The Body Snatchers - What a extraordinary reading experience. Much of the fascination in turning the pages derives from the reader knowing this is a novel of science fiction - watching as the men and women eventually discover the body snatchers are aliens from outer space, hardly a giveaway as even the movie and more recent publications of the book carry the title Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
The eerie atmosphere is established within the very first pages when the narrator, Dr. Miles Bennell, shares his recent encounters with a number of patients all living in the small town of Mill Valley, California. First, there's Becky Driscoll who tells him her Cousin Wilma thinks her Uncle Ira is an impostor. Becky persuades Miles to investigate immediately and they both drive to the house of Ira Lentz in Miles' 1973 Mercedes two-seater (Jack Finney's novel was published in 1955, thus The Body Snatchers is near-future sf).
Miles pulls up and sees Uncle Ira out on his lawn, the same Mr. Lentz he has known since delivering papers as a kid. After exchanging a few words, Miles reflects: "Hell, it was Uncle Ira, every hair, every line of his face, every word, movement, and thought, and I felt like a fool."
Although Wilma acknowledges Uncle Ira looks and speaks like Ira, has all the memories and observations of Ira, she KNOWS he's not her Uncle Ira. Miles asks if she has spoken to her Aunt Aleda, since, after all, Aleda would certainly detect any difference in her husband. Wilma shakes her head 'no' and says between tears, almost on the point of hysteria: "Because - Miles - she's not my Aunt Aleda, either!"
Miles admits that all this is well beyond his professional capacity as a general practitioner of medicine and recommends Wilma see a psychiatrist he knows and thereafter takes his leave. Alarming to be sure since, after all, Wilma is an otherwise levelheaded woman. And over the course of the next week, even more reason for alarm: more patients report a variation of Wilma's story.
Then it happens: Miles' friend Jack Belicec, a writer of fiction, grabs Miles on evening as the doctor and Becky are watching a film at the local movie house. Jack tells Miles he has something to show him back at his house, something much more interesting than any film. They drive out and walk down to Jack's basement. They don't have to walk far before they all peer down. And there it is. Now the alarm bells really start ringing.
What makes The Body Snatchers such a riveting story is Miles’ every single step, his every encounter and exchange is charged with suspense, make that supercharged with suspense. Psychological theories are expounded, newspaper reports consulted, telephone calls made, but, damn it, there comes a point where reason can go just so far. What the hell is going on here?
Jack Finney's novel is also a snapshot of 1950s small town American - many are the allusions made to the times when Miles was growing up, visiting the local library, dating Becky in high school, seeing all the familiar faces around town. But, now, as Miles and Becky walk down Mill Valley's main street, they can see the entire town is altered, nearly dead - rarely do they see anybody outside and all the trash and litter scattered about makes for one dirty, grubby Mill Valley.
The lack of warmth Miles feels from people reminds him of one particular poignant memory, back years ago when he overheard the always friendly Billy the shoeshine boy: ""That's all I want, Colonel, just to handle people's shoes. Le'me kiss 'em! Please le'me kiss your feet." The pent-up bitterness of years tainted every word and syllable he spoke. And them, for a full minute perhaps, standing there on the sidewalk of the slum he lived in, Billy went on with this quietly hysterical parody of himself." No doubt about it, Miles broods, all the warmth he might feel from these Mill Valley people here and now is nothing but a façade.
As we discover toward the end of the book, The Body Snatchers is also a tale of the hero’s journey, a journey requiring great courage and wits. Fortunately for Dr. Miles Bennell, he has his once old flame, now new flame, beautiful, resourceful Becky right by his side. An outstanding, highly original novel not to be missed.
American author Jack Finney, 1911-1995
“Relationship building at a distance, through the filter of a computer, is ultimately ineffective for the sincere friend seeker, but it is ideally suited to the sociopath whose powers of manipulation are enhanced when he can operate not merely behind his usual masks but behind an electronic mask as well.”
― Jack Finney, The Body Snatchers
I expected pure pulp. I figured this was a toss-off, dime-store sci-fi novel that benefited from the success of two film versions. I haven't actually sat down and watched either the 1956 or '78 movies (though I have seen The World's End, the Wright/Pegg loose take on it), so the plot hadn't been fully spoiled and reading the book would provide some surprises and a bit of entertainment. I got that and more!
If Invasion of the Body Snatchers is any indication, Jack Finney was a very competent writer. There's a natural flow to this book. The main character, a doctor who knows all the people in his small Bay Area town, narrates in a marvelously conversational manner. You'll probably like the doc right off and find it as easy to root for him as I did.
And the plot is similarly well-constructed in a way that you immediately are drawn into the story and are pulling for the protagonist and his posse....
I just realized that I'm writing this review in a cagey manner, trying my best to avoid spoilers, such as mentioning that alien beings invade Earth in order to obtain individuals, a sort of invasion of body snatchers, if you will. Yeah, I wouldn't want to give anything away!
Even if you're quite aware of the plot, and how can you not be, you will nonetheless probably find this an enjoyable read. I know I'm quite glad I picked it up!
Only in recent years have I discovered that it was based on a novel, called simply The Body Snatchers, written by Jack Finney. The story had originally been serialised in three parts, in an American magazine in November and December 1954. This was a few months after Philip K. Dick’s own short story The Father-Thing was published, which had the same core idea. The next year, 1955, Jack Finney’s serial was published in book form. It looks as if Philip K. Dick initially thought of the concept, but when two authors publish similar stories so close together, it is hard to be sure who had the idea first. There have been arguments about plagiarism in the Arts for centuries, but it is perfectly possible for two authors to have the same idea independently. That is what I believe happened here. Also the excellent film “Invaders from Mars” from 1953, and Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel “The Puppetmasters”: both earlier, had similarities.
Confusingly, the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson had written a different story called “The Body Snatcher” (singular) way back in 1884, about the notorious Burke and Hare murders of 1828. This famous classic had been filmed in 1945 with Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. It can be classed as 19th century, gothic, horror, or mystery—but not science fiction. A new title for the film was deemed essential, so the studio simply tacked “Invasion of” at the beginning.
Despite its age, the 1956 film Invasion of the Bodysnatchers remains taut and terrifying in its portrayal of creeping paranoia and isolation, depicting a man alone in a world that has no more use for his type. In retrospect it is amazing that it has lasted so well. Two relatively unknown actors—Kevin McCarthy and Dana Winter—were cast in the lead roles. This brought a realism to the story, and they gave memorable performances.
The original intention was for the film to stick fairly closely to Jack Finney’s novel. It therefore contained a good deal of humour and and overtly human behaviour. The thinking behind this, was that the more characters exhibited their undisguised emotions, the more contrast this would be with the . However, the film studios were against mixing horror and humour in any way, so much of this was edited out, leaving a much colder and more clinical film. I think it works magnificently.
The ending was also changed.
Forgetting the superimposed front and end parts, it remains one of the most chilling endings in film history. This first film in 1956 is for me, one of the rare films which is better than the original book. I hope to show why.
The concept of The Body Snatchers has passed into popular culture, even for those who have never watched one of the films, or read the book. It describes
The story begins in the fictitious small town of Santa Mira, just north of San Francisco, in California. Our narrator Miles Bennell is a twenty-eight year old doctor who has taken over his father’s medical practice. We have a long description of Miles Bennell; in fact it felt over-long; very pedestrian, with far too may uninteresting details. Then I began to wonder …
I knew this story, and knew what was about to happen. Jack Finney was clearly trying to lull us into a false sense of security. So perhaps this mundane description of a boring man in an everyday small town, was written deliberately to show how shallow and superficial modern society is. We believe and judge by what we see. This would prove to be a crucial point later. So we continue with our rather boring “Everyman” Miles.
Miles Bennell has been in practice there for just over a year, and is puzzled. Several of his patients have the same complaint. Miles Bennell and his friend Jack suspect that they must all suffering from a “contagious neurosis”, and as a few more days pass, it seems to affect more and more townspeople.
By chance, Miles’s former girlfriend Becky Driscoll visits him, with the same story. She and her cousin Wilma both have doubts about her Uncle Ira (who had raised Becky in place of her father). Miles Bennell finds he is still attracted to Becky. They are both free from romantic attachments, but he feel ambivalent about whether to do anything about it, and she seems to feel the same way. The story meanders quite a bit at this point. Miles continually thinks about Becky Driscoll (shall I or shan’t I?) musing on her physical attributes. It has to be said that the book is rather dated in this way.
Jack Finney makes a mistake in developing their burgeoning rekindled relationship at this point rather than earlier, as it destroys any tension. It is unbelievable that both Miles Bennell and Becky Driscoll, even accounting for raging hormones, would find each other so endlessly fascinating that they would be so distracted from the inexplicable, strange, and increasingly disturbing events in Santa Mira. Where is the good doctor’s scientific curiosity? A romance in a novel of this type is all very well, but this one is absurdly out of balance.
However, the lovesick duo are forced to confront their situation when one evening they visit their friends Jack and Theodora Belicec. Now the tension and paranoia really start to rise. The book’s age keeps showing itself. The males instigate all the action, and the females either just tag along, or sit docilely waiting—or having the odd fainting fit.
More and more of the town’s residents seem to be affected. Even the librarian, an elderly little woman called Miss Wyandotte, whom Miles had known all his life, was changed. She looked and sounded the same, but when he caught her expression when she thought she was unobserved, it was cold and blank. And when he burst out “I know you … I know what you are” she seemed almost malevolent.
I must admit that I was not happy with this deus ex machina ending. Jack Finney needed to end his tale, but this is altogether too convenient and pat. A speculative story of this type tends to gloss over the hard science, and it’s true that much modern Sci Fi is so fact-ridden and bogged down with technology that it can alienate readers. We don’t want to have to work that hard to get to the “meat” of the story. But equally, there is a point past which we cannot suspend our disbelief. Interestingly, all 4 films of this book recognised how weak this ending is, as they all end in different ways.
The ending of the stellar 1956 film has already been described. And anyone who has ever seen the 1978 film, or the famous clip from it of Donald Sutherland as a city health inspector This a powerful remake; an intelligent, beautifully filmed and darkly atmospheric film, directed by Philip Kaufman.
Jack Finney updated his novel in 1978 because of the release of this second movie, adding “The Invasion of” prefix, and setting it in Mill Valley. Basically they are the same story, with a few small word changes. Also the romantic elements are less coy, reflecting the society of the time. Two of the characters in the 1954 version regret not having married, but there is no mention of this in the 1978 version. In the original novel, nobody has sex, but they do in the 1978 version, although in both versions their romance is awkward. Plus of course all the Santa Mira references were changed to the actual town of Mill Valley, for the 1978 version.
The third film, “Body Snatchers” from 1993, was directed by Abel Ferrara. Said to be “based” on Jack Finney’s novel, it veers so wildly away from the source novel, that it is virtually a different story.
The fourth film, from 2007, is called “The Invasion”. The action is switched to Washington, D.C. where a psychiatrist (Nicole Kidman) finds Again it has a cameo role for one of the cast of the original 1956 film: this time as a patient, who was originally cast as Nancy Belicec. It is a taut thriller, with similarities to Jack Finney’s original story, but yet a fourth ending.
There are also many spin-offs from the novel. First there are the Quatermass TV series starting in 1955, by the English author Nigel Kneale—particularly the exceptionally chilling “Quatermass II”—and the cinema versions a little later. Then came “The Invaders”, an American TV series from 1967-68. It was a particularly gripping series, which in retrospect must have been quite cheap to make, with no special effects. The only visible difference in the aliens was a slightly blank expression, and a crooked little left finger! Even the 3 1980s American TV series of “V” have their roots in “The Body Snatchers”—with a little twist.
The best thing about The Body Snatchers novel is the original idea, and the authentic sense of time and place, in California. Apparently Jack Finney was living in Mill Valley, Marin County when he wrote the novel. He clearly wanted to create a claustrophobic sense for this novel, and in both versions he created that small town feel. John Wyndham does this too, although he does it much better, with plausible scientific theorising. What both authors have in common is the time they were set, when communities were more insular; when there would only be perhaps one phone in a whole village, and definitely before all the instant world communication we have now.
Yet all the way through we are aware of the implausibility. This is such soft science fiction that it is in danger of homogenising into a squishy blob of goo! So why am I so drawn to the tale?
There a huge subsection of mostly American science fiction dealing with Cold War paranoia, reflecting American’s fear of communist infiltration in the McCarthy era, largely in the 1950s. It forms part of the “conspiracy” Sci Fi genre. This story fits neatly into that slot, but does not explain why it appeals to those outside the USA—or why it continues to do so. None of the films have expressed any political ideology at all. Some see this as a cautionary tale about creeping totalitarianism, and insistence on conformity. But Jack Finney denied this all his life, insisting that he was just trying to write an exciting sci-fi thriller. Perhaps that is why in the end, . This is the stuff of pulp.
My personal view is that it appeals to our sense of self, and the threat of losing our identity and individuality. The whole point of being is surely that the originals feel that any capacity for emotions, imagination, and so on would be lost. That would explain why this story has such appeal, and why we find it horrific at a deep-seated level. But it means that it falls outside the parameters for most science fiction. It is just using Sci Fi tropes to explore something else.
Taken overall, it is speculative fiction, and for me irresistible. In the end I think of this story as a sort of allegory—a “what if?” To enjoy this tale as savvy 21st century readers, I think we have to think ourselves into another era. In a way, it is almost as alien to us as the 19th century, with only vestiges of it continuing to the present day. We also need to suspend our scientific objections, much as we do when reading any fantasy or fairy tale, and enjoy the wider allegorical thoughts it brings up.
My advice on how best to enjoy this tale? Just sit back and enjoy the ride.
“Tell me this: could these spores conceivably be some sort of weird alien organism with the ability to imitate, in fact, duplicate a human body? Turn themselves, for all practical purposes, into a kind of human being, indistinguishable from the real thing?”A spoiler-free review of the novel:
Somewhere we had to find sanctuary, and there was none—not a home at which we dared to appear, not a face, even that of a lifelong friend, to which we dared risk appealing for help.
Something sinister is happening in Mill Valley, California. People all over town are complaining to Dr. Miles Bennell that their loved ones are imposters, inexplicably different even though they look exactly the same. Is it just some type of mass hysteria? Maybe, but probably not. I mean, the novel isn’t called The Town with the Mass Hysteria, is it? 😄
Published in 1955, Invasion of the Body Snatchers works on multiple levels. At face value, it’s an effectively paranoid and scary work of science fiction. If the story feels familiar now, it’s only because the novel’s been borrowed from in so many other books and movies. But the novel has a deeper level. The pod people have no emotions, so they not only don’t feel love or hope, but they also lack ambition, the drive to create, to live. It was a perfect allegory for the 1950s America fear of communism, but it has proven to be a timeless fear. And while the novel certainly has its share of 1950s mild sexism, at a key moment those sexist assumptions are used by the heroes against the villains, which was nice. A very good, recommended read.
A spoiler-filled discussion of the novel, the 1955 movie, and the 1978 remake, beginning with a funny story of the first time I saw the remake:
I was probably 9 years old when the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was first aired on television. I raced home from swim team practice that night to watch it. Was I ready for evil Mr. Spock? No, I was not. Was I ready for the final scene between Donald Sutherland and Veronica Cartwright? No, I was not. Did I have nightmares afterward, for I don’t know how long, starring that final scream? You betcha, and it served my parents right for letting a 9-year-old watch a horror movie.
But I’ve watched both movies at least twice as an adult, and what’s fascinating to me is how the novel and two movies of Invasion of the Body Snatchers each end quite differently. In the novel, the core four all survive unchanged and humanity wins, having resisted the invasion long enough that the aliens decide to give up and leave the earth. It’s a bit like the ending of The War of the Worlds, but that ending was making a (brilliant) point about humanity’s weakness. Humanity’s victory here feels optimistic, unearned, and false. In the 1955 movie, only Dr. Bennell of the core four survives unchanged and humanity’s fate is left uncertain. It’s a much darker ending, and much more effective in conveying the themes of paranoia and alienation. But even that ending is rosy compared to the 1978 remake, which has a very late-1970s, post-Watergate vibe. Again, only one of the core four is unchanged at the end, but who is a complete gut punch and there’s every reason to believe that number is going to be zero by the end of the credits. Worse, all of humanity seems doomed, as it’s San Francisco rather than a small town that has fallen, with no hope in sight.
It’s the rare book that is not as good as the movie. But Invasion of the Body Snatchers might be the only novel that was surpassed by its first two movies. The novel is very good, but the 1955 movie is better. And the 1978 remake is the best version of this timeless tale, deliciously dark, and in no way appropriate for a tired 9-year old.
The reader is instantly thrust into the story as Becky Driscoll explains to Doctor Miles Bennell that her cousin Wilma’s uncle Ira has been acting strangely.
He appears to be himself, but it’s he’s characteristic traits are different...
Human emotions is very central to the story.
I love that the invasion had already started before the first chapter, Uncle Ira inhumanity had already starts alarm bells ringing, with similar stories surfacing is the human race to late to stop the alien plan?
There’s a distinctive 1950’s feel to the plot but that only enhances the story, this is a time when everyone knew each other in their small communities.
You’re neighbour may appear normal, but have they been altered?
It’s a gripping quick read that is a must for all Sci-Fi and Horror fans!
I think everyone pretty much knows this story, and oh what a blast it was reading this sci-fi novel from the past. This super fast-paced work was so much better than I thought it would be and had a far different ending from the movie version I remember. If I was not already familiar with the storyline, it would have scared the pants off me!
Anyway, his "old" tale from the 1950's is not without a few minor flaws, , but for the most part, a super entertaining and worthwhile read. (the skeleton scene is by far my favorite)
If you have not read this novel and like science fiction, Highly recommend!
Dr. Miles Bennell is confused when a bunch of his patients come to him with the same complaint, their loved ones seem to have been replaced by emotionless impostors.
His former girlfriend Becky and his friend Jack soon discover that the patients suspicions are true and an alien species of human duplicates, grown from plant-like pods is taking over their town.
I've seen all of the adaptations of this book, so basically knew the plot, I guess why that's why I put off reading it for so long but I really enjoyed the book and I'm looking forward to watching the 1978 version again - god that movie is terrifying.
It is of course a book that has been endlessly analysed. One of the main theories is that it represents “Cold War paranoia” about the infiltration of communists into 1950s America. Alternatively the story is an allegory about the enforcement of conformity - the tendency of every society to develop behavioural and cultural norms and to be intolerant of those who dissent from them. I probably prefer the latter interpretation, probably because that particular subject interests me anyway. Using the second interpretation, the theme of the novel remains relevant today, and will always remain relevant.
As I kid I watched the original Star Trek series, and I have a memory that some episodes had a message about the human need to struggle. That’s another of the themes of this novel. Before the main character realises fully what is going on, he notices a deterioration in his home town. Rubbish is left uncollected, lawns are left uncut, and the shops start to close down. Nobody does anything, because the aliens who replace the human inhabitants are listless and lack any drive or ambition. The aliens argue that it is better to live in a world without stress, worry and overwork, but our hero, Dr. Miles Bennell, realises that would also be a world without any creativity or challenge.
The body snatchers of the novel are a scary bunch for sure, but they aren’t evil. They feel no enmity towards humans, but they must replace humanity simply because that is their “function” – it is the way they survive and reproduce. The comparison is made with the way humans have sought to eliminate animals, insects, or plants that pose a threat to us or compete for our food supply. The body snatchers are more comprehensive still, since they pose an existential threat to every other lifeform they encounter.
I always find it interesting to read the source books for these well-known films, but I’m glad to say that I found The Body Snatchers a worthwhile read in itself.
Ah, 1950s science fiction mixed with a touch of horror... you know what that means don't you? Cold war paranoia of course! For a genre that is now established as fairly progressive, 1950s science fiction was practically a source of propaganda for the cinemas. The "keep watching the stars" and the "observe your neighbors because they might be pod people" mentality... because of course the stars were Russia and the pod people were those commies. Every proper American knew it... right? Hell, the only way the first film adaptation could have been any more blunt would have been to colorize it in red, white and blue, using red only on the pod people.
Yes, yes, I know I'm mocking this a bit too much perhaps. Honestly, I enjoy these books though because I find the mentality amusing, while still recognizing the damaging aspect of it. Enough of that now, on with the actual book.
So, there's no point in giving a plot description here. The plot has been made into something like five films at this point, and has been referenced in countless other forms of entertainment. The book is a moderately entertaining piece of fiction, that honestly, has arguably been improved by the cinematic adaptations. I rarely say that, but I believe it to be the case here. The films (even the 1950s version) are much darker than the actual novel, presenting more fear and more of a sense of scale. Both the 50s and 70s films create a force that is seemingly unstoppable,
Here the fear is there, the paranoia is there and the menace is there too... but not executed as well or as thoughtfully, and the book gets wrapped up way too nicely and too quickly.
This is honestly one of those books that I suggest mostly to cinemas fans that want to see the origin of a classic set of films. It is not a great work, and modern readers will no doubt take issues with some of the books views ("As most wives, even the wisest, do with any real conviction held by their husbands, Theodora accepted this and made it her own." was a particularly cringe inducing line). I give it 3/5 stars for being a fairly entertaining tale overall, and because cold war sci-fi just kind of makes me grin. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>
It’s just that.........WAIT.........back up, I have mispoken as the above is not exactly true. There was one point in the story where DoctorDanny Kauffman, amateur physicist and apparent moron, tells our narrator that the sunlight...SUNLIGHT...shining on an acre of farm land WEIGHS...several...TONS. WOWZA!!! After reading the passage again...and again...and then again to confirm that I hadn’t been having a beer bong flashback, I ended up having to bang my head against the wall to make the “brain pain” go away...and I probably did made a face like old Don Don's during that little episode.
But apart from that, I thought it was okay.......WAIT........there was one other part that will require us stepping into the spoiler zone to discuss.... Okay, now that one did have me feeling a tad ...which lasted until I poured a few shots and contacted my animal spirit guide to help me find my way back from the edge of Crazy Town.
Okay, Okay, so I guess there were a few parts of the story that didn’t quite sit all warm and welcome with my noggin. However, I do need to give the story props for the pacing and ever increasing sense of dread that the narrator is able to bring to the story. I do acknowledge that a major focus of the story was to create a sense of paranoia analogous to the “isms” of the 1950‘s, mainly the “who can you trust” feeling inspired by the McCarthy communist witch hunts of the period. On that level, the story did a pretty good job.
I also appreciated the parallel drawn in the story to the McCarthy period by have the narrator depict people that he has known for years as suddenly not being “the same” and feeling somehow alien. I liked that and think that the author did a very good job with that aspect of the story.
HOWEVER, creating significant interference to my book reading joy were several story elements that either didn’t make sense or were just so comically hokey as to shatnerquake my suspension of disbelief. I have mentioned a few of these above and would add to those that general annoying “stupidity” on the part of the characters that has people like me screaming at the proverbial movie screen “don’t go in there you idiot.” ....Shit, they went in there.
I know it probably feels like I am bashing on this, but I really did not dislike it. It was somewhere between “okay” and “I like it” and so I settled on two stars. I probably would have even rounded up to 3 stars, but I absolutely HATED the ending and thought the explanation for the ending was flat out stupid. I must go back under the cone of silence to explain. NO, NO, NO, NO, NO and HELLZA NO. I don't buy it. And yes, I get the not so subtle subtextual message of “a few good people willing to fight back is all it takes." Sorry Petey Positive, while I appreciate the sentiment, it doesn’t quite mesh with my worldview, so I have to dock you a star for that.
Thus, overall it was better than okay but a few major problems keep me from awarding it a third star. Oh yeah, I almost forgot...no DOG POD people which was a major downer:
Finney's source material bears passing resemblance to the classic B-movie directed by Don Siegel and distributed by the Allied Artists Picture Corporation in 1956. In a small Northern Californian town, twenty-eight year old general practitioner Dr. Miles Bennell is reunited with a close friend, Becky Driscoll, who's returned to town following her divorce. Though mutually attracted to each other, Becky's visit to Miles is not purely social. She's come to ask him to see her cousin Wilma Lentz, who's suffering a delusion that her Uncle Ira is an imposter who only looks like her uncle.
Says Wilma, "Miles, he looks, sounds, acts, and remembers exactly like Ira. On the outside. But inside he's different. His responses"--she stopped, hunting for the word--"aren't emotionally right, if I can explain that. He remembers the past, in detail, and he'll smile and say, 'You were sure a cute youngster, Willy. Bright one, too,' just the way Uncle Ira did. But there's something missing, and the same thing is true of Aunt Aleda, lately."
Miles refers Wilma to his colleague, psychiatrist Manfred Kaufman. Mannie confides that nine patients have come to him with fears of loved ones who are imposters; his opinion is that none of these patients are suffering from neuroses but dealing with something external and real. Miles' friend Jack Belicec, a writer, pulls Miles out of a movie theater during a date with Becky to bring him to his house, where his wife Theodora keeps watch on something Jack discovered under the basement stairs.
The strange corpse, which the Belicecs have laid out on a billiard table, shows no wounds or signs of death. It has no scar tissue and Miles notes the face looks ... vague. He also determines the corpse has no fingerprints. Connecting the corpse with the imposter stories spreading through town, Miles suggests that Theodora keep watch on the body while her husband sleeps, waking him if she notices any changes in the corpse. Miles returns home, falls asleep and is wakened by Jack & Theodora, who fled their home in terror with the answer Miles was afraid of.
Realizing that Becky might be in danger, Miles dashes to her home, where she lives with her father. Breaking into their basement and poking around with a pen light, he sees nothing out of the ordinary, at first. Then Miles opens a pair of cupboards.
There it lay, on that unpainted pine shelf, flat on its back, eyes wide open, arms motionless at its sides; and I got down on my knees beside it. I think it must actually be possible to lose your mind in an instant, and that perhaps I came very close to it. And now I knew why Theodora Belicec lay on a bed in my house in a state of drugged shock, and I closed my eyes tight, fighting to hold on to control myself. Then I opened them again and looked, holding my mind, by sheer force, in a state of cold and artificial calm.
Miles runs upstairs, grabs Becky and before she even wakes up, has carried her halfway to his house. Miles phones Mannie, but when he returns to the Belicec's basement with Jack, the corpse has disappeared. The psychiatrist launches into a measured thesis of what the men might be experiencing: mass delusion, latching onto the story circulating through town about "imposters" and seeing exactly what their imaginations expected to see in those basements. Later, Miles realizes that mass delusion doesn't account for the blank fingerprints, or the fact that the Mannie he knows never used to make his mind up so quickly.
Miles and his friends determine that the seed pods popping up in basements first appeared near a farm outside of town, visitors from outer space, of course. Confronted by one of the imposters, they learn that the pods are a desperate form of parasite, traveling across the universe on light energy. They seek new worlds to thrive in, absorbing the atomic particles of their hosts and their memories while they're most vulnerable, during sleep, reducing the hosts to dust with a perfect imitation, perfect except for emotion or free will.
Finney retooled his three-part magazine serial twice, first as a novel published in 1955 (as The Body Snatchers) and again in 1978, to take advantage of a major motion picture being released by United Artists. The version I read was the '78. Finney made changes here, altering the title to Invasion of the Body Snatchers to exploit the popularity of the movies, setting the story in 1976 and updating references he felt were antiquated. He changed the name of the town from "Santa Mira" to Mill Valley, where Finney lived. The author also drops a reference to his 1970 novel Time and Again, though only fans will spot it.
I have to rate Invasion of the Body Snatchers on two scales, the legacy of the material and the material itself. As legacy, this is five stars. Finney always maintained he wanted to write a good read and nothing more, but like a magic mirror, his story has the power to morph into a commentary on whatever cultural or social conformity is in the air. In the '50s, it was the threat of Communism, or Red hysteria running rampant the United States. In the '70s, there was urban malaise and Me Decade pop psychiatry to be wary of. Today, political correctness or technology might indicate pod activity.
As a story, this is three stars at best. Even Finney's retooled 1978 version is exactly what it always was: a magazine serial published in 1954. Becky Driscoll is little more than a doll and frequently appraised by the well-intentioned and gentlemanly Miles by her physical attributes only. She's an accessory to the protagonist and almost seems like a pod person herself. There is a mildly eerie vibe throughout, but Finney lets off the gas too often when it comes to suspense. The plot lists, and much about the biology of the seed pods and their dispersal doesn't make a lot of sense.
Without giving much away, Finney's source material lacks the doomsday pulse of the 1956 and 1978 film versions. As such, the writing feels far more disposable. I'm enamored by Finney's wild imagination and how his tale has spread like ivy over the last sixty years, but would mostly recommend the novel to the author's fans. The 1978 film version directed by Philip Kaufman that relocated the action to San Francisco with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright and Leonard Nimoy is the definite version of this material: offbeat, intensely creepy and monumentally tragic.
Just let me know.
Anyway this book was mildly entertaining but had a really awful boring female character (read: love interest) who almost never did anything except to cling to Our Hero's elbow and, like, make him carry her and cry into his chest and dumb damsel sh*t like that. Hated it.
She came up with a plan once, and it was referred to as "Becky's flimsy notion" and honestly even if that wasn't the way it was handled one plan is not enough for 206 pages of full-on DAMSELING, BECKY.
Bottom line: No thank you, 1950s gender roles!!!!!!! I'm not interested bye!!!! (But to the aliens: I definitely am interested still please message me for my contact info my inbox is open kthanksbye.)
Well that was a surprisingly tense read. I haven't seen any of the movie adaptations so didn't know what to expect. I think the ending was a bit anticlimactic given that Jack had done a brilliant job of creating a growing sense of dread and unease. It all just ended a bit too easily in my opinion. Still a really good book that definitely has a place in a high school library for those who want a less flashy sci-fi mystery.
An excellent story and this narrator, Kristoffer Tabori did it justice.
Our geographical setting here is Mill Valley, California, a real-life small town in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, across the strait that separates San Francisco Bay from the Pacific. Mill Valley itself is in the hilly interior of the county, away from the sea; Finney was living there when he wrote the novel, and he creates a very realistic sense of place which is one of the book's strengths. While the Goodreads book description gives 1955 as the original publication date of the novel in book format, it was actually published serially (as novels in that day still often were) in Colliers magazine in the prior year. This copy, however, is a 1998 reprint (by Scribner) of the 1978 "revised" edition, which gives the date of the story as the fall of 1976. Nonetheless, though I haven't done a textual comparison, I don't believe Finney made any significant changes in this revision except the date and a passing reference to his later novel Time and Again, both for commercial purposes. For all practical purposes, the entire flavor and texture of the tale suggests that it's set in 1954, and that was the way I took it.
The Goodreads description reproduces the cover copy, and the title essentially telegraphs the premise even without the cover. So readers will be aware of the latter going in; it's that "alien life-forms" are "taking over the bodies and minds" of humans. This was a fairly early exploration of that idea in the SF genre, so relatively original for its time, though it subsequently inspired various imitations. Genre readers today may have, as I did, previously encountered the theme in Stephenie Meyer's best-selling novel The Host and/or its movie adaptation; if so, comparisons between the two are inevitable. A significant difference is that Finney's invaders are replicants who reproduce the images of particular humans' bodies, not the parasites in the actual human bodies of Meyer's more plausible treatment. Another is that Finney depicts a phenomena that's supposedly just in its beginning stage, whereas Meyer's book starts with the earth already taken over and the human race surviving only in tiny hidden enclaves. But the most significant divergence, IMO, is in the basic visions of the two authors and their relative seriousness of literary purpose. Finney simply crafts a basic "Us against Them" thriller, with aliens who are incapable of emotion, to be read as a diversion. Meyer makes her alien invaders three-dimensional and treats their possible interactions with humans as multi-dimensional, making for a novel that's much more emotionally complex and thought-provoking, engaging the mind and the emotions in ways that Finney's treatment can not. The latter necessarily suffers from the comparison.
While both authors are offering us "soft" science fiction, in which the "science" is purely in the writer's imagination rather than seriously extrapolated from currently known science, another difference is that while Meyer's invented "science" doesn't actually out-and-out contradict known scientific principles in implausible ways, Finney's really does, and that's another serious defect --"soft" SF is one thing, but asking readers to entertain the patently impossible is another! To be sure, Finney appeals to the theory that a dust-speck sized spore could escape a planet's atmosphere, survive absolute-zero cold, and be propelled by light waves across the void of space for eons to another planet and then germinate --though there are problems with that idea, and not many scientists accept it-- but applying that concept to large numbers of three-foot-long seed pods contradicts the laws of physics; and so, as far as I understand physics, does Finney's explanation for how the replication here operates. (Some of these criticisms were made by reviewers and critics of this novel when it was first published.)
Nevertheless, this tale succeeds as well as it does because the author creates a believable small American community and evokes a growing sense of danger and dead, which grips the reader and draws you into the story. While it's much more plot-driven than character driven, Finney also gives us characters who are real enough that we care about them, and are afraid on their behalf. (The scary-thriller element is much more pronounced here than it is in most parts of The Host, since Meyer isn't really trying for it and Finney definitely is.) Like Meyer, Finney is also a writer with standards of taste where language and sexual content is concerned. Bad language here is limited to an occasional h- or d-word, and there's no explicit sex. (There's an instance of implied premarital --though not casual/loose-- sex at one point; but in the context, I wasn't morally outraged.) Overall, I thought that the romantic strand of the plot was well handled, based on something other than purely physical attraction, enhancing the plot rather than overwhelming or dominating it, and bringing together two people I liked and felt would be good for each other.
There are movie adaptations of this title, but I've never seen any of them and so can't critique their fidelity to the book. It is worth noting, though, that this 1998 printing has an accidentally displaced page: p. 142 appears both in its proper place and where p. 135 is supposed to be, and the real p. 135 never appears at all. This was initially confusing, took me out of the story, and left a gap in the narrative; though since it was only one page, it was a small gap, and not too crucial!
Volviendo al libro, claramente ya se puede considerar un clásico de la ciencia ficción y el terror, aunque no cuente con la misma popularidad de sus contemporáneos. Escrito en primera persona desde la perspectiva de Miles Bennell, el médico local del pequeño pueblo de Santa Mira y uno de los pocos que se da cuenta de lo que está pasando, la narración traspasa de forma muy efectista el sentido de urgencia e impotencia ante los espeluznantes hechos que se suceden, con un ritmo ágil y vertiginoso que sólo se ve ralentizado con algunas explicaciones de tipo científico, pero que resultan muy interesantes y convincentes, como cuando al principio se intenta explicar el fenómeno desde la psicología, como un caso de histeria colectiva, hasta llegar a la biología y el origen de la vida.
Sin embargo, todo lo anterior se ve opacado en un final que, si bien me gustó en su significado, fue demasiado abrupto, precipitado y algo deux ex machina.
Por último, comentar que la edición de Bibliópolis que leí cuenta con una especie de epílogo literario, en el que se narran extrañas experiencias de autores de la talla de Stephen King y Paul Auster y sus encuentros con especies de “dobles”. Desconozco si esto último es ficción o no, pero a pesar que son curiosas, no encontré el sentido de incluirlas en el libro.
Reto #1 PopSugar 2018: Un libro hecho en una película que ya has visto
Again, I really liked this. Finney painted the mood & feelings wonderfully without ever bogging down which is difficult to do. I was a little disappointed by the explanation of the lack of life on other planets. It not only dated it, but also didn't make much sense. The ending was great, better than the first few movies. It was wonderfully narrated & made me think a lot about conformity. Highly recommended in any format.
2013 Review: This is a real blast from the past & held up very well over the years. Sure, there are a few real liberties taken with science, but the doctor making house calls was more jarring to me. That was pretty much gone by the 1970's when this futuristic story was to take place, but otherwise it wasn't too dated. There were a few science elements that really strained my suspension of belief, but I found it easy enough to roll with them for the story's sake.
I've read this before, but it's been decades & most of my memories are of my favorite film version, the 1978 remake with Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, & Veronica Cartwright, although it's been done 4 times. The 1956 version starred Kevin McCarthy & Dana Wynter. For all the movies they were in, this might have been their best roles. The 1993 version was just called "Body Snatchers". I don't think I ever watched it, but plan to see the latest remake called "Invaders" done in 2007 with Daniel Craig & Nicole Kidman. Veronica Cartwright is also in it which is pretty cool. She was in the 1978 one & "Alien" too, I think.
[Update: I tried to watch "Invaders", but it was shot from a car cam & I got bored. Never saw Daniel Craig.]
All the movies varied from the book, more or less. The earlier two don't end well for humanity, while I've read that the 1993 version is ambiguous & the 2007 is upbeat. The novel's ending
Possible spoilers below to those of you who aren't familiar with this SF classic. I don't know how anyone could be, but just in case...
The obvious horror element that people seem to remember, the movies & critics concentrate on is that pods can so perfectly duplicate people that almost no one can tell them from the real one, but they're lacking the vital spark that makes them human, so are a dead end. They will duplicate any living or once living thing, but only last about 5 years before falling to dust. Eventually, the Earth will be as dead as Mars & Luna. That's what the pods do & a point is made, by the pods, that we do, too.
The real horror element is the struggle to believe in the threat, though. The Doctor tells this story in the first person past & his description of his struggle is very believable. The way our minds work in familiar grooves, seeing what they expect, & the everyday logic is what everyone struggles against the most. It's what makes the take over possible. The very idea that pod people could replace someone so exactly is ludicrous & even after seeing proof of it, he is argued around again & again. His senses & interpretation must be wrong, not the world.
It's this struggle that most don't seem to acknowledge which undercuts a lot of the criticisms leveled against the book, IMO. It's worth the suspension of belief to follow this theme through the struggle. Many other unexplained phenomena (St. Vitus' Dance, rains of toads, human spontaneous combustion, UFO's) are mentioned in support of our ability to ignore what doesn't fit. It's probably a scam, lie, or something, so we briefly acknowledge it and move on with our lives smug & safe in our world view. What else are we missing?
The reader did a great job considering he was completely miscast. He had a deep, scratchy, old man voice & the Doctor is only 28 years old, so it just didn't fit, but was still good. Great way to re-read this classic. Highly recommended.
In construction, the book's a tad clunky: the physician protagonist does not notice how his hometown Mill Valley's business district and through streets have been deteriorating until it is too late -- a process which would take probably a year in that climate, not a few weeks as in the novel. Inevitably, and routinely, a "professor" type (actually a lecturer in Botany) shows up to explain how pod-peopling could work. The 1956 movie is one of the rare adaptations that surpasses the print original, possibly because an off-screen narrator is a less intrusive technique than the first-person-limited perspective coming from the book's town doctor. Nonetheless I urge the reading of this novel for anyone who's interested. It's a quick but highly influential read.
*Shivers* Just the thing for Halloween! For my month of spooky reading, it is nice to be able to include a sci-fi horror title among the supernatural shenanigans. Off the top of my head, I can think of very few sci-fi horror books, the recent Bird Box, I Am Legend, Watchers, The Tommyknockers (and several other Stephen King titles), that is about it, please feel free to add more in the comments. The best example of this subgenre is probably Alien which a novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie. The movie adaptations of Invasion of the Body Snatchers are better known than the source material by Jack Finney. More on them later.
First published in 1955 (as “The Body Snatchers”), Invasion of the Body Snatchers is set in a fictional town called Santa Mira, California. One day Dr. Miles Bennell has a visit from Wilma, a lady friend who reckons her Uncle Ira is no longer her Uncle Ira, he has gone all weird. The doctor goes to visit Uncle Ira and finds nothing unusual and prescribe a good night sleep for Wilma (or something along that line). Soon, however, multiple patients come in with the same complaint, their wife/father/daughter etc. are not who they are supposed to be. Then a weird blank-faced body with no fingerprints is found at his friend Jack’s house. The next day oozy pods containing what looks like work in progress bodies show up at the doctor’s house. WTF?
If I have not seen three movie versions of this book before it I would probably have rated it 5 stars in spite of a couple of issues. The story is just fantastic, eerie, well-paced and thrilling. The idea of people you have known all your life suddenly becoming emotionless weirdoes is all too easy to imagine. The description of the still developing, incomplete pod people is also effectively vivid. The distribution of the pods by the townspeople is also an oddly disquieting scene. Unfortunately, these excellent features are a little offset by a few issues. The writing is unexceptional and even becomes clunky at times, the characterization is rather bland, and the female characters generally have no agency to speak of (except in one scene where Dr. Bennell’s girlfriend uncharacteristically becomes a badass out of the blue). The ending reminds me of The War of The Worlds, one of the greatest sci-fi books ever, almost ruined by a ��cop-out” ending. Without going into details Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a similarly disappointing denouement, a bit of a damp squib after all the preceding thrills. Still, if you are unfamiliar with the story I absolutely recommend this book for its vastly entertaining thrills and creepy atmosphere. If you are a fan of some of the (four) movie adaptations you may find that there is no surprise left and that the moviemakers have unusually improved on the story. Even so, I would still recommend it with the reservations I have mentioned so far.
• I absolutely love the 1978 movie version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It has a great cast and some startling visuals. Better still, it hugely improves on the book’s ending by going into a darker – and more believable - direction.
Nimoy, Sutherland and Goldblum. What’s not to love?
Not to mention this "dog":
• The 1956 adaptation, released just one year after the book’s initial publication, is generally considered a classic. I have seen this on TV a few times and it is indeed excellent and even somewhat scary, but I still like the 1978 remake better.
The movie is actually in black & white.
• I have not seen the 1993 version so I cannot say anything about it. The 2007 version stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig, and still manages to be crap. OK, guys, you can stop adapting this book now.
• It has been said that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for “the dangers facing America for turning a blind eye to McCarthyism”. Make of that what you will, unfortunately, what I know about McCarthyism can be written on a UK postage stamp and still leave the queen’s head unblemished.
• Thank you, Cecily, for reminding me of another classic sci-fi horror The Thing, three adaptations made (from the novella Who Goes There?), again the second version (directed by John Carpenter) is the best.
“I warn you that what you're starting to read is full of loose ends and unanswered questions. It will not be neatly tied up at the end, everything resolved and satisfactorily explained. Not by me it won't, anyway. Because I can't say I really know exactly what happened, or why, or just how it began, how it ended, or if it has ended; and I've been right in the thick of it.”
“There was — always — a special look in his eyes that meant he was remembering the wonderful quality of those days for him. Miles, that look, way in back of the eyes, is gone. With this — this Uncle Ira, or whoever or whatever he is, I have the feeling, the absolutely certain knowledge, Miles, that he's talking by rote.”
“We're trapped by our own conceptions, Doctor, our necessarily limited notions of what life can be. Actually, we can't really conceive of anything very much different from ourselves, and whatever other life exists on this one little planet. Prove it yourself; what do imaginary men from Mars, in our comic strips and fiction, resemble? Think about it. They resemble grotesque versions of ourselves — we can't imagine anything different! Oh, they may have six legs, three arms, and antennae sprouting from their heads" — he smiled — "like insects we're familiar with. But they are nothing fundamentally different from what we know.”
Oddly, however, I know that Heinlein wrote Puppet Masters 4 years prior, and yet, no matter how much I fanboy over Heinlein, I have to say that Jack Finney did it BETTER. Better plot, more interesting characters, a tighter scene, and no goofy nudity to tweak the unwashed masses. :)
Honestly, this novel was a great thriller and SF rolled into one, good even for modern readers and not at all problematic. Yeah. I know, right? A 50's novel that isn't problematic. Pretty wonderful, right?
Well, I've read this classic and I officially call it a classic SF. It has become a personal favorite, as long as I just place it in its proper time. :)
So, really, I think this is all kinds of perfect for today. Waking up one day to see friends and family walking and talking like they used to, but there's something WRONG with them. Something you can't quite put your finger on, but then they start showing how ... replaced they are.
Reading this now is pretty damn terrifying. As a kid I would have brushed it off, but now? It's all too plausible.
There is some oddball science in here, but come on! It was written in the fifties, and still carries a hefty punch. A commentary on 50s politics? Who cares - it entertained me and scared the pants off me, so I just have to recommend it.
Oh, and check out that scene with the skeletons...
First-rate immersion thanks to the dialogue which feels like one in some good ol' corny Hollywood script! :)
This was an entertaining science fiction classic. The story is clearly "of it's time", but in a very enjoyable way. The female characterization are noticeably dated, but that didn't bother me. With little to no hard science or technical jargon, this is a very accessible scifi read with just a touch of horror. I would highly recommend this one.
Except that after having watched the film adaptation, I had this urgent need (not to go to the rest room) but to read the novel!!
And I count myself lucky to have done so!!!
I reckon that nearly almost everybody must have seen the film..
If not, shame on you!!!
Remember these big eery seeds transforming into human beings??
jack Finneys novel has of course a double meaning, the term for this is multy-layered..
But my motto is: keep it simple idiot..
Anyway "The Body Snatchers" is a well written and gripping scify novel..
A classic indeed!!!
The film will leave you with a lot of unanswered questions, whereas the book offers believable and satisfactory answers!!
In brief, a must-read for all scyfy suckers and lovers of creeping, shrewd, clever and crafty novels!!
I had a great time reading this one..
For all what is worth, I'll give it my unrestricted recommendation to all my friends!!
As always, happy readings..
Amazing. The writing might have been choppy in a few places, and the end may have been a touch abrupt, but I completely Loved this book. It moved so unbelievably fast for something from 1955. I think Jack Finney was quite ahead of his time! Look forward to reading his other work... At some point, reading The Bodysnatchers, I realized it was all an analogy for '50s conformity and convention. I guess because it's "sci-fi" it takes place in the future, in 1976. So, though the time hadn't even happened yet when it was written, the book takes place when I was an infant!