The Brain-Stealers by Murray Leinster (1896 – 1975) was published as such in 1954. It appeared much earlier in 1947 as a novella in Startling Stories. I read the 1954 novel in the ACE edition (1977?) with cover done by Stephen Hickman. This is the first Leinster novel I have read, though I have read a couple of his short stories. Mainly, I read it because I enjoy plowing through these 1950s novels.
I read the first chapter once before. At that time I put the book down because I just did not feel that it was something I could get into. However, this reading, I read that chapter and forced myself to keep on reading. I mention this because I think this novel starts at the right place, but it is quite unfamiliar and jarring. Weird stuff.
And then the rest of the novel is built on a lot of coincidence. Readers who are irritated by authors who set up such helpful coincidences for the characters or plot will probably give this novel much lower marks based on this. I, however, don’t really mind. I want to be entertained. I’ll overlook major, obvious coincidences if you have a story to tell. So, the main character, James Hunt, just happens to be precisely the person we need: the only one on Earth capable of dealing with this particular alien invasion. Remarkable coincidence.
Well, it is the future – and finally it has happened: Security Police control the world. Everything is overseen and regulated by Security. Of course this is yet another iteration of the fear of Big Brother.
The people of Earth were very secure, to be sure. They were protected against everything that Security could imagine as happening to them. But they weren’t free any longer. And the tragedy was that many of the guiding minds of Security were utterly sincere, though there were self-seekers and politicians merely seeking soft jobs and importance among Security officials. – pg. 25, Chapter 5
The main character was a young scientist who is under arrest by Security for not obeying their regulations regarding scientific experiment. We meet him as he is making a daring (read: outlandish) escape. Anyway, out of the frying pan and into the fire…. Jim Hunt finds himself in the middle of a rural community which is under the control of vampiric aliens. Of course Jim recognizes what is going on and can fight against it – he was a scientist who worked specifically in the area of thought-transmission. How convenient.
Leinster does a pretty blunt job of showing how man can be enslaved/hampered by others, by himself, etc. Leinster compares the concept of safety with the concept of freedom. This is a good novel for readers who want yet another story of thought-control and Big Brother. Granted, this Big Brother seems less aggressive than other iterations – it is still willing to hand out Life Sentences for anyone who disobeys. And disobedience to the aliens who are enslaving mankind is tantamount to death. Still, obedience to the aliens generally results in death as well.
They had exactly one desire, to be warm and comfortable and fed. That happy estate called for the enslavement of other creatures intelligent enough to provide warmth and comfort and food. Actually, the Things had only one technique and one trick, but the combination was deadly. . . . . When desire to serve the Things became a passion as sincere and unreasoning as patriotism, their victims set joyously about the enslavement of their fellow men. They schemed for it. They planned for it. They devised far-reaching and beautifully planned campaigns to bring it about. . . . . But of course a man in a state of inner exaltation is not so good a workman, and there is a find edge gone from his perceptions because he is lost in his contentment. – pg. 74, Chapter 11
This sort of narrative gets repetitive. Leinster re-explains the situation over and over again throughout the novel. Readers will not miss what is happening. It gets tedious. However, to his credit, Leinster does attempt to provide some background and expansion of the “science” in the story. I am not saying that the science is always true and valid, nor am I saying that he follows it all the way to its conclusion. But it is nice to know he makes an attempt to make some of these things “realistic.” Still, the reader will get really tired of being told how the aliens just want to eat and be warm.
Of course, epistemologically there is trouble. How is immaterial thought affected by material substance (iron, in particular). Are thoughts “fields”? Electrical waves/fields? As I said, Leinster’s “science” is best read lightly and kindly. At least he doesn’t just ignore it.
Also, it is worth mentioning that Leinster clearly wants us to see that mankind requires a restlessness and drive in order to succeed and make progress. Challenge, struggle, and striving are key components to mankind’s advance. When mankind is content he is lethargic and stagnant. Good moral lesson there.