, the man Melanie loves and her younger brother Jamie.
What makes this novel so intriguing, so captivating is how it builds the relationship between Melanie and Wanderer. In all her many lives Wanderer had never had a host so determined and powerful of mind. Human emotions and scenes were almost overwhelming to the Soul. She needed Melanie as much as Mel needed the body that Wanderer now controls. Unlike ‘Body Snatchers’ this book allows the readers to know both sides of the conflict. The Souls truly believe that a beautiful, rich planet like Earth was wasted on such a cruel and violent species as mankind. From the human’s point f view this is an invasion and the ultimate destruction of our species. This is a much more emotional treatment of the theme than has ever been done before. The impact of reading this is to see humanity from the viewpoint of an alien race and a deep introspection of the best and worse in our own kind. Melanie/Wanderer becomes something different and unwelcome by both species, a double outcast. Both Melanie and Wanderer have a profound affect on each other and therein lies the true heart of the story.
I was unable to put this book down. It kept drawing me from page to page. Ms Meyer is an author of considerable talent and I look forward to reading her other stories. There are some rumors that this novel will be the first in a trilogy. I certainly hope that this is true. This book will put you through the complete gamut of human emotions and leave you wanting more. This is a book that is fresh and innovative. It takes an old theme and makes it into something you have never come across before.