Saturday, January 25, 2014

One of the great classics of mind control science fiction

I guess no matter who you are or what you're obsessed with, you can't cover all the bases of that obsession. One base I've missed until now -- despite being a lifelong fan of books, science fiction, and mind control -- is Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. I didn't get to read it until last week. Now, in my defense, I do have an excuse. And I'll share it if anyone actually wants to know, but I don't think you came here to read about teenage neuroses. So instead, let me tell you why you should read The Puppet Masters. Then I'll give you an extended quote from the hottest scene.

The villains in this story are a race of mind-controlling alien slugs who ride their victims like jockeys ride horses. Quite naturally, they want to conquer the earth; and quite naturally, there are a handful of secret agents who want to stop them. Their leader is "the Old Man," but the protagonist is a younger agent who mostly goes by "Sam." In the scene I'm about to quote, Sam has been taken over by a slug, but he and it have been captured, and the Old Man is trying to interrogate the slug. He has Sam strapped to a chair with a hole in its back, leaving the slug exposed; but Sam has to do the talking for his master because it doesn't have a human mouth.

You'll appreciate this scene even more if you know that 1) Sam was a tough-ass secret agent at the beginning of the book, but 2) he was also terrified by what the slugs could do and literally nauseated at the thought of being controlled by one of them.

Now here we go. I'll pick up just after the Old Man finishes threatening the slug in order to make it talk.

I listened with half an ear; I had already been trying my bonds, neither hoping nor fearing, but finding them, as I expected, impossible to escape. This did not worry me; I had neither worries nor fears. I was oddly contented to be back with my master, to be free of troubles and tensions. My business was to serve and the future would take care of itself.

In the meantime, I must be alert, ready to serve him.

One ankle strap seemed less tight than the other; possibly I might drag my foot through it. I checked on the arm clamps; perhaps if I relaxed my muscles completely--

But I made no effort to escape. An instruction came at once -- or, I made a decision, for the words mean the same; I tell you there was no conflict between my master and me; we were one -- instruction or decision, I knew it was not time to risk escape. I ran my eyes around the room, trying to figure out who was armed and who was not. It was my guess that only the Old Man was armed; that bettered the chances....

"Well?" the Old Man went on. "Do you answer my questions, or do I punish you?"

"What questions?" I asked. "Up to now, you've been talking nonsense."

The Old Man turned to one of the technicians. "Give me the tickler."

I felt no apprehension, although I did not understand what it was he had asked for. I was still busy checking my bonds. If I could tempt him into placing his gun within my reach -- assuming that I could get one arm free -- then I might be able to --

He reached past my shoulders with a rod. I felt a shocking, unbearable pain. The room blacked out as if a switch has been thrown and for an undying instant I was jolted and twisted by hurt. I was split apart by it; for the moment I was masterless.

The pain left, leaving only its searing memory behind. Before I could speak, or even think coherently for myself, the splitting away had ended and I was again safe in the arms of my master. But for the first and only time in my service to him I was not myself free of worry; some of his own wild fear and pain was passed on to me, the servant.

I looked down and saw a line of red welling out of my left wrist; in my struggles I had cut myself on the clamp. It did not matter; I would tear off hands and feet to escape from there on bloody stumps, if escape for my master were possible that way.

"Well," asked the Old Man, "how did you like the taste of that?"

The panic that possessed me washed away; I was again filled with an unworried sense of well being, albeit wary and watchful. My wrists and ankles, which had begun to pain me, stopped hurting. "Why did you do that?" I asked. "Certainly, you can hurt me -- but why?"

"Answer my questions."

"Ask them."

"What are you?"

 The answer did not come at once. The Old Man reached for the rod; I heard myself saying, "We are the people."

"The people? What people?"

"The only people. We have studied you and we know your ways. We--" I stopped suddenly.

"Keep talking," the Old Man said grimly, and gestured with the rod.

"We come," I went on, "to bring you--"

"To bring us what?"

I wanted to talk; the rod was terrifyingly close. But there was some difficulty with words. "To bring you peace," I blurted out.

The Old Man snorted.

"Peace," I went on, "and contentment -- and the joy of -- of surrender." I hesitated again; "surrender" was not the right word. I struggled with it the way one struggles with a poorly grasped foreign language. "The joy," I repeated, "--the joy of...nirvana." That was it; the word fitted. I felt like a dog being patted for fetching a stick; I wriggled with pleasure.

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