Saturday, March 21, 2009

A detour into the world of science fiction

I took an unexpected detour into the world of science fiction this week.

I hadn't intended to make this a month of Stephenie Meyer-themed posts, but when The Host finally became available at my library last week, it seemed as good a time as any to have a read and see how she tackled a different genre.

While there are some recurring themes from her other books (more on that below), there's also an exploration of some interesting themes relating to what it means to be human.

Do we, as humans, appreciate the value of what it means to experience life on this planet? In The Host, Meyer explores the idea of what it would be like to lose that right to a species with a greater curiosity.

In her story, Earth has been invaded by a species able to take over the minds of its human hosts while their bodies remain intact.

Wanderer, an invading “soul”, has been given the body of one of the few surviving human rebels, Melanie. But Wanderer finds her body’s former tenant has not gone as quietly as she should have.

Melanie fills Wanderer’s mind with visions of the man she loves, who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from Melanie’s memories and the desires of the body now they share, Wanderer sets off in search of him. What follows forces Wanderer and Melanie to learn more about each other (and each other’s species) than they ever intended, forever changing their views of themselves and their existence.

In most sci-fi stories, alien colonisation generally revolves around securing a natural resource critical for survival, even if it’s simply finding room for population expansion.

But the peace-loving "souls" who colonise Earth simply set up camp in human bodies and go about living the lives as their human hosts once did. The majority do not multiply (it seems only a select number have the capacity to do so). They change nothing on the planet (except human behaviour, by making everyone pacifists) and take nothing from it.

It took me a while to work out what these invaders wanted on each planet. And then the penny dropped: the resource they're mining is the human experience. Meyer’s alien species colonises other planets to experience life as the inhabitants do and the souls come to Earth to experience the unparalleled range of human emotions.

Wanderer abhors violence, and she and her species justify their invasion as being the only way to bring peace to Earth – rescuing it from human nature.

But while on the run with Melanie, she experiences the full gamut of human emotion – often at the receiving end – and ultimately finds a context for human violence. She comes to believe it is the ability to experience the extreme negative emotions of hatred and anger that allows humans to also experience the extremities of love and compassion.

The Host
has many of Meyer's themes from the Twilight novels: obsession, self-sacrifice, bigotry, love, and yes, even more than a hint of female masochism. Again we have a female narrative character willing to sacrifice herself (and in this case even be repeatedly physically punished) to save those she loves. Sound familiar?

The Host is definitely a unique take on the body snatchers plot, and the love triangle (cleverly touted as the first one involving only two bodies) is not quite as frustrating as I expected it to be. Actually, it becomes a love quadrangle, just to further complicate the emotional ties...

It does tend to get bogged down a bit through the middle third of the book, and there are some character frustrations, but ultimately the book delivers a very readable and often tense story that's part sci fi thriller and part love story.

If you haven't read Meyer yet, this could be a place start (you don't have to be a sci fan to enjoy it). If you're already a fan, chances are you'll like this (slightly) more adult fare than her other work. If you're not, it's unlikely The Host will change your mind.


Linda Jacobs said...

I haven't read this one, yet, but have seen quite a few girls in school with it. When I ask them how they like it, they always kind of shrug at first but, by the end, they say they enjoyed it. I think they are always a bit disappointed that it isn't Twilight.

I always take a bunch of books from the school library for summer reading and am planning on this one then.

Great review!

charley said...

I wasn't a fan of the Twilight series, and I don't intend to read this book, but I enjoyed your thoughtful review nonetheless.

the ink-stained toe-poker said...

I'm with Charlie. This is a good sell. You're a champion of the Meyer cause now. You even like the Host?
LIke to me that's mental. I wouldnae, couldnae touch this with the pooey end of a very long stick.

How you doin Westie? we should catch up eh?