Becky Driscoll turns up after hours at the consulting rooms of Dr Miles Bennell and tells him that her cousin Wilma doesn’t think that her Uncle Ira is really her Uncle Ira. From there Miles starts to see the sleepy town of Mill Valley differently. As the number of similar stories multiples Miles discovers the horrific truth. Aliens are taking over the bodies and minds of his friends and neighbours.
This is the first book I’m reading as part of my SF Masterworks Challenge and one that Graeme highly recommended I read. Now I’ve heard about the pod people but never seen either film (one came out the month after I was born). But I still had some have preconceived ideas of what I’d be getting. Mostly, I was expecting it to be a bit cheesy.
Surprisingly, it’s not cheesy. It’s actually quite a quiet and thoughtful book. As alien invasions go this is unfussy but that’s mostly the point. It’s an interesting reflection on how things change when we aren’t paying attention.
We follow Miles as he first dismisses and then investigates his patients claims of people not being themselves. The thing is that his friends, families and neighbours are exactly the same in terms of looks, mannerisms, memories so surely they are the same people? The characters pose the question that surely it’s some sort of psychological disorder being suffered by the relatives of the people that they think has been replaced? And it could be until Miles gets shown some disturbing evidence.
Now, I’m in two minds as to whether this would have been shocking when it was first published in 1955. I didn’t find the transformation scenes unsettling for example but I can imagine how they could be a golden-age SF audience. Though what I found creepy was how the atmosphere of the town changes and how easily the invaders start to take over. And I think that would give everyone a healthy dose of paranoia about their neighbours. And it probably draws on the McCarthy instigated fear of communism.
Interestingly it’s also a love story as Miles and Becky are thrown back together and their relationship is an unusal one. Becky is stronger than she first appears and does resort to unwomanly (for the time) behaviour, or at least she reports it herself that way.
It’s not all smooth. I think you do have to suspend some disbelief and accept that smaller towns, especially then were more isolated than they’d ever be now. There are also some actions on all sides human and alien that feel slightly jarring. Though the aliens can do what they like being aliens I’m not sure that Miles can. But it didn’t spoil my enjoyment as I was happy to be led whether Jack Finney wanted to lead.
Overall, The Body Snatchers deserves to be seen as a classic of the genre. It’s nice to see a quiet story that works on you slowly but not slowly that it’s boring. It’s engaging and things happen and change but it doesn’t need big dramatic moments to keep the tension.
It’s also a book that needs a healthy dose of following it rather than questioning it. Not that you can pick apart the story so much but you could question what would have happened if Miles had done things differently at a few points.
As a first SF Masterworks Challenge book go can I ask that they are all as good to read as this one?