With the movie of Stephenie Meyer’s novel The Host coming out next week, I think this is an opportune time for me to review the book. What makes it even more opportune is that I just finished listening to the audiobook last week.
Note: There will be spoilers ahead.
I had not read the book before, but I had heard good things about it, particularly from people who said things like “I didn’t like Twilight, but I liked The Host.” I didn’t know much about the plot, other than it involved a woman possessed by an alien, and her boyfriend who wanted to kill her. My reaction to that had been slightly negative, as my opinion was that any boyfriend worth his salt would not want to kill his alien-possessed girlfriend unless there was absolutely no chance of unpossessifying her. I had also seen a preview for the movie, which had given me the additional information that most of the world had been taken over by the aliens.
What I expected was a novel with a human protagonist who gets possessed by an alien, fights against it from within, and finally, in a triumph of free will, is able to overcome the alien’s influence and eventually get rid of it. That would have been a novel I could enjoy reading.
I was surprised to find that Stephenie Meyer had chosen the more difficult path of writing a novel with an alien-invader protagonist who is possessing a human being — and Meyer pulls it off very well. The Host is, in fact, one of the better science fiction books I’ve read in the past few years. The characters felt realistic, the action was exciting, and the science fictional aspects were sufficiently plausible that I was able to suspend my disbelief.
Of course, I’m almost five years late to the party here, so other reviewers (e.g., Jana Reiss, Dave Banack) have had time to discuss some of the LDS ideas that crop up in the novel. The big one, of course, is the concept of agency. The utopian society built by the aliens is founded on the elimination of the free will of the human hosts, and thus is essentially an example of Satan’s Plan in action. There’s also a clear nod toward the idea of opposition in all things; that true goodness cannot exist without evil, etc.
However, I can’t help but also see the Law of Consecration in the utopian society. If the aliens were simply alien beings, rather than parasites that possessed the bodies of humans, then their society really would be a utopia. They live the Law of Consecration in a way humans in the early Church were unable to do: all of them working for the benefit of society, sharing what they produce with no thought of payment, and everyone’s needs are provided for. They don’t even have a hierarchy of power — everything that needs to be done is done by volunteers, with nobody able to order anyone else to do anything. They are an altruistic, cooperative species among themselves. In that way, they represent the kind of people we as members of the Church are supposed to aspire to be — honest, hard-working, and unselfish — and their society runs the way a Millennial society might.
(Mormons nowadays are well known for conservative economic politics and opposition to communism/socialism, so it’s good to be reminded that our opposition to such should stem mainly from the coercive nature of such regimes as practiced in an imperfect world, rather than from a fondness for the pursuit of wealth.)
Of course, it is that alien altruism that eventually leads the protagonist, Wanderer (Wanda), to switch her allegiance to the humans after she comes to love them and realize that her species has perpetrated an atrocity against humanity. The character of Wanda has been criticized as being too submissive and weak, and there are parts where she seems that way, but to a great extent that is the result of judging a non-violent, non-confrontational, altruistic alien by human standards.
Overall, I think The Host is an exciting, thought-provoking read, and if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend doing so. (The audio book is well done, with the reader, Kate Reading, doing an excellent job of creating distinctive character voices.) Here’s hoping the movie does a good job of translating the story onto the screen.