The Host

March 31, 2009
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Hooked on Stephenie Meyer, but can't wait until August for Breaking Dawn, the next and final installment in the Twilight series? Look no further than Meyer's May release, The Host. The Twilight saga has often been described as vampire fiction for people who don't like vampires. It is fair to say that with The Host, her latest novel, Meyer has once again managed to break the usual genre conventions - this time writing a science fiction novel for people who don't like sci-fi.

The Host introduces us to an Earth where the humans have been subject to some unwelcome visitors, planet-hopping parasites who are in the habit of subtly taking over worlds by inserting themselves into more and more host bodies. Sound slightly familiar—invasion of the Body Snatchers, perhaps? When Melanie Stryder, an outcast-rebel, formerly part of a resistance group, is injected with an 'soul' by the name of Wanderer, her spirit refuses to fade away. On the other hand, Wanderer is an ancient soul has been around the galaxy a while, and is regarded by her species as a bit of a legend. However, Melanie is. A combination of the two, then, is clearly going to be a battle of wills. What surprises Wanderer is that Melanie refuses to be subsumed by her presence, managing instead to co-exist in the same body. Wanderer is enthralled by the passion and the emotion of Melanie's personality, and so agrees to this co-existence, actually using Melanie's feelings and memories to gain a greater experience of human life. This involves Jared, an old lover who still lives free, but in hiding. Melanie/Wanderer (soon to be Wanda) go in search of Jared and Melanie's younger brother Jamie. In the thick of the Arizona desert they are captured, and…well, to tell the rest would spoil things.

Unlike the most popular alien invasion movies and science fiction TV shows, The Host doesn't have Will Smith or Richard Dean Anderson to save the planet against a background of gun fire, secret weapons and loud explosions. Instead The Host envisions a time when humanity is lost, vastly outnumbered and stealthily overwhelmed by superior technology. There are tiny pockets of resistance left, just a handful of humans who haven't yet been captured, but they don't spend their days plotting to retake the planet from the aliens—just surviving consumes all their time.

All in all, the novel is a celebration of love, human experience as seen through the filter of an outsider and a plea for the acceptance and tolerance of outsiders. Although the narrative is straightforward and the plot perhaps a little predictable, Meyer brings new meaning to the term 'of two minds' and explores a more emotional level of science fiction. Possibly the largest similarity between The Host and the author's Twilight series is the character of Wanderer. She has something Bellaesque going on—it is the way that they are both enormously self sacrificing. In fact, Wanderer's alien nature makes her even more self sacrificing than Bella which means that she needs others to look out for her and take care of her since she has little instinct for self preservation. If I was pushed to use a stereotype, I suspect that those who have read the Twilight series and are now looking for something longer, a little deeper and a little more complex (but not too deep nor too complex) and not too sci-fi, would enjoy this one. This is not Twilight, but the growth of a writer.

The Host will definitely not disappoint Stephenie Meyer fans, although it may not receive as much acclaim as Twilight. Billed as her first novel for adults, the novel nevertheless retains Meyer's sense of decorum when it comes to relationships - while the tension between romantic interests is strong and helps push the plot along, there is no graphic sexuality. But it's the threat of danger from both the parasite world and the human world that kept me turning pages, and makes The Host another quick Stephenie Meyer read - not because it's short (clocking in at around 630 pages), but because it's difficult to put down

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EdytD said...
Apr. 5, 2009 at 11:43 pm
sounds shallow. isn't war of the worlds also about alien invasion? this is hardly the only science fiction book of they type; furthermore, there are many books such as Ender's Game that also deal w/ human psychology, fear, and other emotions without any such predictable and trite endings.

although i am most certainly not a fan of stephanie meyer or the vast majority of "teenage novels," I think that you wrote a good review - from a writer's point of view.
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