The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein:
'PUPPETS, MEET YOUR MASTERS
First came the news that a flying saucer had landed in Iowa. Then came the announcement that the whole thing was just a hoax. End of story. Case closed.
Except that two agents of the most secret intelligence agency in the U.S. government were on the scene and disappeared without reporting in. And four more agents who were sent in also disappeared. So the head of the agency and his two top agents went in and managed to get out with their discovery: an invasion is underway by sluglike aliens who can touch a human and completely control his or her mind. What the humans know, they know. What the slugs want, no matter what, the humans will do. And most of Iowa is already under their control.
Sam Cavanaugh was one of the agents who discovered the truth. Unfortunately, that was just before he was taken over by one of the aliens and began working for the invaders, with no will of his own...' - The Puppet Masters, Robert A. Heinlein 
The Puppet Masters is a book about mankind's struggle against an extraterrestrial invader that can not only hide itself from humankind but also take control of human beings. It is told from the perspective of Sam Cavanaugh, an agent of the Section (a secretive intelligence agency above that of the CIA) and set in a 'future' that holds very few similarities with our present. Sam's world, for example, still features the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) as a world power that hides behind the Iron Curtain (from Churchill's famous speech). He has a mobile phone in the form of a surgically implanted phone in his cranium and drives an aircar (an old term for a flying car). The world itself has recovered from the Third World War which was implied to have been between the USSR and the USA. In this future, mankind has already spread to parts of the solar system and encountered the Venerians (Venus-inhabiting aliens). Despite this though, the tale takes place almost entirely on Earth.
A very enjoyable tale, though as a reader, you can't help but feel a bit of detachment from the book's language and setting. There's alot of slang that frankly isn't used anymore at all which adds to the sense of confusion within the story because it can be hard to tell when something is slang and when it isn't. For example, Heinlein uses the word 'burn' when describing Sam's use of a gun, which at first had me thinking (because this story was in a future setting) that the weapons involved were some sort of laser (or thermal induction weapon for the boffins), however, a single reference to an Owen gun suggests that it is just slang for 'shoot' (an Owen gun is a 1939 era sub-machine gun), which is verified by the use of the word 'heater' to refer to his gun (slang for a handgun).Unfortunately, this can make reading the book something of a struggle. Despite that though, this is still a very entertaining read and a fascinating insight into the conceptual ideas of the 'future' that were had in the 1950s. However, the book's setting is only glimpsed at through occasional remarks from the characters (acting as if the reader would be already familiar with these events).
Click below for the full synopsis (click to open/close):
The story begins with an agent receiving a confidential call through his phone, implanted in his skull. Despite having 72 hours of leave accumulated he's being called by the Old Man (military slang for a commander) to report in immediately. He enters a secret facility located under the MacArthur Station, the Section's headquarters. As he travels, he is lost in his thoughts, allowing the insight that his boss, the Old Man, is not a soft boss. The Old Man is capable of making hard calls if the situation required it. Sam's inner thoughts also reveal that the Section has neither a name, nor phone book listing. It is not known to the United Nations, nor the President, nor even the CIA. His work is strictly off the books at all times.
He meets the Old Man, who addresses him as Sam (this being the name he will adopt for the 'vacation' that the Old Man has planned with him) and introduces himself as Uncle Charlie before indicating another agent as his sister Mary. Mary is described as quite the looker for Sam and so it is to his disappointment that Uncle Charlie informs him rather pointedly that there was no incestuous relationships in the Cavanaugh family. Sam Cavanaugh was to be an 'All-American boy.' Sam is then put through the Cosmetics department and made into a red-head to match his 'sister.' The Old Man asks Sam if he'd ever heard of flying saucers, to which Sam replies that they'd all been proven as fakes since before the Disorders. However, the Old Man assures Sam that it was real, that one had landed in Iowa, a disc shaped object approximately 150ft in diameter and more worryingly, the agents sent in seventeen hours ago hadn't reported back barring a short message about 'little creatures.' Shortly after that, the Des Moines News reported the flying saucer as a hoax, firing the newscaster (news - broadcaster) responsible for the original story. The Old Man wanted he and his team to investigate why the Des Moines News had shut up for a period, why the photographs of the saucer from the space station and the Des Moines News didn't seem to match locations and why six agents disappeared. Sam is a little apprehensive that he'd been told by the Old Man to be protective of his sister meaning that of the three he was considered the most expendable.
On arriving at the UFOs location, they discover a rather obvious hoax ship rather than the one observed by the space station. As they leave the Des Moines site, Mary confers with the group, telling them that the people they had met at that site were like 'harem guards' (meaning here devoid of a libido, an indication of both Mary's physical appearance and the uses of it by the Section). They decide to head to the Des Moines broadcast station and meet the manager, Barnes. Mary gives the Old Man a signal that Barnes picks up, forcing Sam to shoot him dead. They examine the body to discover their fears proven correct, to their revulsion they see a strange, slug-like creature detach from Barnes' back. The Old Man quickly coaxes the creature into a tin and leaves with the other two. They race back to the Section only to discover the creature had expired. After alerting their scientific team about the possible ramifications that direct contact might engender, Sam decides to make a pass at Mary and fails. Both of them are then called to the Old Man again to brief the President. Unfortunately, they are unsuccessful in convincing the President that the situation was a genuine problem and the Old Man is formally requested to take a 'vacation' leave.
A rather dejected Sam finds himself given leave once again but rather than choosing to sink into a drug-soaked haze, he decides to go out and do research on the phenomenon, heading to the Library of Congress and pulling out whatever he can from their catalogue that matches or relates to UFOs. He discovers that most of the books he wanted had already been taken by Mary no less. The two of them work together and to Sam's surprise he finds himself invited to Mary's apartment (rather than his after another attempt to flirt with her). As soon as Sam is within the apartment, Mary demands he strip so she can see if his back is clear. It is very apparent that Mary is taking the threat of the alien parasites very seriously. Through this entire period though, no news has been reported from Iowa about the flying saucer.
Having observed a roughly thirty year trend between UFO arrivals, they quickly contact the Old Man and convince him to get involved again, pulling him out of the funk he had been in since having his information dismissed abruptly. Sam comes up with a daring plan to simply bull his way into the landing site with two other agents to take a live shot of the alien invaders that they could stream directly to the President for proof, galvanising the Old Man. The Old Man then decides to appoint Mary as the President's bodyguard, with instructions to take whatever necessary action that might be required if the President ever became a victim of the aliens, including any action that would have Mary shot for treason.
Their immediate outing goes wrong from the start, the first person Sam investigates isn't afflicted by the aliens at all, a rather embarrassing moment, especially when coupled with the fact that he was broadcasting straight to the President. It only gets worse as they raid the WDES news station (the same station he had investigated with the Old Man earlier) where after rushing in and being attacked by the people ridden by the slugs they discover that their camera had blown a fuse and hadn't recorded a single image since before they were even inside the building. However, after making it back to the Section, the President having long since stopped watching the broadcast, they discover that Jarvis (the agent with the broadcasting gear) had been afflicted by the alien menace. They manage to subdue Jarvis, giving them the proof they need but the President's aide refuses to let them contact him directly, having been disheartened by the unsuccessful attempt to bring forward information. They also discover from one of the science team that the separated slug had died of asphyxiation and have no choice but to give Jarvis to a rather uncomfortable scientist as their only live alien captive.
The next morning, Sam is woken by the sound of alarms ringing throughout the Section and spots the Old Man directing everyone to obey the anti-gas and anti-radiation drills before congregating in a central point within the Section's interior. Once everyone is collected, the Old Man explains that the parasite had escaped and was no doubt amongst them even as he spoke. He forces the assembled crowd to individually approach him and strip down, male or female. By this process of elimination he finds out that his own private secretary, Miss Haines is the only person not yet checked. Miss Haines demands to know if the Old Man was the one carrying the parasite and when the Old Man decides to comply first, she makes a run for it. Sam follows in quick pursuit and finds himself knocked down for his troubles. As he lies there, he hears a struggle and the various sounds of the other agents managing to subdue Miss Haines. Sam picks himself up and begins running towards the Section exit. He makes it out, seen only by one person who calls his name (who he later identifies as Mary). On the streets, Sam mugs a passerby before making his way away from the Section.
Sam has been made a puppet out of by the alien but seems to believe on some level as if it were him in charge, even though on a deeper level he is aware that he is not. He makes an order through Western Union for a crate of children's books, though this is merely code for a crate of the actual parasites themselves. Using the best of his training he begins by spreading the parasites through the apartment he has leased in the interim. From there, he 'recruits' the building owner who happens to be a member of the Constitutional Club, a great success for the parasites due to its prestigious and well connected members. The parasites takeover the Club and manage to score a success with the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury (the department that was charged with the President's safety). Sam feels little in the way of jubilation though, the effect of being 'ridden' by a parasite seems to take away alot of his drives (hunger for example) and worse, he seems unaware of his master's intentions, knowing almost nothing right up until the urge to act was given to him. One day, without warning, Sam finds his rider deciding to take him to New Orleans. He finds himself in an argument with an elderly man who convinces him to head to New Orleans with a stop off at Memphis for him. Once he's in the car though, the elderly man reveals himself as a disguised Old Man. The Old Man injects him with a soporific
Sam comes to, restrained to a bed. He is released by the Old Man and finds out he'd had his parasite removed. He panics, telling the Old Man that they needed to evacuate because he'd told the aliens where the Section was hidden, but the Old Man points out that as soon as Sam had escaped the Section's interior, he'd ordered the area evacuated and had set up a new headquarters for the Section. As Sam's memories come back to him he finds himself throwing up in revulsion. The Old Man reveals that quite a number of cities are being controlled by the aliens through their careful selection of victims. Sam freezes when he discovers that the parasite that had been riding him had been captured alive before demanding to know where it was being kept. Sam harbours a deep need to kill the alien that had been riding him, although the Old Man cautioned him about how badly they needed it for their own studies. Sam manages to share the names of those he had helped recruit at the Constitution Club and warns the Old Man about the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury before passing out.
He wakes up in the care of Doris, one of the nurses working in the Section. Davidson, the other agent besides Jarvis who had gone with Sam to the Des Moines news station arrives and shares with Sam what had happened. He himself had been shot in the arm when they apprehended the Assistant Secretary, the President was unharmed fortunately. However, Davidson shares that Jarvis had never recovered from being ridden by the alien, sinking into a coma before dying. After a few days spent recovering, the Old Man puts Sam back on active duty and takes him into the Section's science wing to see an ape that had had the alien parasite attached to it, though it becomes clear that Sam's time being ridden has traumatised him for the agent doesn't even want to get into the same room as the parasite. Eventually he gathers the strength of will to go through with it, the sight of the parasite developing an innate hatred for the slug-like creatures in Sam. To Sam's surprise, the Old Man presents his pistol to him and offers Sam the chance to kill the parasite even though the Section has no other captives. Sam manages to decline, though was sorely tempted.
As Sam and the Old Man examine the alien, it becomes apparent that the entire Section has banned all use of coats within their building to allow them easy checks to determine if an individual was being ridden or not. The Old Man begins to talk about obtaining a volunteer so that they could communicate with the aliens, although Sam is dismayed when the Old Man reveals that he intended Sam to be that volunteer. Sam declines, causing the lab techs to bring in a smaller rig for their 'prior' volunteer. The rig turns out to be a chair designed to hold the volunteer immobile while presenting their backs for the alien to be able to ride and to Sam's shock Mary arrives. She's shocked to see Sam but sits down at the chair anyway. Sam tries to pull Mary away from the chair only to be threatened with being tied up and removed. In response, Sam volunteers to take Mary's place, earning the Old Man's thanks (who addresses him for the first time as 'son', something that turns out to be literal rather than figurative). Once possessed, Sam still sees himself as 'himself' but now is opposed to the Old Man. His refusal to answer the Old Man's questions result in his being electrocuted by the Old Man's 'tickler.' Sam is tortured for the answers the Old Man seeks, discovering that the parasites intended to make slaves of mankind though the parasites saw it as doing a favour to mankind, granting them contentment through their ownership. When the Old Man begins pressing Sam for the location of their home, their nest, Sam's rider lies earning another shock, this time though, the shock is too great for the rider and it dies. Sam recovers but is furious with the Old Man, storming out of the room. He meets Mary in the corridor who seems genuinely confused at his presence in the room, she had thought she was the only volunteer, but Sam doesn't believe her. He slaps her and calls her 'bitch' before storming away from her too. Sam is filled with disgust at Mary because her presence had effectively forced him to volunteer, which he attributed to the joint machinations of the Old Man and her.
He returns to the medical ward and shares his anger with Doris, who also becomes rather incensed at the abuse of his trust that Mary and the Old Man had taken advantage of. Some time later, Mary appears, sporting a red mark on her cheek that was just about the right size to be consistent with a slap from Doris who was hovering rather angrily around her. She begs Sam's forgiveness, stating that she hadn't realised what the Old Man had intended, however, despite Sam's icy attitude she manages to get through to him before he sends her off... though Sam is still not entirely convinced of Mary's innocence. The Old Man visits him to berate Sam for his treatment of Mary, explaining that she really had been unaware of Sam's presence inside the room and had volunteered freely to be ridden by the alien without expecting a last minute reprieve. He even goes as far as saying that between the two of them, Mary was the real hero (having volunteered of her own free-will) while Sam had required a fire to be built under him (i.e. that he'd had to be pressured into it). The Old Man goes on to tell Sam that following hypnosis treatments, they'd pulled out some useful information from him about where the aliens originate from, namely Titan, one of Saturn's moons.
Later, Sam finds himself looking for Mary to apologise only to be taken with the Old Man outside of the Section. He learns that the President has not yet managed to implement any firm action yet because he had yet to brief Congress, shocking Sam to the core by the fact that even with a crisis as severe as they faced, partisan politics still had their say. Agent Sam finds himself watching his own interrogation with the US Congress though the Congress members present find themselves unable to believe both the President's and Sam's testimony, choosing instead to view the evidence as the work of a skilled actor rather than an agent. Things come to a head when one of the senators begin to give a speech that would lead up to a formal request for the impeachment of the President! However, Mary hurriedly passes a signal to the President who requests Senator Gottlieb to take the central rostrum for his speech. Under the Old Man's direction, Sam tackles him and forcibly strips the Senator, revealing an alien riding on his back. The Old Man takes control, glad that the hearing was a closed hearing with guards and locked doors, ensuring that each and every other senator was clear of the Titan menace. Sam reveals that the result was successful vote for the emergency powers to be given to the President and that thirteen were found with Titans riding them. Although, Sam makes a wry comment about the nature of bureaucracies and their inability to move with any great or immediate speed.
The first part of the human counter to the Titans amongst them is the implementation of Schedule Bareback, a nationwide initiative to require every citizen to go about with their backs bare. A broadcast is hurriedly prepared that would demonstrate Congress and the President adopting the very same scheme they were proposing. However, they discover that Congress had decided not to follow through and halt the broadcast, hurrying over with the President in tow. The President himself makes a point of standing before Congress and stripping himself before announcing he is clearly free of the Titan influence, before denouncing the Congressmen, demanding to know if any of them were working for them. Senator Gottlieb stands up and follows the President's example before drawing a gun on the crowd, demanding that they follow suit, because he had experienced being ridden by the Titan and he would be damned if he'd allow one of those parasites to live amongst them. The broadcast resumes with Congress' first 'bareback' session.
To Sam's surprise though, Schedule Bareback fails to clean up the country in one fell swoop, instead the situation continues without much change. Sam comes to realise that this is because the infected regions were simply not broadcasting the President's warnings about the Titans living amongst them. Flights over Iowa are cancelled despite the Governor of Iowa's broadcasted assurance that they had complied with the order. In an assembled meeting with the Old Man, President and the Supreme Chief of Staff, the Old Man points out that the Titans had won this round because they'd been able to out think them. The Governor of Iowa, who stripped himself on a public broadcast had cut off the footage in the act of removing his clothes and cut to a bareback. He also challenges the authenticity of footage of bareback civilians walking about Des Moines, arguing it was possible that they were simply re-broadcasting another city's 'Main Street' seeing as most Main Streets in America were homogeneous. Eager to prove the Old Man wrong, the Supreme Chief of Staff, Air Marshal Rexton opens a video-communication with a military base operating within Iowa and is greeted with the sight of a bareback man. However, when asked to turn around for the camera, the soldier in question fails to display his upper back on screen correctly before they lose the signal being told rather brusquely that there had been some 'technical difficulties.' Air Marshal Rexton confirms the next day, having worked through the night, that all of the military sites within the occupied zones were suffering the very same technical difficulties.
Sam finds Mary and apologises to her, though Mary tells Sam that he need not worry, she understood entirely. She gives him a gentle tap, telling him he was forgiven for his slap, before she punches him hard, that one for Doris' slap. After the too make up, Sam decides he can take advantage of the current meeting they had been excluded from to rush out and get himself married to Mary, who has admitted her love for him (his already having been known). However, Mary tells him it would be better to wait until the Titan issue was resolved and Sam grudgingly accepts. They are met by the Old Man who tells them that the next phase would start soon, Schedule Counter Blast. Schedule Counter Blast is a plan to raid every single news station, broadcast tower and newspaper office inside Zone Red (the occupied zone) and set to start that very night. The Old Man is unsettled and directs Sam to infiltrate Kansas City and return before Schedule Counter Blast began, his worries growing on the fact that there had been no change at all within Zone Red since Schedule Bareback had begun.
Sam makes use of an aircar to race his way towards Zone Red, through Zone Yellow (where there had been some sightings of Titans but not many). Turning on the stereo as he drove, he became aware that none of the Zone Red programmes had complied with Schedule Bareback at all. In order to avoid attracting too much attention, he decides to ground his aircar and drive into Kansas City. At a toll gate, Sam is asked to leave his vehicle for a safety test, to check his reflexes and reactions as the guards take him towards a small building beside the road. It becomes clear to Sam that this was just another way for the Titans to continue recruiting people. A doctor would request Sam to look through an eye-testing device and while he was busy looking, they would attach the Titan to him. Using some subterfuge, Sam approaches the doctors and grabs the Titans on their backs, squeezing them, resulting in the deaths of the aliens and the spasm-filled collapse of the two doctors. He then proceeds to destroy all of the Titans that were kept in stasis awaiting a host, slips the eye-tester's dust cover under his jacket and makes his way out of the building. From there, he gets waved on by a cop and drives on into Kansas City, pressing a button to switch the number plates on the Section-modified aircar.
As he drives through Kansas City he notices that despite the hot weather, the vast majority of people are not choosing to go bareback, something that alarms him as he comes to realise that around 90% of the population must logically be possessed by the Titans. He is unsure how that could be possible though, as they were aware of one flying saucer landing near Kansas City, but to recruit the entire city would require far more parasites than one saucer was capable of delivering. His suspicions are verified when he spots a closed swimming pool. For a swimming pool to outright close in summer was one thing, but for that swimming pool to declare they were closed for the season was another. Sam reasons that this must be because the city is almost entirely owned by the parasites and that they would therefore close the pools (because swimwear is by its nature more revealing) to prevent the few remaining humans from becoming suspicious of the rest of the city's Titan-ridden people. Sam is all too aware though that he had nothing in the way of concrete evidence and decides to continue his scouting of the city until he is stopped by a policeman and asked for his licence. Using the same 'grabbing technique' as earlier, he quickly disables the policeman and speeds off. Slowing down in a suburb he attempts to take a Titan captive by stopping near a man walking on the street and telling him he needed to discuss with him immediately, that he'd come straight from City Hall and needed to have a direct conference (the Titan terminology for communication between each other when two of the Titans are touched together). The man instead backs away and Sam lunges for him, aiming to grab the Titan riding him, only to have his fingers close on human flesh. He quickly escapes the scene before trying to find another person to kidnap. He strikes success the second time and is invited into the man's home to have the direct conference, though as he enters he is attacked from behind. Once more, Sam fights his way out but this time, he drags the limp man into his car (though he had already killed the man's master).
He makes his escape by driving away from the scene, activating the launching units in the aircar to get airborne and making speed for Zone Green. His reckless use of the aircar's launching units turns out to be his saviour as the car rocks from an impact delivered by an 'interceptor' (presumed to be some form of anti-air weaponry). Sam discovers that the impact had damaged one of the impellers on his aircar, preventing him from getting to Washington in time to report before Schedule Counter Blast.
Schedule Counter Blast is a disaster. As Sam indicates with a brief mention of the National Zoological Gardens, it is apparent that the Titans have a method of reproducing and very rapidly. If the Old Man had been alerted of this, the Schedule might have been cancelled and disaster averted. Twenty five minutes after Schedule Counter Blast had begun, reports stream in that location after location had been captured and secured. By the next morning it became apparent that not a single location had actually been secured, instead, the reports sent back by their soldiers had been directed by the Titans riding them. Later, Sam is sent by the Old Man to meet Dr. Vargas and Dr. McIlvaine and is subjected to a discussion between the two about the nature of the Titans and their respective biology. A live test featuring two parasite-bearing apes and a single free ape reveals the truth. The Titans are capable of cellular division when they reproduce and by doing so are able to infect other victims, and in a meeting with the Old Man, the two of them become unsure if the Titans need to attach themselves to a human back. If not, then Schedule Bareback was not enough of a countermeasure and the American people might find themselves asked to go naked which would be a difficult measure with the winter approaching. In response to his failure to obtain information from Kansas City in a timely manner, the Old Man puts Sam on sick leave.
On sick leave, Sam discovers that Mary is also on leave. She invites him over to her apartment for a drink but Sam instead begs to take her to be married. She gives in eventually, and the two head over to the City Hall to get themselves married. In this setting, marriages appear to be very unusual, no major ceremony is required for example, it is simply a matter of registering with the City Hall and deciding whether they want a renewable contractual marriage or not. Sam and Mary decide on a lifetime marriage without any contractual or renewal terms. Sam takes Mary to a cabin in the Adirondacks Mountains, away from the city, the Titans and the Section. Mary meets the Pirate, a large cat that belongs to Sam (or perhaps it is Sam that belongs to the Pirate), who is taken care of by an 'Old John' while Sam is away. He discovers that it was largely thanks to Mary that he had been rescued when he'd been ridden by the Titan and Mary tells him that her 'original' name was Allucquere (much like Sam's name, given to him by the Old Man had been Elihu). The name tells Sam that Mary must have been a descendant from the Whitmanite cult, a cult that had failed to prosper on Earth proper and moved to Venus.
As their week reaches a close, Sam manages to convince Mary to take some 'tempus fugit' (lit: time flies), a drug that decreases the passage of individual's subjective time (therefore turning a single hour into many). He finds out rather quickly though that the happiness brought on by being with Mary is dulled by the euphoria that the drug induces, causing him to rather regret suggesting they take the drug. Mary accidentally scares the Pirate away and decides to go out of the cabin to find him after the drug had worn off. However, to Sam's shock she returns being ridden by a Titan. His attempt to grab and crush the Titan that had worked before meets failure this time, the Titans seem to have developed a hard, leathery coating to prevent such a thing happening to them. He manages to force the Titan off Mary by holding her over the coals of the fire in the cabin but as he starts to see to Mary, the Pirate ends up touching the alien and being ridden. Sam catches the Pirate and this time ensures that the Titan is burnt to death before finally tending to the Pirate. His cat dies from the wounds, though Mary manages to pull through while Sam himself has badly burnt hands.
The next morning, Mary thanks him for saving her but tells him they ought to leave the cabin and discover what had been happening while they had spent the week away. They could clearly not expect to be able to ignore the Titan issue anymore. Following up on something Dr. McIlvaine had told him, he explains to Mary that the Titans may possibly be a single organism, that the 'direct conferences' were a method of ensuring that the data the Titans had was synchronised with each other. Sam points out that this meant Mary ought not to return to her apartment in the city, it was too likely to be booby-trapped. As they enter town though, they discover that things have changed greatly since they left. They discover that Schedule Bareback had been replaced by Schedule Sun Tan when they are stopped by two cops, identified by badges attached to belts, wearing nothing more than briefs. Mary and Sam are ordered to strip down to the skin as the cops explain that they could wear fur coats for all they cared, but they wouldn't get arrested for indecent exposure, they'd be killed by the Vigilantes. Sam explains the events of the night to the cops after they are cleared and to his dismay the cops explain that they had known about dogs and even horses, but cats was a new phenomenon. One of the cops remarks that he had a cat at home, but now he'd have to deal with it which his kids would find hard.
Sam's suspicions that the Titans didn't need to be located on the upper back of a human had been proven correct while he and Mary were away on their honeymoon at the cabin. However, this information had not been shared with the general public which had nearly resulted in mankind's loss against the Titans. In the Eastern US, within Zone Green, there were fake air-raid alerts put out to which the populace responded to, shuffling to shelters. Apparently, Titans were hidden inside the air-raid shelters and after the lights inside the shelters failed, the ridden humans began to spread the Titans amongst those trapped within. The air-raid wardens were the first people to organise the vigilante movements and so, by the time Sam has returned to the Section with Mary, they discover that the Vigilantes shoot first and ask questions later if they spot any unexplained lumps on an individual. As a result of the changes in the Titan's methods of infiltrating Zone Green, dogs were hardly ever seen (and usually shot by the Vigilantes) while no citizen dared travel alone at night. He is able to see from Zone Red's broadcasts that the Titans seem to be thriving, while Zone Green is being steadily infiltrated, piece by piece. Sam is also horrified at the revelation of individual humans who were happy to serve the Titans even without being ridden by them. Sam's catching up tells him that the United Nations had voted to provide 'whatever support might be requested', though the US itself was unsure exactly what they could call for that would help their situation as the ridden victims were essentially hostages rather than an 'enemy' to be defeated militarily.
The next day, Sam finds himself in a meeting with the Old Man, discussing the viability of infiltrating Zone Red, though Sam expresses his doubts at success. The Old Man admits that he had sent in four agents already, all of whom had failed to report back. He then goes on to outline a potential plan to send Sam behind the Curtain (as in the "Iron Curtain" i.e. the USSR). It is either that or attempting to infiltrate Zone Red, and both Sam and the Old Man are certain that that option will meet further failure. He takes a course of hypnosis to refresh his knowledge of Russian and the Party Line while being told that his mission is to ascertain whether the USSR had been infested by the Titans like America was as the secrecy inherent in the USSR's system was prime material for the Titans to spread effortlessly in. Sam never gets the opportunity to enter the USSR though thanks to the landing of the Pass Christian saucer. A UFO that had landed near Pass Christian, Mississippi had been spotted by a submersible cruiser who immediately reported it and then sent a dispatch indicating that he had chosen to send a landing force to secure the saucer. The Old Man immediately scraps his prior plan and takes Sam and Mary with him to the saucer.
They arrive at the saucer, passing through a warzone in order to do so, where they spot the airlock that leads into the UFO's interior blocked by an amphibious tank, the vehicle's hull caught between the doors. Sam, Mary and the Old Man reach the mobile command centre where they are warned about coral snakes, a subtle reminder of the problems faced by Schedule Sun Tan. As they talk with the field commander, they are attacked by a tiger, though the four of them manage to kill it before the beast could close with them. The field commander explains that the first transports from the Titan lines had carried a 'regular Noah's ark' of ridden animals. They continue on into the saucer though and discover the first 'Titanian', here Sam is referring to the native humanoid species from Titan that the alien parasites had been riding, though the Titanian is dead, the Earth atmosphere being incompatible with its physiology. Within the saucer proper, they discover human being floating in tanks. The sight causes Mary to suffer a traumatic flashback and it becomes apparent that this was precisely why the Old Man had brought her to the saucer, questioning her to think back on her past, to remember those events that had traumatised her so.
At the Section, Sam, the Old Man and a Colonel Kelly discuss the merits of using a biological weapon against the Titans, though from the research that has been performed already, it is clear that any lethal virus that would kill the Titans would also kill the hosts. After the meeting with Colonel Kelly, Sam asks how Mary is doing, to which the Old Man replies that she is recuperating from the hypnosis treatment she was receiving as part of the Old Man's information gathering. From this conversation, Sam impresses the Old Man when he tells him that he had figured out that Mary had been part of the Whitmanite Cult, but the Old Man explained that she had been a child when the Whitmanites had left Antarctica in 1974. This should have put her age at around forty years old points out Sam (giving us the first clue that the date is somewhere past the year 2010). The Old Man replies that she'd spent ten or more years floating in an animation tank like those they'd found on the flying saucer at Pass Christian.
Mary was found in Kaiserville on Venus, as a child, some two hundred miles from the original landing site chosen by the Whitmanite Cult. From Mary's memories, the Old Man learns that the Titans had found the Whitmanite settlement in the 1980s. The Titans were not presumed to have been hunting for human beings on Venus but rather scouting Venus (as they had scouted Earth). When the Titans came, Mary saw her loved ones and fellows turned into uncaring slaves for the Titans, though she herself was not ridden. It is presumed that this is because she had not been considered worth bothering with at such a young age. There are many gaps in her memory due to her period within the animation tanks, however, of great interest to the Old Man was the fact that she had been removed from suspended animation (and undoubtedly infested with a Titan), yet Mary had managed to outlive the alien that had possessed her. Somehow, the Titans had failed to conquer Venus and somewhere in Mary's memories they believed the answer to their problems on Earth was hiding.
It is clear to the Section that the Titans had contracted a Venerian (Heinlein's term for 'native to Venus') disease but there were problems inherent with a Venerian solution. Firstly, there are a large number of diseases that could be contracted on Venus and secondly, the cultures maintained on Earth were nothing like the total amount and it would probably take around one hundred years that mankind didn't have available to explore and research Venus entirely, especially as Sam notes that winter is coming, which would jeopardise Schedule Sun Tan. In addition to the coming winter, the Section receives another reminder that time is not on their side in the form of the news reports coming out of the USSR. A continent-wide epidemic of the Black Death had broken out in Asia, informing Sam that the Titans had managed to infest the USSR, because having been ridden himself, he was aware that the Titans had never bothered to practice any form of hygiene at all. The collapse of the USSR to the Black Death is a warning to Zone Green what may be about to befall the possessed citizens in Zone Red.
Sam decides to attend Mary's hypnosis sessions despite the Old Man's disagreement. He overrides the Old Man before Mary and Sam watch the tapes of her memories as lifted from the various sessions. To everyone's surprise, Mary reveals that they hadn't needed to probe her for answers in this manner, that she had always known the disease that had afflicted her and killed the Titan, something she refers to as "Nine-day fever." This news is greeted with despair from the attendant doctors as Nine-day fever was a Venerian disease that carried a 98% mortality rate in those infected. Later, the Old Man meets with Sam and tells him that he is going to step down as head of the Section. The Old Man feels that Sam had bucked his judgement call and that he had been justified in doing so when they obtained the answer they'd been searching for, but the Old Man has taken this as a sign that he is no longer fit to lead the Section.
Nevertheless, a plan is put forward the utilise the Nine-day fever against the Titans, something that was decided as viable thanks to the documentation of the "Nivens vector" (a result of a discussion between Sam and Dr. Hazelhurst). The name is chosen to reflect credit to Sam who had helped Dr. Hazelhurst consider the use of the Titan 'direct conference' to pass on the Nine-day fever. Sam develops Schedule Fever, a plan to release animals ridden by Titans into Zone Red that had been infected with the fever and then to follow up with antidote treatments before the nine-day fever had run its course on the surviving human population (as Mary's memories had confirmed that the Titans had succumbed to the fever faster than she had). Testing at the National Zoo on Titan controlled apes proves that Schedule Fever is a viable tactic to deal with the Titans. Sam's pride is damaged after he talks with Colonel Kelly as Kelly points out that Schedule Sun Tan would not disappear once the Titans in America were defeated. It would be an aspect that would have to be lived with because mankind could never truly be sure that the Titans were totally wiped out, there were too many places on Earth for Titans to hide, especially with their ability to ride animals. Kelly's point is that, the world would have to remain under constant vigilance even after their victory, and that even after victory, things could not and would not go back to the way things were.
The next chapter jumps ahead to Schedule Fever, where Sam himself is present on the frontlines as he storms his assigned building and begins injecting those he can find with the antidote. Not everyone can be saved though, as evidenced by a man he finds with his wrists cut in a bathtub. Sam discovers that the man had killed his wife (indicating that his wife had not been infected at the same time as he had been). As he is helping the man's daughter he receives a call for help from his father (the Old Man). He decides to help the daughter first before racing to the park where his father had been situated. His father prompts him to hurry one more time before Sam manages to find him sitting in a Section-modified aircar. As Sam ducks to enter the car the Old Man knocks him out. Sam comes to in the aircar, tied up. His father is directing the car towards the south, revealing that he must have found the only healthy Titan left in Jefferson City. He plans to head towards Yucatan, outside the US to hole up and help his master recover from this most recent setback. As the car settles at altitude Sam spots his father suddenly growing still as the Titan on his back begins to divide. Taking advantage of his father's immobility during the process, he uses his feet to kick the car into a dive, the resulting g-force crushing the Titan between the chair and his father's body. However, the car is locked in a dive, the controls jammed. The two of them manage to survive the crash, though Sam passes out shortly after his father thanks him for rescuing him.
The last chapter is something of an epilogue, jumping ahead who knows how far as Sam indicates that he has joined the U.N.S Avenger, a starship that would undertake a twelve year journey to Saturn. He is travelling with Mary, having said goodbye to his father, for it is time for mankind to take revenge on the Titans. 'Puppet Masters - the free men are coming to kill you!'
Food for thought:
It is important to remember that this book is a product of the late 1940s, printed in 1951. Much of its content derives from events surrounding this period and the book itself is a reflection of the taste of the period. The concept of UFOs (Unidentified Flying Objects) and their classical 'saucer' shape is a dated one. Today, the flying saucer is usually seen as a sign of parody rather than a 'serious' take on science fiction. However, during the late 1940s, UFOs were a new, exciting and popular topic. From the crash of an Air Force surveillance balloon in 1947 at Roswell, New Mexico, to the 1948 hoax at Aztec, New Mexico and from stories of 'foo fighters' by pilots who served in the Second World War, the American populace was hyped, primed and entranced at the ideas of visitors from outer space. The Puppet Masters is simply a play on those fears and wild speculations by presenting a tale that not only has a genuine UFO crash but also a sinister reason for the 'coverups' that occur shortly afterwards.
The 'enemy' is a mix of the two enemy ideologies that the American populace of the time could easily identify with (though leaning heavily left). The first being the spectre of fascism, that enemy only officially overthrown in 1945, six years before. The jackboot marching and blind obedience that the concept of fascism invokes (or ultra nationalism as it is known today) is conjured in the effortless control that the Titans (the aliens) have over their victims while the sense of secrecy and the fact that the Titans are, in fact, one connected organism creates the spectre of Communism, a unified society that seeks the improvement of the human race and the ushering in of an 'utopia', although it is an utopia that benefits the Titans first and foremost.
In some senses, this book is a play on the differences between autocracies and democracies. It makes a play on the power that control of information can have, something that was quite well known at the time. Our conception of the world around us is entirely derived on what we can find out about it. This is the story of democratic society defeating autocratic, of people who question defeating a people who don't (or in this case, can't).
On the topic of the power of control of information; for example, everyone knows that the Earth orbits the sun. Why? Because we have been informed that this is factually correct. As an individual, I have never been into space (so I've never been able to directly observe the Moon's orbit, which would prove that smaller objects orbit larger ones) and I've never touched a telescope (which would allow me to view the phases of Venus or Jupiter's four biggest moons). Effectively, this means that I have chosen to take the fact that the Earth orbits the Sun on faith, I can't really claim to know 'better' just because my view is shared by the rest of the world. The very nature of the Titans is part of that play on the power of information. Had mankind understood the threat that was arrayed against them when that UFO first landed in Iowa the war would have been a short one. Instead, the Titans manage to extend themselves not by outright dominion but by careful selection, starting with the channels of communication, the broadcast networks, then moving on to local administration, such as the police force and politicians.
The Puppet Masters makes the point throughout the book of the folly of simply accepting what we're told by the media. Heinlein was sounding a warning in 1951 of the dangers inherent in a system that controls information (such as for example... the only other major economic and military competitor after the 2nd World War; the USSR). In today's society, there's a large amount of scepticism and cynicism. We're used to the idea that the media has a slant. However, unless direct evidence reaches us, we're inclined to believe whatever the majority believes (usually the majority belief is factually correct, but not always). Remember the adage: "Knowledge is power." This is the main theme throughout the novel!
There is a subtle take at the reactionary power of a democratic government. When the Section discovers the threat of Titans, the President fails to act immediately on it, choosing to try to pick the most politically advantageous time to reveal this information. An autocratic society would have acted faster and more decisively, but democratic societies are not designed in any way or form to be 'efficient' (in a ruthless sense), they are instead designed to counter the power given to the elected officials. A system of checks and balances exist to ensure that the leader of a democratic society cannot choose to act autocratically.
There's also the whole 'public nudity' take. Schedule Bareback and Sun Tan are not very shocking in today's society. Sure, most people aren't comfortable with dropping their trousers in the middle of a street, but intellectually, we know about nudist colonies and beaches, we know that there are some people who do actually do that. It's not such a great shock. However, in the 1950s, Schedule Bareback and Schedule Sun Tan would have come across as big shocks. Naturally, there is a small point made about what we are willing to sacrifice for the promise of greater security. Initially, Sam notes that quite a few places in Zone Green expressed confusion and uncertainty about the need for Schedule Bareback, but as the Titans go from being an incorporeal fear to an actual, living, breathing fear (sometime after the air-raid shelter incidents) then the majority of resistance to Schedule Sun Tan disappears. It is a fact in life that citizens will happily give up their rights if they are convinced that the security offered will counter their fears.
All in all, the Puppet Masters is a great tale. An enjoyable story despite its quirks, though there are a few. Many of these quirks are just a reflection of the times in which the book was written. There's a very clear anti-Soviet tone throughout the book, but this should not be so surprising. America was under threat by the growing strength of Communism (and in the 1950s it certainly was growing). From the American perspective, alot of the world was arrayed against them by the late 1940s. Russia had spread Communism to Eastern Europe while Western Europe was struggling to rebuild. In 1949, Chiang Kai Shek's fascist government (supported by American equipment and funds) was forced to flee to Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party, never to return and in 1950, the wealthy, industrialised and Communist North Korea declared war on the poorer, more agriculturally based South (with huge initial successes). At the time of the publication of The Puppet Masters, Communism was in the ascendancy. In addition to these external political factors, internally, America was still gripped by Senator McCarthy's 'Red Scare.' As such, the Titans in the book are a clear 'enemy' that any American reader of the time could immediately identify with and reject as evil.
There's nothing wrong with this. British novels (for example) tend to use the Nazis for inspiration when it comes to finding some big, evil entity for a novel (look at Harry Potter and Voldemort's
The other quirk is the language. It is an understandable issues, but is still jars from time to time. Slang is a good way to reach your contemporary audience, as they will understand the terms you use and identify (empathise) better because they themselves use those very terms. However, once the language changes (and language always does evolve), it remains within the text awkwardly, no longer able to create a common bond of empathy and instead invokes confusion. As mentioned at the top, I spent the initial chapters assuming that Sam was armed with a laser on the assumption that 'heater' and 'burn' were words that would apply to a weapon of that sort. However, the Internet has kindly informed me that burn and heater are slang for shooting and pistols respectively.
One last quirk is Mary. Mary is portrayed initially as a strong, fierce woman. Note I didn't say she was independent. Yes, modern feminism and concepts of gender equality were still being developed in the 1950s, but nonetheless Mary comes across as an innately depressing character. Here is the female lead to Sam's male lead. She's tough, a competent agent, but cannot for the life of her think for herself. With only one or two exceptions she ends up just being an echoing device for Sam's wishes and desires, most notably around their marriage.
That one final issue I had was the ending. Robert A. Heinlein pulls a 'Deus Ex Machina' in the form of a very convenient biological solution to the Titans. It's not a big deal, since Heinlein usually writes quite optimistic tales (even a book with a premise such as The Puppet Masters ended on a cheerful note). Earth was in the clear, though the planet must remain vigilant as mankind takes to the stars to exact some rather old fashioned revenge. However, despite all that, I reiterate that I enjoyed the story. It's a nice insight into the thinking of the 1950s, the language is hard to understand at times when the slang appears but it doesn't detract from the enjoyment of the story.