The Host is known as the "good" Stephenie Meyer book... which is like saying Nagasaki was the "light" nuclear bombing.
And like most things written by Stephenie Meyer, it's highly derivative of much better works of fiction. I don't know exactly which of the body-snatching-alien books/movies/TV were what she decided to rip off, but the most obvious examples are:
- Jack Finney's Body Snatchers (book, not movie - the book is has a VERY different ending), which is about body-snatching aliens who are very and pleasant and emotionally dead. Sound familiar?
- Stargate SG-1, a TV show whose main arcing storyline involves a race of extraterrestrial parasites who possess human bodies so they can have thumbs, and claim to be gods (in fact, they are the gods of pretty much every polytheistic pantheon).
I suspect that Body Snatchers was a big influence because even though it's actually horrifying... the aliens in it are the kind of aliens that she'd like. They're all "nice" and orderly and pleasant and bland, just like the Cullens, and they can be driven off the planet by nothing more than human beings being stubborn and emotional. That's actually part of the horror of what they are (no identity or emotion), but Meyer's version has none of that.
Add rainbow hair, sparkles and a unicorn horn, and you have her ideal.
However, the body-snatchers are basically a sort of fungus life-form who physically absorb part of the humans they replace rather than... well, snatching the bodies. The humans die. They don't get taken over, they die. Very permanently. And this is an essential part of the process, so the alien can't avoid that messy little moral issue.
This brings us to the Goa'uld, who are more physically similar to the Souls, since they are creatures who burrow into the necks of their human hosts and twine little tentacles through their nervous system. Because they can do this, they view themselves as far superior to humans.
They also insist that there is nothing of the host's mind that remains after they take over the body. This is frequently and obviously shown to be untrue, but when you keep telling the world that you're an almighty deity, you can't exactly admit that yeah, you sorta lie about that.
Oh, and you can identify them because their entry leaves a scar on the back of the neck. And your eyes get all glowy.
Also, they have a form of ancestral memory, can live nearly-immortal lives, and can be kept alive outside a host by living in the pouch of a certain alien race or being kept in a certain receptacle.
They are only technologically superior to humans because they STOLE other races' tech.
JUST. LIKE. THE. SOULS.
And guess which one came first. Hint: not Smeyer's!
Of course, the Goa'uld are NOT the kind of creatures that Meyer likes writing about. Not only are they weird-looking alien snake-creatures, but they aren't "nice." They are pretty open about being system-conquering douchebags in a string of dog-eat-dog monarchies, and they don't even pretend to care about peace and love. They pretend to be gods, so why bother pretending to be morally good?
(Well, except for Sokar, because he just cuts to the chase and pretends to be Satan)
Also, they're a bit too... cultural for Smeyer's tastes. The Goa'uld LOVE dressing in their culturally-themed clothing, with lots of gold and silk, sweeping robes, armor and jewelry. And most of them stick with the culture that they chose to be a god of, including Egyptian, Celtic, African (Yoruba), Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Babylonian, Aztec, etc, even to the point of (mostly) selecting hosts of the right race.
And that is just not Smeyer's style. She likes everyone - especially her non-human characters - to be bland, modern, suburban, culturally devoid and "nice." They're like a world entirely filled with early IKEA. So while she's all about a non-human "superior race" (which the Goa'uld are not), they're too spicy for her blandness-loving palate.
Yes, the obvious issues with originality rub me the wrong way. Except for sparkling, I don't think Meyer has ever actually come up with a single original idea in her fiction, so of course The Host reeks of infinitely better sci-fi stories.
But I will admit... this premise actually did have some promise.
We've seen alien-possession/body-snatching stories for a very long time in sci-fi; I think the earliest example was Robert Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (which was a big influence on Body Snatchers) but I can't remember ever seeing such a story from the perspective of the invading aliens. So this has interesting possibilities as a character drama, especially if we see things through the alien's eyes, and something might actually happen to change their viewpoint about the morality of turning sentient creatures into slaves.
But of course, Meyer fucks it up. Of course.
This happens for two reasons:
- She skips the whole invasion, and just deals with the aftermath. I don't know why she did this, except that probably the invasion would involve some of that unwomanly violence and death, and we can't have THAT.
- She doesn't really address the HORROR of it.
This is something that really highlights what a shitty writer she is, because this entire situation is absolutely nightmarish. And despite her ripping off the Goa'uld, she doesn't want to actually acknowledge that... oh... see... they were kind of evil.
That is one thing that Stargate SG-1, for all its delightfully cheesy trappings, explored in a LOT of detail, both ethically and viscerally. They studied whether a life lived as a host was actually living at all, and they studied the horrifying effects that it has on the people who are taken by them. Not in a "these aliens be bad because reasons!" way, but a very intelligent way that depicted a species almost exclusively populated by sociopaths.
Not to mention they managed to do this without the "hoominz is awsum! We alone can stop the aliens with our speshulness!" crap that most such stories have. There is no special snowflakitude that can protect you from the Goa'uld, and no way for you to get rid of them except by appealing to more advanced aliens. In fact, for a long time the humans didn't think there WAS a way of rescuing the victims of the Goa'uld.
Even more important... this kind of thing is HELL. The hosts of the Goa'uld are aware of what their bodies are doing for EVERY SECOND of every day. They are forced to do things that they would never do voluntarily, including torture and murder, and they have no possible way of interfering. If they're VERY lucky, a severe electric shock or mild head trauma might give them a few seconds of control, only to have that torn away from them.
AND THIS CAN GO ON INDEFINITELY. The technology of the Goa'uld allows for almost indefinite lifespans. The longest-lived of the Goa'uld is supposed to be AT LEAST ten thousand years, and the host can last just as long as the symbiote does!
And for an idea of how horrifying this is, consider: the second episode of the series was about one of O'Neill's friends, Major Charles Kawalsky (Kowalski? I don't know), turning out to have an immature Goa'uld in his head. Kowalski is a badass - he is a veteran soldier who has done black ops missions during the Cold War, and even traveled to other planets.
And even though he wasn't consciously aware of the Goa'uld... he was HORRIFIED by its presence. He had a complete public emotional breakdown just at the THOUGHT of this murderous worm clinging to his brain and forcing him to hurt other people, and started shrieking "Kill it!" until he passed out. He was so skin-crawlingly horrified just by the THOUGHT of this parasite controlling his body that he literally told them that if they couldn't extract it ASAP, he wanted to die.
For a second idea: another episode has the team capturing their dying enemy Apophis, who has apparently been occupying the same host for at least three thousand years. This poor man was just an innocent scribe who had the bad luck to be physically attractive... so an alien worm forced its way into his body. And for more than THREE THOUSAND YEARS, he was forced to watch himself murder, rape, torture and commit mass genocide... including an attack on his OWN HOMEWORLD.
The only way this poor man could not go COMPLETELY insane was to retreat into the delusion that it was all actually a dream, and anytime now he would wake up with his wife and children. And as the final horrifying twist on his life, just as he "awakens only to die again"... HE'S BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE.
Now that... that really reveals the true horror of a "bodysnatchers" story. And if this was an actual thing that happened to people, even the THREAT of it means you would probably never stop screaming.
Does Smeyer take advantage of the sheer horror of that idea?
Of course not. This woman has never met potential that she hasn't shat on.
No, she treats the Souls forcing themselves on innocent creatures - not just humans, but all sorts of species - as being a bad thing... but not THAT bad. There's no indication that the victims of these creatures are locked in an eternal nightmare that only death can free them of.
In fact, the only indication that this madness-inducing horror even could exist is Melanie doing her melodramatic swan dive, and... well, the actual experience of being possessed isn't depicted as horrifying as that would imply. The hosts seem to find it more annoying than nightmarish, and they don't really seem to suffer any kind of psychological effects from having their BODIES take from them, and forced to do all kinds of things that they would never do. For instance, if two Souls in human bodies have sex? That's rape. THAT IS FUCKING RAPE.
This brings us to the moral issue:
One of the most important aspects of the Goa'uld is that their position is morally indefensible. With very rare exceptions where they act out of instinct, they are doing this kind of thing because they see other creatures as being lesser than them. They know they're not gods, they know that those other species are sentient, and they know the host's mind is locked in there... but they just don't care.
There IS a faction of this species, the Tok'ra, who are capable of living symbiotically. They have the benefits of a mouth, thumbs and feet, while their human hosts gain a wealth of knowledge, wonderful health and an elongated lifespan. So we know that the Goa'uld CAN live without enslaving other people to their will... but they choose to do so.
THAT IS WHY THE GOA'ULD ARE THE VILLAINS.
That is why we really don't care about the personal woes of the Goa'uld species in general, because virtually ALL of them are actively choosing to do something morally indefensible. They are depriving others of the freedom of actively controlling their own BODIES. And they even went so far as to genetically engineer a slave race to be wholly dependent on them, worship them, fight to the death for them, while serving as incubators for baby Goa'uld.
Hey, you know what? If a species relies on slavery for every single aspect of their lives, MAYBE THEY ARE THE BAD GUYS.
And you know what? THE SOULS ARE DOING THE SAME THING. Hell, according to the Host wiki, they have essentially the same origin story as the Goa'uld - they took over a native species on their planet, then moved on to stealing the bodies of alien creatures AND stealing their technology, which they then treat as their own because hey, they want it.
And they don't even have the REASON that the Goa'uld have, which is their ceaseless hunger for conquest and power. Sure, that's evil. But at least they have a goal.
The Souls? They do this because... well, because they want to.
In fact, in a sense they're even MORE evil. The Souls believe that they are destroying the minds of the species they possess... and they do it anyway. And they don't care. No empathy whatsoever for anyone who isn't them.
They just conquer planets and steal the lives and bodies of all its inhabitants because then they get to joyride in their victims' bodies. They're every bit as sociopathic as the Goa'uld, but we're not meant to judge them by their actions.
But satireknight, Smeyer DOES admit that it's bad for the Souls to steal people's bodies!
Yes, technically she does. But she doesn't actually see it as being a reflection on them or their way of life. We're not meant to hate the Souls and see them as villains. We're supposed to see them as enlightened, wonderful creatures who have done such wonderful things... and oh yeah, they sort of have to do something bad for that to happen, but they're so nice!
WE'RE MEANT TO LIKE THEM.
Smeyer can never actually bring herself to depict them as being villains. Apparently she thinks you can do utterly morally despicable acts, but still be kind and peaceful and enlightened. She doesn't seem to see a contradiction between a species enslaving others for purely selfish gains and murdering anyone who resists, and them being peaceful, kind, wise, only being extractable by "love," and other ooey-gooey shit.
It's not just the Souls who see themselves as wise, kind and altruistic; Smeyer presents them this way, and has the humans having to learn that the Souls aren't actually that bad.
Sorry, but you don't get to do that. You don't get to pull the "But they're so NICE and TRUSTING and POLITE
and BLAND!" card when your characters are effectively committing genocide BECAUSE THEY JUST FEEL LIKE IT.
Hell, one other species committed mass suicide rather than being possessed by them, and you know what the Souls did? They just possessed the ones who weren't lucky enough to die first, and just lamented that now they couldn't use all those host bodies that had expired. They didn't even stop and think about WHY this would happen. They didn't experience any pity for the creatures that had killed themselves, because they didn't care about anyone else's lives.
THIS IS WHAT FUCKING VILLAINS DO.
And yeah, at the end Wanda decides that humans are such special snowflakes that they shouldn't be enslaved, because they have FEELINGS and feelings are MAGIC and SPECIAL and no species except humans has THE FEELZ! But you know what? She doesn't extend that kind of understanding to OTHER sentient species. The dragons, "see weeds," flowers and spiders? Eh, they can be enslaved and have their minds destroyed. Who cares? The humans are all that matters!
Seriously. The end of the book features our "heroes" shipping the Seeker off to a flower planet so she can possess some other poor sentient creature, destroy its mind and live happily in the body she stole. It's okay! Because she's not possessing a human anymore! MORALS!
So the lesson is: enslavement, murder and rape of sentient species are NOT bad... as long as humans aren't involved.
Smeyer's creepy-ass justification seems to be that the Souls are so peaceful and pleasant, and they don't lie to each other, hurt each other, do violent stuff (except to people who resist them) and generally have an idealized utopian/communistic society that we violent dumb humans should admire. They're so nice and good to each other, that MUST mean they're good people, right?
Allow me to introduce you to another science fiction show: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is arguably the most morally ambiguous of all the Star Trek series, and it features the changelings, a race of liquid shapeshifters who can transform themselves into anything. They are a species who pride themselves in how they have greater love and appreciation for other changelings through their Great Link, how they love order and make the galaxy a better place. And of course, they come across as polite and soft-spoken people most of the time.
THEY ARE HORRIBLE PEOPLE.
As with the Goa'uld, they have bioengineered entire races into slaves who believe wholeheartedly that they are deities, just to serve as their drug-addicted foot soldiers. They conquer huge swathes of the galaxy, commit racism-based genocide on a whim, and care nothing for anyone who is not part of their race.
Yeah, they don't kill each other.
Yes, they're nice and polite to each other.
Yes, they form a harmonious society.
SO FUCKING WHAT? They're still the people who order the execution of an ENTIRE PLANET'S POPULATION as a slap on the wrist.
So no, being "nice" to your own kind is not a sign that you're wise or good, and that you just "don't understand" how speshul humans are. That's like saying, "I'm a good person because I'm nice and tolerant to people of the same religion/race/political party/country as me." The real test of being a good, wise, kind person is to exhibit those qualities to people who are different than you. It's like a Nazi talking about what a great person he is because he only brutally enslaves and murders Jews and black people, because he's just so darn nice to blonde people.
So I think I've exhausted my rage over this shitty book, and made my point: the Souls are as morally and personally repulsive as the Goa'uld, but Stephenie Meyer doesn't think that doing evil things makes you evil. She squandered a promising plot with her love of sparkly self-important parasites.
Then again, is anyone surprised?