Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dark Roasted Science Fiction: The Body Snatchers By Jack Finney

As previously mentioned here's another review of classic science fiction novels for the always-great Dark Roasted Blend:

The Body Snatchers (1955)
By Jack Finney

I am not writing this review. Sure, I might look like, sound like, act like, your regular reviewer but I am, in fact, a flawless reproduction .....

There's a very special kind of story out there and, ironically, it is unique and rare: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is one, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" by Edgar Allan Poe is another -- and then there's Jack Finney's The Body Snatchers.

What makes these stories special? They are the beginning, a unique and fresh approach: Stevenson created the archetypal story of man's dual nature, Poe created the first detective story, and Finney created ... well, he created pod people.

It's hard in some ways to read Finney's book today. Not that it's not a good or even great book, because it's that and much more. Finney's restrained style is there, his wry sense of humor is there, his enviously lean prose is there, but if you'd never read The Body Snatchers and picked up a copy only today, you'd fail to see its incredible uniqueness against the now-ubiquitous theme. That's a shame because the world owes a lot to Finney's (deceptively) simple little book. For the first time, we saw the horror of a world growm cool and impersonal, distant and nightmarishly "the same."

So powerful is Finney's creation -- as well as the great 1956 film version directed by Don Siegel, starring Kevin McCarthy -- that even the tiniest glimpse of someone acting cold and remote, removed and distant, conjures up the entire idea of the book ... and, naturally, alien seed pods.

Alas, what a lot of people don't know about the book, as it was excised from every adaption of it, is that the aliens in the novel DO have emotions -- it's just that theirs are faked. That twist adds a whole new level of power to the novel: the impostors aren't just unemotional, they actually put a "face" on over their inhumanity -- which is a much more biting commentary than just the simple idea of a cold and drone-like inhumanity. Another horror of the book that's never been adapted is the idea that the pod-people can't reproduce. Once all of humanity has been replaced -- and the aliens have left for space again -- the earth will be left as nothing but a depopulated wasteland.

Again, the book really has to be savored, relished -- re-read again and again to appreciate Finney's sly genius. Just look at the characters. It would be easy to make Dr. Miles Bennell and Becky stand out, and so make the impostors more of a statement about conformity. Instead, they are anything but outraegous, which only adds to the chilling creeps when you realize that they, too, have been less than honest with their emotions, that they are too close -- far too close -- to the impostors in their emotional range, the depth of their feelings. Their fight almost feels like it's a battle against the end of the world, sure, but also to preserve the tiny, almost invisible contrast between the cold indifference of the invaders and the slightly-less-cold indifference of the real humans.

In the end, The Body Snatchers is a truly great book. The trick, though, is to read it for its uniqueness -- and not let all its subsequent impostors and imitators take away from its unique and special shine.

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