Beyond Twilight: Stephenie Meyer’s The Host

Published on March 30th, 2011 in: Back Off Man I'm A Feminist, Book Reviews, Books, Feminism, Issues, Movies, Science Fiction |

By Lisa Anderson

the host cover

Stephenie Meyer: Few writers have ever had their work loved and hated so deeply at the same time.

Her Twilight series, consisting of four novels and a novella, has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and been translated into 38 languages, as well as being adapted into a film saga that is set to conclude this year. Meyer has a wide variety of critics, from vampire purists who resent the liberties she has taken with the lore, to feminists who find the relationship between her romantic leads unhealthy. In all the hubbub, though, you hear almost nothing about Meyer’s other brain child: A science fiction novel called The Host which was released in 2008.

The story is set on an Earth that has been gradually conquered by unseen alien invaders that take over people’s minds. A few free humans still resist the aliens—who call themselves Souls—but only a silver circle in someone’s eyes lets you know that they’ve been inhabited. At the beginning of the story, 20-year-old Melanie Stryder is fleeing the Souls, and throws herself down an elevator shaft to prevent being taken over. She doesn’t die, however, and the Souls heal her with their highly advanced medicine and implant a Soul into Melanie called Wanderer.

Melanie’s mind doesn’t fade away, but rather co-exists in her body with Wanderer. Wanderer is disturbed not only by this, but also by the intensity of human emotions, the strongest she’s experienced in the many worlds she’s visited. Through Melanie’s memories and reactions, she develops affection for Melanie’s little brother, Jamie, and for Jared, the human Melanie loves. Eventually, they set out in search of them, and find them among an isolated band of survivors. Then, as they say, things really get complicated

One reason I loved this book is that as a child, I thought there should be a sci-fi novel about two minds in one body. The frustration, conflict, and lack of privacy inherent in that arrangement seem to lend themselves to a good written story. I believe the concept has been used in sci-fi movies and TV before, but this is the first time I’ve come across it in an original written work. One of the most interesting (and most central) ideas of the story is that human emotions reside in the body, not the mind, and this makes a lot of sense.

I truly enjoy both the character that Meyer creates in Wanderer and the alien species that she invents in the Souls. The Souls live in a moral universe of their own, and this gradually allows them to become sympathetic characters. They try to do only good, leaving each species that they encounter better off . . . but don’t understand that it’s wrong to subvert other creatures’ free will to accomplish this. Neither do they lie or complete with each other. Wanderer gets her name from the fact that she has lived in so many different places, but never fit in anywhere. Meyer is very creative when describing the planets and species through Wanderer, in a way that exemplifies good sci-fi.

In the end, Meyer pulls off a happy ending, even if what happens on a planetary level is more believable than what happens for the main characters. In any case, it is a welcome happy ending, defined more by increased understanding than by “us vs. them.” Not everything is solved at once, but there is hope, and there is love.

The movie rights to The Host have been sold, and I look forward to seeing how it translates to the screen. As someone who does not disdain the Twilight series but has not read it all either, I plan on re-reading The Host soon. It’s not perfect, from a feminist perspective, but it’s still way less problematic than Meyer’s vampire novels. Fundamentally, though, it’s a very different story, in a very different genre. It’s a good choice, not only for fans of Meyer’s other work, but also for both casual and serious fans of science fiction.

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