The Body Snatchers (1954)
(aka Invasion of the Body Snatchers)
Author: Jack Finney
Genre: Horror/Science Fiction
Mill Valley, California, just outside of San Francisco, seems like your normal town, but over the course of a few weeks this sleepy town turns into a battleground in which the future of the human race may be at stake. Miles Bennell is a small-town doctor who is one day visited by an old friend, Becky Driscoll. Becky’s cousin Wilma is convinced that her uncle is not her uncle. Miles is unsure what to make of this claim, but shortly thereafter he begins to come across evidence that leads him to believe that something is amiss in Mill Valley. First, he finds a “blank” corpse in a cellar belonging to another friend. It looks like his friend Jack, but it has no fingerprints, it’s not alive. While talking it over, the “corpse” disappears. Soon Miles is convinced that Jack is no longer Jack. The appearance of a mysterious pod in Becky’s basement leads Miles to conclude that some thing is slowly taking over the town by replacing their bodies with reasonable facsimiles. Soon it becomes apparent that the entire town of Mill Valley is being replaced. Will Miles and Becky be able to stop the process and warn the outside world in time? SPOILER: There is an invasion going on. The pods are alien lifeforms that copy a designated host while it sleeps. Soon Miles, Becky, and Jack are the only one’s who have not been assimilated. Through cunning, Miles is able to locate a huge warehouse where the pods are being processed and shipped across the country. By luck, he stumbles upon the field where they are grown, burns them, and stop the invasion (presumably with the help of other pockets of resistance across the globe. In the final scene the pods float off into space to find a more hospitable planet.
Geographical Setting: Marin County, California (just north of San Francisco)
Time Period: 1950s
This is a classic mid-50s tale of alien invasion that rises above pulp standards with the help of Finney’s prose. A talented writer, Finney’s tale is more than a tale of alien invasion but one that serves as an allegory critical of the homogenous exterior of mid-50s American society--and it is this underlying theme that has made Finney’s tale a classic, one the has been made into two popular films. The story and message are central to the tale, and Finney does not spend a lot of time developing his characters. Crisp dialogue moves the story along. The pace is quick but not fast. The setting is of little consequence--one can assume that Finney has set the tale near San Francisco because that is the place he knows best (as it was for Philip K. Dick). Though slightly dated, the story still serves as a relevant allegory for American cultures faddish tendencies and hints that there is more to any idyllic scenario than meets the eye.
Read-alikes: Finney’s best known book was Time and Again (1970), a time travel mystery. His adventure stories Five Against the House and Assault on the Queen, like The Body Snatchers, were both made into feature films. H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds makes a good read as it involves an alien invasion plot that doubles as social critique. Another good alien-plant invasion book is John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids (1951). The sequel to that, Simon Clark’s The Night of the Triffids (2001), also received positive reviews. A final read-alike suggestion is John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There (1938).
Red Flags: Other than mild horrific elements and mild descriptions of Miles’ sexual feelings concerning Becky, this book is rather tame fare.