Stephanie Meyer – The Host

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World building is the stuff of science fiction and fantasy, and to a lesser extent, alternative history. What would Europe look like if Hitler had prevailed? You’ve got to really sit down and think that one through, as was the case with Harris’s Fatherland. (A novel that held up really well to a second reading some years later.)

Writers who stand out for their world building skills are often very successful. The most recent obvious example is the Harry Potter universe, but there are many others. For example, Discworld, which is much larger and more complex than the magical version of England.  From Wikipedia this one paragraph overview of Terry Pratchett’s monumental universe:

Discworld is a comedic fantasy book series by the British author Terry Pratchett, set on the Discworld, a flat world balanced on the backs of four elephants which, in turn, stand on the back of a giant turtle,[1] Great A’Tuin. The books frequently parody, or at least take inspiration from, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft and William Shakespeare, as well as mythology, folklore and fairy tales, often using them for satirical parallels with current cultural, technological and scientific issues….Since the first novel, The Colour of Magic (1983), the series has expanded, spawning several related books and maps, four short stories, cartoons, theatre adaptations, computer games, and music inspired by the series.

Okay. Now that I’ve reminded myself of the nature of world building, let me give you some thoughts on The Host.

Meyer doesn’t so much build a world as she rebuilds our world. The novel starts some years after all of human kind has been subjugated by parasitic aliens. Small creatures like bits of silver ribbon which are introduced to a human brain through a slit iin the nape. Then the creature (they call themselves Souls, the humans call them Bugs or Parasites or worse) binds itself to dozens of points in the brain, effectively taking over the memory, skill set, language and consciousness of the human.

This is a species that invades and takes over like this again and again, planet after planet. There have been many before Earth, some of which we hear about. This novel, however is mostly about one host — Melanie — who escapes and evades capture for many years, running with her younger brother and another human male. The seekers (those aliens who are reponsible for running down reluctant humans) finally grab her and as the story opens she’s on an operating table, unconscious, and a Healer is about to introduce her to Wanderer, her new and unwelcome tenant.

If you remember what the Stockholm syndrome is — how a kidnapped person will start to identify with the kidnappers and eventually go over to join the kidnapper’s side — you’ll get the premise for this novel, except in this case it’s reverse Stockholm.  For the first time after many many lifetimes on other planets, the Wanderer takes over a body and finds that the consciousness of the original owner isn’t so easily squashed. And, gradually, she begins to ask herself if that’s not a reasonable thing.

Humans, you won’t be surprised to hear, are a difficult bunch. We don’t give easily. We fight and continue fighting. There are pockets of humans hiding in remote areas, and then there are humans who have been turned into hosts, but refuse to vacate. These stubborn types are the minority — only a few humans are strong enough to prevail; the rest gradually give way to the invader and disappear. Melanie is very strong and very stubborn.

The Wanderer is unsettled by Melanie hanging around, because Melanie doesn’t mince words. She is constantly battering at the Wanderer, pointing out things the Wanderer would rather not think about. For example how can they call themselves non-violent? Maybe they don’t use weapons in our sense of the word, but they wipe out entire populations. Is that not the very essence of violence?

Eventually Melanie and Wanderer go off the grid to find Melanie’s brother, and they end up in a community of humans struggling to survive in a warren of caves. Melanie’s brother and her lover are there, as are her uncle Jeb (one of the more entertaining characters). The humans generally kill any parasite they come across without hesitation, but Jeb doesn’t allow that in this case. He’s got the sense that there’s something different about Melanie/Wanderer.

The bulk of the novel takes place in the caves as the humans and the Wanderer interact. There are some interesting twists and ideas, and I never lost interest in the developing tension between the Wanderer and Melanie. The resolution of various conflicts is very neat — too neat, for my tastes — but it all makes sense and fits together in the end.

This is the kind of novel I enjoy and then forget within a few months. At least, that’s what I thought. But ever since I finished it I’ve been thinking about the new world order Meyer put into place. I liked the characters well enough, but they don’t occupy me after the fact. What occupies me are dozens of questions about the Souls (or invaders, if you will). A body is taken over and the Soul goes about living a human life, because the idea, it seems, is to experience this world. Imagine the world populated by  human-looking creatures who have no use for currency, who never argue or get into altercations, and who simply go about their business teaching or working in convenience stores. The need for banks and international trade is gone; so is medicine, because the invaders have got that end of things sorted out. No human body hurt by an accident or illness suffers for long; a Healer comes in and wham, you’re all fixed up. Unless you turn out to be too difficult a host, in which case you are ‘discarded.’

I would call this novel a success simply because I’m still thinking about it. There were things that irritated me, most especially the duality of the narrator. The Wanderer talks about ‘our body’ and uses the first person plural for everything ‘we could see’ ‘we were exhausted’ and so on. That did get on my nerves, but I can’t see that there would have been a way to avoid it unless the author opted for third person rather than first. I would have liked to read this in third, I think. But that’s not Meyer’s thing.

I haven’t read the Twlight series, and I doubt I will, so I can’t compare this to that. On its own merits I think it’s worth a read if you generally like sci-fi scenarios.

10 Replies to “Stephanie Meyer – The Host”

  1. The trouble I have with Meyer’s writing is that I get really interested in her books to start off with and then there just comes this point when I think everything just lags, the plot, the characters. Everything just starts to tread water and I get bored. Things normally pick up again towards the end but I wonder alot when I read some of her books whether her editor needs to tighten things up a bit. Not sure if anyone else feels the same way. Its almost as if she wrote Twilight, it was successful and now her editor says OK, the big thick book is the way to go and so all her books are these big thick books which would be OK if there wasn’t a point somewhere within them when you think, she’s just filling space.

  2. That’s interesting. I hadn’t heard about The Host.
    You reminded me, though, how much I like Robert Harris books. His book (was it Imperium?) about politics in Rome, told from a speech-writer’s point of view was fascinating. And I keep stumbling over the Pompeii book and need to read that. Hadn’t heard about Fatherland but I’ll be looking for it now.
    The think about Meyer’s takeover storyline reminded me of Holly Lisle’s story Talyn. Also interesting to ponder days later, just the mechanics and they whys of the invader/villain. Maybe the author is more interested in the invader, but can’t imagine a better hook than a human being to snag a human being’s interest. You know? Are there stories told from the invader’s point of view, from the get-go? Or do we humans always need the story to start with us (egocentrists that we are?). Also interesting.

  3. It is true that she sometimes loses steam in the middle of a story. That’s a problem a lot of authors have and it’s also true that editors should do their job, even with bestselling authors.

  4. i’ll admit it, i got sucked into the twilight series and really enjoyed it. and i don’t ever read vampire or werewolf stories.
    i also read the host and enjoyed it but just like you it is the invaders storey that keeps me thinking. thanks for the suggestin of fatherland i think i might try it.
    completely off topic but i’m also very excited, amazon just emailed me with an invite to buy Grave Goods by Arianna franklin.(which is another great recommendation i got here) i can’t wait

  5. Ever feel like an author fell so in love with the world they created that things like plot and characterization were an afterthought?

  6. I read The Host after finishing Eclipse, the third book in her Twilight series. I found them by accident and needed something to read! I love the Twilight books, I’m woman enough to admit it. Sometimes it’s good to read things that you don’t have to think too much, it was a nice break from reality also. I enjoyed The Host, I did have a hard time getting into it but once I did, I didn’t put it down. I haven’t reread it yet, I usually have to read books I like twice as I have a tendency to fly through them in a day and I’m always afraid I missed something. I encourage you to at least try them out, checking them out at the library is always free, unless of course you have late fees :)

  7. I must say, do read the Twilight series. I am a mother of grown kids and with grand kids. I actually started reading the books to my then 13 year old daughter, and yes, they are YA but with that in mind I could sail past anything that felt a little juvenile (rare sections) and soon became hooked on the characters and Stephenie’s fresh approach to this genre. Do read them and tell us what you think! I got The Host solely based on the promise of readability and engagement gotten from reading her other books, so I am looking forward to it even the sci-fi is not my thing!

  8. I’ve thought about reading The Host, but found Twilight somewhat disappointing so I haven’t picked it up. But I may reconsider. Twilight was OK, but I don’t quite get the hype. Her writing is good enough, but the plotting is a little simplistic. It drags and drags, then ALL the action is packed into the last third. And Yes, we get that Edward is beautiful. Can we go a chapter (or a page) without repeatedly being told just HOW beautiful he is?? Or maybe use another word other than “beautiful”? Like I said, I didn’t quite get it.

  9. I did read the twilight series for something to do over the christmas break. Although it was interesting enough for me to read all four books, I found I could complete them in just a week time. I actually picked up my Wilderness collection to read something that had ‘meat’ to it. I had many questions about the twilight series and joined a list and found many people thought it was the best novel ever. I couldn’t understand that. I encouraged them to read the wilderness series and see if they felt the same way. SM is an interesting writer. Her stories often don’t really pick up until the end. I was sick of hearing how beautiful Edward was. I MISSED the wonderful detail and character development that Sara’s books offer. When I think about what Sara could have done with the idea of twilight then I get really excited. The potential is there for SM, but Sara’s books will always be the toughest one to beat.
    Brick

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