The Puppet Masters

The Puppet Masters is a 1951 science fiction novel by American writer Robert A. Heinlein, in which American secret agents battle parasitic invaders from outer space. It was originally serialized in Galaxy Science Fiction (September, October, November 1951).

The novel evokes a sense of paranoia later captured in the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which had a similar premise. Heinlein also repeatedly makes explicit the analogy between the mind-controlling parasites and the Communist Russians, echoing the prevailing Second Red Scare in the United States.

The Puppet Masters
AuthorRobert A. Heinlein
CountryUnited States
GenreScience fiction
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)


The novel's first scene is set in 2007. Following a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the Western Bloc, which left both sides battered but unbroken, both sides return to a state of Cold War. The Soviet Union and China remain a single bloc dominated by Moscow, and the sharp Sino-Soviet split of the late 1950s never happened.

Social customs have changed somewhat, in a way typical for Heinlein's fiction (i.e. having become more liberal, such as marriage contracts being possible with fixed terms, etc.) and ray guns and personal flying cars are commonplace. Space stations exist and colonies have been established on the planet Venus.

Space technology is far more advanced than in the actual first decade of the 21st century. For example, in the last scene, a space warship is sent on a twelve-year trip to Titan, with not only life-support for a large crew, but also enough armaments — presumably nuclear — to confront an entire world on its own.

However, communications satellites have not been thought of, and television broadcasts are still limited to line-of-sight, as they were at the time of writing. This is of critical importance to the plot. The territory of the United States is divided into numerous transmission blocks, which receive television broadcasts from their neighbors and relay them onwards. When the invaders seize one of these blocks, they effectively control all communications within it and can isolate its inhabitants from the outside world, deny the central government any access to them, and consolidate control at their leisure.


Galaxy 195109
The opening installment of The Puppet Masters took the cover of the September 1951 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction

In the summer of 2007, Earth is under clandestine attack. Slug-like creatures, arriving in flying saucers, are attaching themselves to people's backs, taking control of their victims' nervous systems, and manipulating those people as puppets. The Old Man, the head of a clandestine national security agency called the Section, goes to Des Moines, Iowa, with Sam and Mary, two of his best agents, to investigate a flying saucer report, but much more seriously the ominous disappearance of the six agents sent previously. They discover that the slugs are steadily taking over Des Moines, but they cannot convince the US President to declare an emergency.

Sam takes two other agents and returns to Des Moines to get more evidence of the invasion. They fail and are obliged to leave the city quickly, but in the confusion of their fleeing the city's television center a slug sneaks onto one of the agents. Back in Washington the team discovers the slug and captures it, but later it escapes and attaches itself to Sam, using Sam's skills and knowledge to make a clean escape.

Thoroughly puppetized, Sam begins to infiltrate more slugs into the city, using the Constitution Club as a recruiting center. The Old Man captures him, takes him to Section's new headquarters, and coerces Sam into being taken by the slug again. Under drug-induced hypnosis Sam reveals that the slugs come from Titan, the sixth moon of Saturn. Being forced into a traumatic situation strains Sam's relationship with both Mary and the Old Man. Later, Sam finds that the President and Congress are ready to accept the idea that the United States has been infiltrated and they mandate a law that requires people to go naked to demonstrate that they are not carrying slugs.

As the U.S. Army prepares a counter-attack in the most heavily infested areas, Sam goes alone to Kansas City to get an estimate of the number of slugs involved. There he learns that he can kill a slug by crushing it with his hand. He also discovers that the slugs reproduce through fission. Escaping from the city, he returns to Washington too late to stop the counter-attack, which fails.

After a short leave, during which they get married and kill a slug that seems to have been targeting Sam for repossession, Sam and Mary return to work. Together with the Old Man, they go to Pass Christian, Mississippi to inspect a flying saucer that had made a bad landing. Inside the alien ship Mary is overwhelmed by repressed memories from the time she was a child on Venus and had been possessed by a slug. The slug had died from Nine-day Fever but Mary, luckily, had survived the disease.

Adopting biological warfare, the authorities culture Nine-day Fever and its cure in bulk sufficient to cover the country, and then infected slugs are allowed to escape into the heavily infested areas. Several days later thousands of medics are landed in those areas to give the cure to those people whose slugs have died. Sam and the Old Man join the effort in Jefferson City, Missouri, but the Old Man is possessed by the last healthy slug in the city and he knocks Sam out.

Sam regains consciousness in an air-car that the Old Man is flying to the Yucatán, where the slug intends to restart its effort to conquer Humanity. With the car on autopilot, the Old Man slumps over the steering wheel and the slug begins to fission so that it can possess both the Old Man and Sam. In desperation, Sam kicks the controls, causing the air-car to accelerate so sharply that the Old Man is slammed back against the seat forcefully enough to crush the slug. The air-car's emergency system mitigates the resulting crash and Sam and the Old Man wait to be rescued.

Some years later Sam and Mary board a spaceship headed for Saturn on a mission to exterminate the slugs.


  • Sam, born Elihu Nivens, is the classic Heinlein hero, multi-talented, independent, fiercely loyal to friends and an implacable enemy to foes. He is thirtyish, but has changed appearance so many times even he has doubts as to how he originally looked.
  • Mary, born Allucquere in a religious commune on Venus, is Heinlein's classic heroine. She is beautiful, red-headed, hard-nosed and brilliant. Sam describes her as having the "real redheaded saurian bony structure to her skull". Her professional exterior conceals psychological scars from her encounter with the slugs as a child. Only the Old Man knows the truth about her, thanks to the deep hypnotic analysis that all agents have to undergo.
  • The Old Man, born Andrew Nivens, is the head of a top secret government agency that he wishes did not have to exist, doing his job reluctantly because nobody else would do it properly. He represents the third of Heinlein's favorite types of character, the "wise, grumpy old man". He is the first in the line that includes Jubal Harshaw, Professor Bernardo de la Paz, Johann Sebastian Bach Smith, "Kettle Belly" Baldwin, and the later life of Lazarus Long. (Lazarus Long's grandfather, who has a major role in the later part of Time Enough for Love, is particularly similar in character to "The Old Man".)

Alternative version

Heinlein's original version of the novel was 96,000 words, and was cut to about 60,000 words for both the 1951 book version and the serialization in Galaxy Science Fiction. For the Galaxy version, editor H. L. Gold also did extensive rewriting, to which Heinlein strenuously objected.[1]

In 1990, two years after Heinlein's death, an expanded version was published with the consent of his widow, Virginia Heinlein. This edition contained material that had been cut from the original published version, because the book was deemed to be too long and controversial for the market in 1951. The uncut version seemed more risqué in 1951 than it did decades later. For example, in the uncut version the book begins with Sam waking up in bed with a blonde whom he had casually picked up the evening before, without even bothering to learn her name; the older version omitted all mention of her. The 1951 version does mention that men possessed by the invaders lost all sexual feeling — an essential element in the early parts of the plot; the original publisher completely cut out a reference to the "puppet masters" later discovering human sexuality and embarking upon wild orgies, broadcast live on television in the areas under their control.


Boucher and McComas characterized The Puppet Masters as "a thunderously exciting melodrama of intrigue", noting that Heinlein displayed "not only his usual virtues of clear logic, rigorous detail-work, and mastery of indirect exposition", but also unexpected virtues like "a startling facility in suspense devices [and] a powerful ingenuity in plotting".[2] P. Schuyler Miller, noting that the novel's "climactic situations seem to be telegraphed", suggested that Heinlein presented his background situations so effectively that readers solve the story's mysteries more quickly than Heinlein allowed his characters to.[3] In his "Books" column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Damon Knight selected the novel as one of the 10 best SF books of the 1950s.[4]

The book was also reviewed in the 1951 Jun 15 issue of Kirkus Reviews. The reviewer wrote,

The recurrent enigma of the flying saucer is finally solved when an aerial pieplate is caught with its exhaust down by the F.B.I. of 2007. Hero Sam penetrates the contaminated area, brings a ‘master' back — a gelatinous gray mass which attaches itself to a soldier's body and controls his thought processes. Sam and his girl spot further landings, plan a counter campaign and eventually are able to rid the solar system of its parasites. Exciting, even if it exacts a strong stomach.[5]

Foreign publications

  • 1952, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (I Romanzi di Urania #5), digest (160 pp), Il terrore dalla sesta luna (The Terror from the Sixth Moon).[6]
  • 1954, France, Gallimard (Le Rayon Fantastique #25), paperback (253 pp), as Marionnettes humaines (Human Puppets).[6][7]
  • 1955, Spain, E.D.H.A.S.A. (Nebulae #1), paperback (299 pp), Titán invade la Tierra (Titan Invades the Earth).[6][7]
  • 1956, Japan, Gengen-sha (Saishin kagaku shōsetsu zenshū #2), paperback, Ningyō Tsukai (Haunted Dolls).[6][7]
  • 1957, Germany, Weiss, hardback (267 pp), Weltraummollusken erobern die Erde (Space Molluscs Conquer the Earth).[6][7]
  • 1959, Denmark, Skrifola (Lommeromanen #75), paperback (150 pp), Universitets Parasitter (The Universe Parasites).[6][7]
  • 1963, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (Omnibus #4662), hardback anthology, Il terrore dalla sesta luna (The Terror from the Sixth Moon).[7]
  • 1965, Germany, Heyne (Heyne Science Fiction & Fantasy #3043), paperback (172 pp), Weltraummollusken erobern die Erde (Space Molluscs Conquer the Earth).[6]
  • 1967, The Netherlands, Bruna (Bruna SF #22), paperback (222 pp), De Marionetten Zijn Onder Ons (The Puppets Are Among Us).[6][7]
  • 1973, Sweden, B. Wahlströms bokförlag (Kalla kårar #21), paperback (159 pp), Styrd av det onda (Controlled by Evil).
  • 1976, Brazil, Livros do Brasil (Argonauta #226), Os Manipuladores (The Handlers).[7]
  • 1983, Italy, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore (Classici Urania #74), paperback (240 pp), Il terrore dalla sesta luna (The Terror from the Sixth Moon).[7]
  • 1987, Spain, Edisan, hardback, Amos de Títeres (Masters of Puppets).[7]
  • 1995, France, Denoël (Présence du Futur #159), paperback (363 pp), Les Maîtres du Monde (The Masters of the World).[7]

Publication history

An extensive list of the novel's publications can be found on the Internet Speculative Fiction DataBase at (Retrieved 2014 Oct 23)


The Brain Eaters, a 1958 science fiction film directed by Bruno VeSota, bore a number of similarities to Heinlein's novel. Heinlein sued the film's producers, including Executive Producer Roger Corman, for plagiarism, asking $150,000 in damages. The case was settled out of court for $5000, which included Heinlein's stipulation that his name not be used on screen or in any way with the production. The case halted actor John Payne's intention of producing a film based on Heinlein's novel.

The theme of the novel is echoed in "The Invisibles", an episode of The Outer Limits aired in 1964, and also in "Operation: Annihilate!", the last episode of the first season of Star Trek in 1967. Similarly, in the story line begun in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Coming of Age" and completed in "Conspiracy", aliens from a faraway sector invade the bodies of high-ranking Starfleet admirals in an attempt to compromise the command structure and spearhead an invasion of Earth.

The novel was adapted, with some plot and character changes, into the 1994 film of the same name. The film followed the story rather closely, except for the setting changed to modern-day, thus losing most of the advanced technology, but it was not successful with either the critics or the public.



  1. ^ Giuseppe Lippi (introduction) (1990). Il terrore dalla sesta luna. Mondadori. ISBN 8804341033.
  2. ^ "Recommended Reading," The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, February 1952, p.105
  3. ^ "The Reference Library", Astounding Science Fiction, March 1952, pp.159
  4. ^ "Books", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, April 1960, p.99
  5. ^ Found in the Kirkus Reviews archive at Retrieved 2014 Oct 27
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pg. 215. ISBN 0-911682-20-1
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Internet Speculative Fiction Database at (Retrieved 2014 Oct 23)


  • Clute, John, and David Pringle. "Heinlein, Robert A." The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Eds. John Clute, David Langford, Peter Nicholls and Graham Sleight. Gollancz, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2014. <>.
  • Holdstock, Robert, Ed., Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, London: Cathay Books, Pg. 109, ISBN 0-86178-186-4, 1978.
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. pg. 215. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
  • Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies: American Science Fiction Films of the Fifties, 21st Century Edition. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009. ISBN 0-89950-032-3.

External links

21st Saturn Awards

The 21st Saturn Awards, honoring the best in science fiction, fantasy and horror film and television in 1994, was held on June 26, 1995.

Below is a complete list of nominees and winners. Winners are highlighted in boldface.

Bruce Jarchow

Bruce Jarchow (born May 19, 1948) is an American film and television actor, most notable for his role as Lyle Ferguson in the film Ghost.

Additional television guest appearances include recurring roles in Seinfeld, Married... with Children, Weird Science, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, The Norm Show, What About Joan, Desperate Housewives and According to Jim. Jarchow has also had minor parts in several films, starting in the early 1980s. His most prominent roles are those in Somewhere in Time, Continental Divide, The Puppet Masters, Outbreak and Music from Another Room.

Deep Rising

Deep Rising is a 1998 American action horror film directed by Stephen Sommers and starring Treat Williams, Famke Janssen and Anthony Heald. It was distributed by Hollywood Pictures and Cinergi Pictures and released on January 30, 1998.

Eric Thal

Eric Thal (born August 10, 1965) is an American film and stage actor, perhaps best known as Ariel in Sidney Lumet's A Stranger Among Us; Sam Nivens in The Puppet Masters; Samson in Samson and Delilah; Meade Howell in The Wedding; and Rick in Six Degrees of Separation.

Greg Cannom

Greg Cannom is a Hollywood special makeup effects artist. Cannom has been nominated for nine Academy Awards and has won three times. He has also been nominated for seven Saturn Awards and received one.

Human possession in science fiction

Human possession in science fiction is an extension within science-fiction literature and film of the mythology of human possession found in many cultures throughout human history. Typically, possession in science fiction involves extraterrestrial parasitic organisms that can take control of a human host. During the Cold War era in the western world, this was often a metaphor for the threat of communism.

Julian Scott Urena

Julian Scott Urena is a Dominican actor.

Urena has appeared in films including Mixed Blood, Spike of Bensonhurst, the James Ivory directed Slaves of New York, The Bronx War, Falling Down, Return of the Living Dead 3, The Puppet Masters, The Pest, Get Smart, American Flyer and most recently playeing the lead in Mark Christensen's "North By El Norte".

Television appearances include Jake and the Fatman and The Shield. He can also be seen in In the Company of Sinners which screened at the Monaco Charity Film Festival, Glass Tops, Shy and Something About Jack. He has also voiced three audio books, McKnight's Memory, Rock Star Rising (aka Hard Rock Lovers) and "The Mexican Swimmer" in which he played all the characters (7 plus).

He has appeared on stage in both New York and Los Angeles in productions, including Zeth Zvi Rosenfeld's The Writing on the Wall, Side Show, Homeboy, The King of Dominos, He Who Gets Slapped, The Watermelon Factory, Hips, The Have Little, Chingon and in Beverly Lloyd's Shallow Breathing.

Urena appeared as a series regular on the Web Series Caribe Road and in the Fox TV series Gang Related and Castle for ABC.

Julie Warner

Juliet Mia "Julie" Warner (born February 9, 1965) is an American actress.

Lurton Blassingame

Lurton Blassingame (February 10, 1904 – April 1988) was an American literary agent.

He was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas and went to Columbia University where he studied writing. His Master's thesis was based on the history of pulp fiction.

His first job was as a writer in Hollywood. From that job he moved on to found the American Library Foundation with William Allen in 1937.

He was the literary agent for Frank Herbert, Robert A. Heinlein, John Barth, William F. Nolan, and Rosemary Taylor. His public relations firm named Houston Branch Associates was sold to Eleanor Wood's Spectrum Literary Agency in 1978.In 1951, author Robert A. Heinlein dedicated his science fiction book The Puppet Masters "to Lurton Blassingame". He also used Blassingame as a "care-of" address for form letter responses to fans.

In 1980, literary agent Kirby McCauley dedicated his horror anthology Dark Forces to Blassingame "with admiration and affection".

Heinlein's posthumous 1989 book Grumbles from the Grave consists of his letters. There are more letters to Blassingame than any other correspondent. (And some of Blassingames's letters to Heinlein are included.)

Parasites in fiction

Parasites appear frequently in biology-inspired fiction from ancient times onwards, with a flowering in the nineteenth century. These include intentionally disgusting alien monsters in science fiction films, often with analogues in nature. Authors and scriptwriters have to some extent exploited parasite biology: lifestyles including parasitoid, behaviour-altering parasite, brood parasite, parasitic castrator, and many forms of vampire are found in books and films. Some fictional parasites, like Count Dracula and Alien's Xenomorphs, have become well known in their own right.

Puppet Master

Puppet Master or Puppetmaster may refer to:

A puppeteer

Robert A. Heinlein bibliography

The science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein (1907–1988) was productive during a writing career that spanned the last 49 years of his life; the Robert A. Heinlein bibliography includes 32 novels, 59 short stories and 16 collections published during his life. Four films, two TV series, several episodes of a radio series, and a board game derive more or less directly from his work. He wrote a screenplay for one of the films. Heinlein edited an anthology of other writers' SF short stories.

Three non-fiction books and two poems have been published posthumously. One novel has been published posthumously and another, an unusual collaboration, was published in 2006. Four collections have been published posthumously.

Heinlein's fictional works can be found in the library under PS3515.E288, or under Dewey 813.54. Known pseudonyms include Anson MacDonald (7 times), Lyle Monroe (7), John Riverside (1), Caleb Saunders (1), and Simon York (1). All the works originally attributed to MacDonald, Saunders, Riverside and York, and many of the works originally attributed to Lyle Monroe, were later reissued in various Heinlein collections and attributed to Heinlein.

Symbiosis in fiction

Symbiosis (mutualism) appears in fiction, especially science fiction, as a plot device. It is distinguished from parasitism in fiction, a similar theme, by the mutual benefit to the organisms involved, whereas the parasite inflicts harm on its host.

The Puppet Masters (film)

The Puppet Masters is a 1994 science fiction film, adapted by Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio and David S. Goyer from Robert A. Heinlein's 1951 novel of the same title, in which a trio of American government agents attempts to thwart a covert invasion of Earth by mind-controlling alien parasites. The film was directed by Stuart Orme and stars Donald Sutherland, Eric Thal, Keith David, Julie Warner and Andrew Robinson.

Tom Mason (actor)

Thomas Raymond Mason is an American actor.

He began his television career in 1977, portraying Rex Stout's fictional detective Archie Goodwin in the ABC-TV movie Nero Wolfe. His subsequent TV credits include the series Grandpa Goes to Washington, Freebie and the Bean (1980), George Washington (1984), Our Family Honor (1985–1986), Jack and Mike (1986–1987), Party of Five (1994–2000), The Bedford Diaries (2006) and The Black Donnellys (2007). Mason's episodic credits include Law & Order, The Practice, 100 Centre Street and The Sopranos.

Mason's film credits include Apocalypse Now (1979), The Aliens Are Coming (1980), Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1983), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Men Don't Leave (1990), F/X2 (1991), Jonathan: The Boy Nobody Wanted (1992), The Amy Fisher Story (1993), Final Appeal (1993), Greedy (1994), Flashfire (1994), The Puppet Masters (1994), Brooklyn Lobster (2005) and Flags of Our Fathers (2006).

In the HBO television movie, Too Big to Fail (2011), Mason portrayed AIG chairman and CEO Bob Willumstad.

Virginia Heinlein

Virginia "Ginny" Heinlein (April 22, 1916 – January 18, 2003), born Virginia Doris Gerstenfeld, was a chemist, biochemist, engineer, and the third wife of Robert A. Heinlein, a prominent and successful author often considered as one of the "Big Three" of science fiction (along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke).

William Goldenberg

William Goldenberg (born November 2, 1959) is an American film editor. He has more than twenty film and television credits since 1992. He won the Academy Award for Best Film Editing for the film Argo (2012), and has been nominated for The Insider (1999), Seabiscuit (2003), Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Imitation Game (2014). He has also received nominations for nine other editing-related awards.Goldenberg has had an extended, notable collaboration with the director Michael Mann.

Goldenberg has been elected to membership in the American Cinema Editors.

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.