Top positive review
on 3 January 2014
Heinlein's work falls into several distinct groups, categorised not so much as to what's the book about, but rather how the writer set about trying to achieve his ends. Thus we have, at one end of the spectrum, his series of juvenile novels, which include such classics as: Have Spacesuit Will Travel and the quite wonderful Citizen of the Galaxy. In these volumes Heinlein's craft is such that his message slips by and into the mind of the reader while barely raising a conscious ripple. Then we have the likes of Stranger in a Strange Land and the peerless The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, where the author was far more open about his intentions to write polemics within his entertainments and, to a very large degree, succeeded in balancing the competing needs.
Here, in The Puppet Masters, (PM) we have Heinlein trying to write an adult novel in which he hides his philosophical musings as well as he did in his Juveniles. Does this attempt succeed? No, not entirely, however, PM is a damned entertaining four hundred pages of action and characterisation, which, largely allows its polemics to serve the story, rather than the other way round.
Sometime in the not to distant future an operative for deeply secret government agency uncovers a plot by aliens to infiltrate our society and take us over from within. They are a diabolically described creature, a flat organism which adheres to its victims skin and then controls it's mind and action. The agent, Sam, his colleague, Mary and their boss, struggle, at first, to convince the powers that be to believe in they threat. However, eventually, the true scale of the Puppet Master's plan is perceived by all and the rest of the book is devoted to the efforts of the unaffected humans to battle this insidious menace.
PM is excellent entertainment, it has many fantastic set pieces, one where Sam has to voluntarily allow a PM to take over his mind, utterly chilling and the complexity of the relationships between the three leads is fascinating. The part of Mary, given that this was a novel written in the early 1950's is that of a surprisingly independent and capable agent. (Yes by today's far more realistic standards she's still on occasion treated like a wilting flower, but Heinlein was far in advance of most of his peers in this regard).
There are matters about which to complain, the ending being lifted from H.G. Wells. Certain diatribes about communism, which seems to suggest that anyone living under that vicious political creed is less than human, rather than portraying them as people whom the system itself treats as less than human. But, but, PM is a thoroughly engaging and exciting sf adventure. It's a must read for any who like that period of the genre. It's extremely well written and so fluid in its effect that you barely notice Heinlein's technical prowess. It is four hundred pages of rollicking excitement, thrills, horrors and fun. What more could you possibly want from a novel written as pure entertainment. Worth every penny the money spent and every second of the time taken to read it. The Puppet Masters is superb fifties sf, order a copy and enjoy.