Jack Finney
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955, rev. 1978)
Reviewed: 1996-03-17

Dr. Miles Bennell lives and practices in the small, peaceful town of Mill Valley, California. When a friend approaches him to tell him about a relative who claims that her uncle is not really her uncle anymore but some kind of imposter, although even the most intimate objective tests confirm his identity, Miles writes it off as a delusion and recommends that the woman see a psychiatrist friend of his. However, in the days that follow, more people come to his office to ask him about advice, each claiming that one of their relatives isn't the same person anymore. A case of mass hysteria, it seems. But then Miles himself is witness to a mysterious find which suggests that something alien replaces people by near-perfect duplicates. Slowly he recognizes the hideous plot that is unfolding around him. An invisible, undetectable enemy is taking over Mill Valley and once having secured this beachhead will spread over the world.

This classic paranoia novel from the 1950s inevitably invites comparison with Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters published a few years earlier. Both books deal with a similar concept of alien invaders "taking over" people, however, the authors show a different approach and style. Heinlein quickly transforms the unknown into a physical threat to be fought by physical means, while Finney develops the invasion as a tale of supernatural horror. The protagonists struggle with their grip on reality, their senses seemingly defying reason in the face of an incomprehensible enemy.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers is usually classified as SF, but it is really a very effective horror novel. The takeover procedure is creepy but nonsense, and the propagation of the invaders and their history even more so. The book has spawned three movies (1956, 1978, 1993).

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