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The Puppet Masters    by Robert A. Heinlein order for
Puppet Masters
by Robert A. Heinlein
Order:  USA  Can
Del Rey, 1994 (1951)
Paperback, Audio
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Take a spy thriller with a rollercoaster of action, a (somewhat dated now) romance and invasion by telepathic parasitical aliens - the result is The Puppet Masters, one of my favorite Heinlein stories, along with Door Into Summer. The good guys work for a super secret U.S. spy agency, and the main protagonist is Elihu Nivens (we meet him as Sam Cavanaugh but he changes appearance and identity at the whim of his shrewd and manipulative boss).

Sam is partnered with Mary, a smart and lovely redhead. Together they investigate a UFO sighting. They soon discover that people are being taken over by parasitic slugs from Titan, who attach to the top of their spines, forming humps on their shoulders. After capturing a slug, Sam is volunteered to become an experimental subject and learns a great deal about them, while under their control, including the key fact that they communicate telepathically.

Of course, Sam and Mary do eventually save the world, after many twists and turns of plot that are more common now, but unusual when this story was written. It's a great romance too - Sam initially drools over Mary, but learns quickly to value her skills and courage. Their relationship has its ups and downs, but they both have a strong basic integrity that sees them through. The best character in the book, though, is the sneaky, conniving spymaster Old Man.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've read this story - it's a grand adventure with no pretensions, the best of Heinlein. I'm about to recommend it to my teenage son - after I re-read it again myself!

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