Hey, remember when Stephenie Meyer wrote a scifi novel? Not just any scifi novel, but “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction” (that’s a direct quote). Nine years ago today, The Host hit bookstands, becoming one of scifi’s strangest and most unwelcome additions.
Science fiction is one of those fields that’s both inclusive and exclusive... depending on who you ask, and what you’re asking them about. As someone who didn’t start seriously reading science fiction until I was in my 20s, I’ll admit it was a genre that took some getting used to. So, when the writer of the hyper-successful Twilight series decided to take her interpretation of horror fantasy and apply it to science fiction, it honestly didn’t seem like a terrible idea. It was like training wheels for readers curious about scifi— especially for fans of her earlier work (I wasn’t, but I gave The Host a try anyway).
On the surface, I’ll admit The Host had an interesting premise: It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but from the perspective of the body snatchers. By the time the book starts, most of the planet’s been taken over, leaving a glorious utopia in its wake. The main character is a Soul named Wanderer (later Wanda), a parasitic alien who’s traveled from planet to planet looking for a place to belong, only to end up on Earth in the body of Melanie, a human host who’s resisting control. Sweet, two female characters in constant contact with each other... this will surely pass the Bechdel Test! Side note, it doesn’t.
In theory, this plot raises some excellent questions. What happens when a benevolent and altruistic species needs hosts in order to survive? They’re technically conquerers, erasing a civilization for their own benefit— but since they’re improving the world, do the ends justify the means? Do we as readers end up rooting for this parasitic species, since they’ve created a better world out of the one we’ve abused, or is it too hard for us to empathize with creatures that are taking our world from us? Most of all: Is this something we would do ourselves, given the opportunity?
These are all great questions... too bad the book never bothers addressing them.
The Host is junior prom dry humping, with aliens. It’s a love triangle— scratch that, make it a love quadrangle, as there are two minds inside Wanda’s head and two practically identical white boys who are drawn to each of her dual personalities. There’s Jared, an older man whose actions toward Melanie border on abusive but are instead interpreted as romantic, and Ian, the sensitive guy who likes Wanda for her personality instead of her looks. Gee, I wonder if I’m Team Ian or Team Jared (I’m neither, I’m Team Alien Overlords). It doesn’t help that Wanda is basically Bella Swan— the nicest, sweetest, and most innocent alien you could ever meet. In comparison, Melanie is kind of a bitch.
For a book that’s over 600 pages, The Host has very little action or plot development. Most of it is spent listening to Wanda and Melanie internally bicker over whether it’s okay to make out with Jared and Ian, once they find the human hideout in the desert. There are so many scenes where our Wanderer, well, wanders around... aimlessly talking to different people about how wonderful and unusual humanity is. There’s this weird thread throughout the novel about how humanity is special, that there’s something about us that makes it difficult for the aliens to control us. It’s not a unique flaw in the story, plenty of other scifi touts humanity as the coolest crew in the galaxy, but it’s still a flaw.
Then again, the alien lifeforms Wanda encountered before humans probably didn’t give her much competition. There’s a lack of world building in this story— at least, I should say smart world building. The book vaguely refers to different worlds the Souls conquered before, and all of them sound so stupid, it’s as if they were made up for a fourth-grade writing assignment. There’s literally a planet called Fire World, where Fire-Tasters burn Walking Flowers alive for food. I didn’t make any of that up. Stephenie Meyer did.
It feels like the scifi aspect is Meyer’s least-favorite part of her science fiction novel since so little attention is spent on cultivating the world she’s introduced. It’s weird, because she’s said in interviews how she grew up reading science fiction and wasn’t a fan of vampire novels when she was younger. Then again, she also said she wouldn’t have classified the book as science fiction, were it not for the fact that there are aliens in it.
In the end, our story closes out by introducing even more ethical questions, without having bothered to address or even acknowledge the previous ones. Wanda sacrifices herself to give Melanie her freedom, saying she’d rather die than be put into another host body. Then, spoilers, the humans find her another body! There was a young attractive woman on standby who happened to be in an irreversible coma that they could just plug her into. Isn’t that just the luck? Never mind the issue of keeping an unconscious human alive, seemingly against her will, just because they thought this one alien was kind of friendly. But hey, at least Ian could suck face with a hot girl again.
The Host was poorly received by critics but managed to stay on the New York Times Bestseller List for 26 weeks. It was later turned into a movie, which came out in 2013 and didn’t make much of a profit over its budget. There were other attempts to make teen-friendly alien scifi, like I Am Number Four, but they’re mostly forgotten. Meyer spent years promising a trilogy, starting with a sequel named The Seeker. The last she talked about it was in 2013, and we haven’t heard much since. It’s probably for the best, to be honest. The Host is kind of a mess— which is too bad because I feel like it had potential.
If you’re looking to get into science fiction, but don’t normally like the genre, do yourself a favor and skip this alien suck-fest. It’s not science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction. It feels more like a scifi parasite.