An alien race of tiny centipedes has taken over the unsuspecting earthlings by hijacking their bodies. These alien centipedes, called ‘souls’, deemed the earthlings too violent as a reason of this annexation. Through covert means, these souls have captured most of the human bodies walking the earth, like they did on other planets which supported life, effectively turning earth into another ‘colony’ of centipedes. Ironically, these souls are peace loving and the kind of society which they create is something straight out of John Lennon’s dreams.
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
However, a cabal of select cynical people do manage to escape when they notice that “… the evening news was nothing but inspiring human-interest stories, when pedophiles and junkies were lining up at the hospitals to turn themselves in, when everything morphed into Mayberry…” Constantly on a run and ever vigilant, these humans raided host inhabitations for food and other necessary things, and occasionally abducted a few hosts to try and pull the centipedes out of the host bodies.
Melanie and her brother Jamie had been fending for themselves for quite some time when Jared had found her. Being the sole human known to Melanie other than her brother, Melanie falls in love with him, as Jared falls for her. Melanie receives news that another human known to her might still be living and holed up somewhere in enemy territory. It is when she tries to rescue her friend, she lands in enemy hands and her body is made host to the ‘soul’ named ‘Wanderer’. Wanderer had been to different planets and never stayed at one, which had earned it such a name.
Somehow, human minds which were aware of this intrusion could put up resistance to such control and even though Melanie’s mind has been stripped of the control over her body, she prevails as a loud and annoying noise in Wanderer’s head. Melanie’s mind is powerful enough to block access to critical information on the only two other survivors she knows, but through a controlled release of her intense love for Jared, Melanie manages to subdue Wanderer’s onslaughts. With a flood of visions of the man Melanie loved, Wanderer is filled with similar wants and when it gets too much to bear, she leaves behind her community and goes out in search of Jared, a hot headed ‘Seeker’ hot on her heels.
She does find him, and many other survivors living under wraps in secret. Jared had found them while Melanie was gone. But this is where all the trouble starts. Wanderer cannot tell why she has come, nor can she tell that Melanie still lives inside her. She is kept under strict observation and would have been killed the moment she was found had it not been her uncle Jeb, who is different from the rest and also owns the hideout. Wanderer and Melanie must find a way to convince others of their noble intentions and try to win back Jared and Jamie.
Now I don’t wish to break it out to you, but then it shouldn’t be too hard to guess what happens next. The story doesn’t have many twists and turns of a thriller. It isn’t a thriller, and the mundane details of what Wanderer does, how people treat her, how perceptions change as familiarity increases, it is all there in placid and vivid detail. Stephanie does have an appetite for explaining the obvious, but the good thing is, we don’t stop often to notice the obvious until someone puts a finger on it. And then it is all gone.
It is a typical human settlement, despite the oddities of circumstance. What Stephanie has done with a handful of humans is true irrespective of the count. First, we tend to hate others who deny us something vital, the right to survive and independence being transgressed upon here. Then, acclimatization happens and though there are pangs of pain and anger, and we might do something foolish in such fits, routine follows. We get used to challenges and what Doug Henning said comes true, with Darwinian Law of survival serving as a catalyst.
“The hard must become habit.
The habit must become easy.
The easy must become beautiful.”
Wanderer is an outsider at first, loathed and feared at the same time for belonging to the race that had usurped not only the right of humans to inhabit earth, but also to live freely. Wanderer, through her acts of ‘humaneness’ (ironical for a non-human) wins over many hearts and their belief. Jamie accepts her wholeheartedly, and does not differentiate between Melanie and Wanderer. Ian falls in love with Wanderer, and as hard as it may be to believe, he says he loves the Wanderer and not her body which belongs to Melanie. Later, he tells her how beautiful she looked when he held her in his palms.
Jared loved Melanie and his actions confused me, was he loving Melanie or Wanderer? I guess he did start to love Wanderer too and said the truth in the guise of the lie Wanderer asked him to tell.
Jeb is a rather curious character, a man who is ever cynical of humans but implicitly trusts an alien when everyone doubted Wanderer. Though this might be to satisfy his curiosity about aliens which he could not have known by merely observing them from a distance, but he does demonstrate great compassion and the ability to keep his head clear when others lost theirs. He might as well fit into the Rudyard Kipling’s allegory of being a Man.
The seeker though alien, shows yet another human angle, of pretending. The seeker’s host was a loudmouth and constantly yelling at her from the inside. So it might be obvious that she inherited her belligerent nature and haughtiness from her host. But the fact that she was terrified of failing, and that she wanted to see how Wanderer did it so that she could also subdue her host’s mind, is nothing but human. She did not want others to see her as a failure and she did keep up with the pretense. But inside she was scared, perhaps more than Wanderer and Melanie.
Through Melanie and Wanderer, Stephanie tries to show that violence can be a natural outcome of love. The way she wanted to hit Kyle when he said ‘People die’ while Jamie was sick, it was not Melanie, but Wanderer who thought so, and the souls had not known violence as being innate before.
Stephanie’s choice of aliens of different worlds isn’t something out of the world. Bears, bats, spiders and flowers aren’t too ingenious, but they do serve the purpose of being kind on imagination and also saves the author the pain to paint a morphed ensemble of many life forms in our heads. The premise of such a claim is that humans have evolved over time adapting themselves to the requirements of their environment, so have bears and spiders of our planet. So it is highly unlikely that there would be environments suitable only for bears on some other planet and they don’t evolve out of what they are on earth. Also, I think that an opposable thumb is a necessity to do many things like building a spaceship and cryogenic tanks which spiders cannot do, at least when they are not collaborating. But it is just me, and because the story is meant to be simple and the central element of the entire story disregards the shape of aliens, it is a benign allusion.
The author makes a distinction between mind and body that the two can be separate and must be appreciated separately should situations like the ones in the story arise. Since Stephanie believes that love is the best part of any story, she makes no one a clear villain in her story. There’s the wanderer who knows no limit to loving others and can push herself too far, even to self-abnegation and on the contrary lie about her age just to get a taste of love, or rather its lust part. I don’t know what to think of, other than to pity her sometimes.
This story also shows how boring the life would be if the society became what the centipedes made it, what people with great ideals talk about all the time. But in the same breath, let me be clear that the world cannot be given up as a hopeless case. The push and pull has to remain or else, it would still be a boring place to live, whatever the extreme.
Overall, the story isn’t out of the world. The language is plain yet clean. No loose strings are left in the end, which makes me wonder how can someone dream so coherently? It gets a little frustrating because of the author’s belaboring effort to make it sing. This story is good enough to be told to little girls, but I doubt if the older ones would like it. But let’s leave that decision to them. In my opinion, if I am warned about what is going to befall if I start this, I’d rather not read it.
P.S. Yes, the last part was written in haste. But that is exactly how I finished the book too. :P
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