Literature: The Puppet Masters

The Puppet Masters is a novel by Robert A. Heinlein about an Alien Invasion, first published in 1951. This was the only novel Heinlein published on the subject and he cemented most of the tropes usually associated with invasion stories.

Secret agents Sam, Mary and "The Old Man" fight a fantastical battle against parasitic aliens who are bent on assimilating all of humanity and taking control of Earth. Danger is everywhere when anyone around you could be a host.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Action Girlfriend: Mary. To be precise, she's a Gunwoman.
  • Alien Abduction: The aliens have been abducting humans for years, possibly centuries, as part of the plan to conquer Earth. It turns out that the protagonist's Love Interest was abducted from a human colony on Venus as a child; this provides a key to the eventual defeat of the invasion.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Though it may also be an example of Blue and Orange Morality, as the aliens claim that they want humans to be truly free, and the reader is never told whether they are lying. Or, it may be an allusion to Dirty Communists.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: The invasion begins in Grinnell, Iowa.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Notably mocks this;
    The Old Mans unique gift was the ability to reason logically with unfamiliar, hard-to-believe facts as easily as with the commonplace. Not much, eh? Most minds stall dead when faced with facts which conflict with basic beliefs; I-just-cant-believe-it is all one word to highbrows and dimwits alike.
  • Benevolent Alien Invasion: The aliens claim to be bringing inner peace to humanity.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Their reproductive processes are activated by the closeness of potential victims.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Sam's father is actually nicknamed 'the Old Man', which may be an allusion to the Old Man of the Mountain. They live on not exactly friendly terms.
  • Chickification: Mary is a secret agent who carries an excessive amount of firepower and is certainly willing to use it. After marrying Sam halfway through the book, she becomes an instant "Yes dear" housewife, though it's unclear whether this is Values Dissonance on Heinlein's part or if he's just playing the situation for its humorous aspects.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Mary uses this to detect men who've been possessed by the Alien Invaders. Those Not Distracted by the Sexy are assumed to be "hag-ridden", though as the President points out at one stage, it could also mean they're "harem guards", e.g. eunuchs or homosexuals.
  • Eagleland: Flavor 1.
  • Easily Thwarted Alien Invasion: The solution is reached by logical reasoning rather than detailed research or military strategy, and turns out to be relatively simple.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Sam goes through several false identities. Only late in the novel does he go right up to his father and asks, "Dad, why did you name me Elihu?"
  • Exposition Intuition: Mary. Her intuition helps her to distinguish infected humans from non-infected ones. The author never explains how is she able to do it, though it is implied that this is somehow associated with sexual arousal as something of which only humans are capable.
  • Extended Disarming
    The Secret Service guards gave us the works. An X-Ray went beep! and I surrendered my heater. Mary turned out to be a walking arsenal; the machine gave four beeps and a hicough, though you would have sworn she couldn't hide a tax receipt.
    • During a later strip-search he mentions that Mary "added considerably to the pile of hardware. I decided she just plain liked guns."
  • Flying Car: It's past 2007 and we still don't have them!
  • Government Conspiracy: Because of The Infiltration.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The aliens claim that they will give their hosts a kind of mental peace when they are controlled by the aliens, making them happier than humans in a state of freedom. This seems to be a fair description of the protagonist Sam's state of mind during the time he is controlled, though Sam continues to hate the slugs and this never makes Sam tempted to think that infestation would be good for him or anyone else.
  • Hello, Nurse!: A metal neckline and a white sash across her breasts is everything which the nurse taking care of the main character wears up from her waistline.
  • Heroes Want Redheads: Sam and Mary, though it's not clear whether the red color of Mary's hair is natural or not.
  • If You Won't, I Will: Sam is asked to allow one of the title monsters to take control of him as an experiment. He refuses, and discovers that his girlfriend Mary has volunteered to do it and will be going in his place. He reverses himself and agrees to take part.
  • It's Personal: Things really get personal for Sam when his beloved cat Pirate dies after being infected. He mentions his need for revenge in the closing of the book.
  • Mental Fusion: The aliens.
  • Military Mashup Machine: One flying saucer landing is spotted and attacked by a submersible cruiser deploying amphibious tanks.
  • Misanthrope Supreme: There are some human beings who do not have masters riding them, who are so vile that they serve as Fifth Columnists to the masters.
  • Naked People Are Funny: In the United States it is very hard to enforce perpetual nudism, which happens to be necessary for safety reasons.
  • Not My Driver: The Old Man reclaims Sam after he's been possessed by a slug by hijacking him in a vehicle.
  • Our Presidents Are Different: President Personable type. He's a classic Hollywood leader.
  • Puppeteer Parasite: This is pretty much the main theme of the book. It's worth noting that this book was the former Trope Namer.
  • Re Cut: As with several other Heinlein books, The Puppet Masters was released in an expanded edition by his wife Virginia after his death. Most of the added material is graphic violent/sexual content censored at the time of the original release.
  • Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
  • Science Is Bad: While the scientific method is acceptable — even praiseworthy — when used to combat the Puppet Masters, science-for-science's sake is scorned by the main characters. The feeling is that pure scientists don't actually produce anything useful, unlike engineers.
  • Shoot the Dog: Pirate's death.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: The Old Man for Sam (but only when America needs it).
  • So Proud of You: Sam and the Old Man.
  • Society Marches On
    • The novel was published in 1951 and set in 2007. Although the heroine is just as tough and capable as the male lead (sometimes more so), the moment gender roles or romantic relationships come up she turns, hilariously, into June Cleaver.
    • People complained about having to walk around bare to the waist (or in bikini tops for women) far more in the book than they probably would have in real life 2007.
      • Though this is explicitly mentioned to be the case in America. The narrator does mention cases where the opposite is true, like in Iceland, where a man who won't strip naked and get in the hot tub with his friends would be instantly regarded with suspicion.
  • Space Elves: They are the race which the aliens apparently exploit on their home planet. Supposedly, they were the original inhabitants of Titan.
  • Spreading Disaster Map Graphic: A map is used to show the extent of parasite infestation in the U.S., with areas controlled by the parasites glowing red, those under human control in green, and contested areas in amber. Several times the red areas of the map are described as expanding, showing a spread of the parasites.
  • Starfish Aliens.
  • Synthetic Plague: The only way to stop the aliens from taking over the Earth.
  • Tank Goodness: The "mud turtles."
  • We Come in Peace Shoot to Kill: The aliens. Again, this may be a political allusion.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Very strongly implied between Sam and the Old Man.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: As a drug induced state.
  • Zeerust: Several examples. One that stands out is when Sam goes to the library to do research on UFO sightings. He does this by scanning through spools of microfilm. In 2007.
    • Actually, microform remains one of the most prominent methods of information storage and retrieval available to researchers of any kind, given the truly massive amount of paper-printed historical materials that have never been put into digital form in any way. In turn, on any website that shows such things, someone somewhere eventually had to go out and scan it from such archives.
      • Reality Is Unrealistic: On top of the above, there are still libraries in the US which have microfilm archives, particularly those in larger cities and most college libraries.