“This place was truly the highest and the lowest of all worlds - the most beautiful senses, the most exquisite emotions.. the most malevolent desires, the darkest deeds. Perhaps it was meant to be so. Perhaps without the lows, the highs could not be reached.”
― Stephenie Meyer, The Host
Did you know that you can send a Roomba to its manufacturer to be repaired?
You would think that the more sensible option would simply be to get a new Roomba if the one you have is malfunctioning, and of course, this is covered by the warranty that comes with the little vacuum bot. But people are strange. We get attached to the strangest things and assign them human qualities when we know they have none. People treat their Roombas like pets or little friends, and can’t bear to part with them if they break because it feels like a betrayal. Why? There are so many different theories, from psychological projection to the instinctual need to protect things that seem to have similar qualities to our young, but none of them have ever managed to completely explain the odd phenomenon of humans assigning humanity to the inhuman.
This has always fascinated me because it begs a bigger question; what does it mean to be human? Is it simply our descriptor for our species? That can’t be true, as there are so many examples, both real and fictional, of this humanizing of the inhuman. It’s one of the most popular topics of literature throughout history, and it is this same inexplicable quality of humanity that has attracted me to a very specific sub-genre of science fiction, and what inspired me to write my own first novel. It is also what drew me to one of my favorite books of all time, The Host.
The Host, by Stephenie Meyer, was published in 2008 and was apparently written during her breaks in editing Eclipse of the Twilight series. According to the author’s note at the end of the book, a particularly boring car trip through Arizona sparked the idea of an alien being that takes control of a human’s body and falls in love with the human’s boyfriend. This idea grabbed her interest so completely that she had to write it down at the earliest opportunity, fleshing it out over time until it became this gorgeous, intricate story about how love and life go on at the end of the world.
The story of The Host is that of Melanie, a human refugee on the run in a post-alien-invasion world, who is captured and becomes the host of Wanderer. Wanderer is a member of the alien race called the Souls who live by invading and taking over the bodies of their host species. As far as both sides knew, once you’re captured and have a Soul inside of you, you disappear. Forever.
But Wanderer is surprised to find that Melanie is still very much present, and through her memories and her influence, comes to care for her little brother and her lover, who are still on the run. Melanie wants to know that they are safe, and Wanderer can no longer bear the idea of them disappearing, with strangers walking around with their faces. Forming a reluctant alliance, Wanderer and Melanie set out to find them, and find so much more than they could have hoped for.
I first read this book who knows how many years ago, in ebook form because it was something that my grandmother picked up and decided to read, leaving it on the Kindle that she sent to me one Christmas. It was probably far above my reading level at the time, but given that I’d read literally every book my mother had in the house and have become increasingly annoying in asking her for new material, she didn’t particularly mind my reading it. I must have read it in the span of about a day, and cried when I finished it because I’d fallen so absolutely and completely in love with this story and with its fascinating cast of characters.
The Host is an excellent example of everything I love about humanity and everything I hate about it. It delves into the depths of depravity that hide within our society, points out its glaring faults, and shows us what a society without any of these flaws would look like, and in a surprising twist on the genre, it makes this society look appealing. But it also explores the height of human ingenuity and persistence, gives us heroes in a fallen world to root for, showing us how they pull themselves out of despair and desperation while still forming communities against all odds. Unusually but excitingly, it also gives them the compassion to see things from the other side of the fight.
Meyer has done a beautiful job of exploring what a real war for the survival of our species would look like, and how we would react on an individual and community level. Her world is personal and vast. It is character-driven, and it is world-focused. It is about the entire galaxy and every possible corner of it full of new, exciting forms of life, and it is about a desert in Arizona that you can nearly smell the dry winds blowing through on a cold night, staring up at twin stars through cave cracks. It is Wanderer, the alien on the faraway planet, and it is Melanie, scared and alone at the end of the world. It is a huge story told on a small scale, and I think it is beyond beautiful to see the whole universe through Wanderer and Melanie's eyes.