Stephenie Meyer's bestseller The Host does for aliens what Twilight did for vampires—and soon will be in theaters nationwide.
Science fiction has long capitalized on the horror of imperialism. That's true of The War of the Worlds, in which H.G. Wells imagined Martians doing to Britain what Britain had done to its colonies. But it's perhaps even more true of the extensive body-usurpers subgenre. In films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and John Carpenter's The Thing, or in novels like John Christopher's The Possessors or Heinlein's The Puppet Masters, the alien others colonize our brains and our bodies, so that conquest comes not through force of arms but through insidious transformation. Cold-War paranoia about creeping Communism and internal enemies leads to a vision in which the loss of national autonomy becomes a complete loss of self.
Stephenie Meyer, best known for her tween vampire romance Twilight series, draws on this long tradition of colonizing horror in her 2008 bestselling novel The Host, whose film adaptation hits theaters at the end of this month. The story seems at first to fit all the genre tropes. An alien race of tiny silvery caterpillars crawls out of the vastnesses of space and into human brainstems. Soon they have controlled virtually everyone on the planet, with only a few desperate holdouts waiting for the alien police, called Seekers, to find and convert them.
You've seen the script no doubt. Except that you really haven't. In the first place, Meyer tells her tale from the perspective not of the last human remnants running from the nauseatingly uncanny conquerors, but rather from the perspective of one of the invaders. The narrator of the story is Wanderer, an alien who has taken over the body of an earth woman named Melanie. Melanie's consciousness is supposed to be gone, but it isn't. Instead, the host's memories are so powerful that Wanderer ends up falling in maternal love with Mel's little brother, Jamie, and in just regular love with her paramour, Jared.
Meyer, in short, shuffles genres. Instead of paranoid horror, she uses the sci-fi invasion tropes to generate relationship angst. Wanderer, impelled by Mel, claws her way back to her loved ones—and then all melodrama breaks loose. Jared doesn't trust Wanderer at first ... then he does, and Mel is jealous when he kisses her body. Then a guy named Ian falls in love with Wanderer, but how can he have her when Mel is also in the body watching? Wanda and Mel grow to love each other too, and then Wanda feels guilty for taking her body and Mel feels guilty and there are enough tears and confessions and declarations of hopeless love to fill any three daytime serials of your choice.
At 800 pages, this does, admittedly, get a bit tedious. Still, it's hard not to be impressed by bizarreness of the endeavor—who would have thought of turning The Thing into a soap opera?—as well as by the way Meyer makes that bizarreness seem natural.
The aliens have transformed Earth into a perfectly safe, perfectly gentle society where all needs are met—into a fuddy-duddy womb, in other words.
Against the sci-fi tradition of difference as invaded/invader, Meyer puts forth a vision of difference as mother/child. The aliens—who call themselves "souls"—are conquerors, but they are also, for Meyer, figured as a kind of caretaker. They loathe violence; even The Brady Bunch, we learn, is too violent for them (shades of Tipper Gore.) They also have miraculous healing abilities: Every injury, every disease, can be fixed immediately and fully. Once they have taken over all the humans, there is no violence, no suffering, no infractions of the law (not even speeding)—and no money, since everyone gives freely everything that is needed to everyone else. They have transformed Earth into a perfectly safe, perfectly gentle society where all needs are met—into a fuddy-duddy womb, in other words.