Communion Of Dreams

And here I thought Heinlein was just a dirty old man…

By the time the dose of tempus was wearing off I had a picture of the United States in a shape that I had not imagined even when I was in Kansas City – a country undergoing Terror. Friend might shoot friend; wife denounce husband. Rumor of a titan could drum up a mob on any street, with Judge Lynch baying in the van. To rap on a door at night was to invite a blast through the door. Honest folk stayed home; at night the dogs were out.

The fact that most of the rumored discoveries of slugs were baseless made them no less dangerous. It was not exhibitionism which caused many people to prefer outright nudity to the tight and scanty clothing permitted under Schedule Sun Tan; even the skimpiest clothing invited a doubtful second look, a suspicion that might be decided too abruptly. The head-and-spine armor was never worn now; the slugs had faked it and used it almost at once.

That’s from Chapter XXIV of The Puppet Masters, the 1951 classic from Robert A. Heinlein.

It’s been a number of years since I last read the book – I think I read it prior to the release of the movie adaptation in 1994, but not since, so there were parts of the book which I didn’t remember. I had honestly forgotten that the alien invaders had come from Titan, for example – which is funny, since most of Communion of Dreams takes place there. And I forgot that Heinlein sets the book firmly in our current time – the first part of it is in July, 2007.

But what I hadn’t forgotten was the basic story line: alien invasion by quickly-reproducing “slugs” that can attach themselves to the human nervous system and completely control their hosts, using the full knowledge and abilities of those hosts. That made an impression on me when I first read the book in early adolescence. Scared the hell out of me.

What also made an impression was the above bit – the nudity. Hey, I was a hormone-soaked early teen. The idea of society quickly changing such that everyone would run around naked was . . . interesting.

When I re-read the book later (first semester of college at Grinnell – which so happened to be where the first bit of the book is set) and then again in advance of the movie, I just considered this bit to be part of Heinlein’s usual casual sexual tweaking of convention. It was no big deal, but I always just considered him of something of a ‘dirty old man’ who was looking for an excuse to get naked people into his books.

But now . . . well, I have to reconsider. He certainly nailed what people are like when frightened, and how that can have an impact on social mores. Consider my recent post about how willing some folks are to put up with the new security scanners and “enhanced pat downs,” and that’s just because of the *possibility* that these security procedures might make them marginally safer when flying. What if there was a massive threat which could be fought by shedding our clothes? People’d peel, and damned quickly.

So, Heinlein may indeed have just been something of a dirty old man. But he was also something of a prophet.

Jim Downey

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