Right and Wrong Ways to Use Suspension of Disbelief

I have a confession. I’ve read most of the first book of Twilight. I was still in college, with a five hour break before my next class, and as I wandered through the school bookstore the cover caught my eye and I decided to see if it was as bad as the hype said it was.

It was pretty bad, so instead of reading the rest of the series I read Mark Reads Twilight instead for hilarious and thought provoking reviews. That way I knew enough about it to engage in pop culture and understand the appeal but also had a solid base for critiquing it.

The internet raged with debates about it and mocking those who enjoyed the series, and I’ve generally put the whole thing out of my mind since it became so tiresome. Then, this weekend, to escape the heat I spent the afternoon roaming around my local Barnes and Noble.

I hit all my usual spots – bargains, cookbooks, crafting, role playing games, and my guilty foray into young adult fiction. What can I say – even though those books can be cheesy and ridiculous, authors like John Green give me hope for finding good ones.

And what did I see on the shelf but a new Stephanie Meyer book, titled The Host. With the sun still sweltering outside and my usual spots to find books tapped out, I picked it up and found a comfy chair to waste some time. I got through a chapter and a half before rolling my eyes and putting it back.

It’s a science fiction story, which got me interested. From what I could tell, it was about an alien race whose personality and memories are inserted into bodies and take them over. There’s a group of humans that resist them, and the story follows one of those rebels that has an alien inserted into her, but doesn’t give up control.

Ok, this has some potential. I’m interested in these parasitic aliens; the one put in the protagonist has apparently been in 6 different species – are these aliens the masters of some galactic empire? (the original owners of the bodies cease to exist, so I’m doubting this is a voluntary thing, and the existence of rebels supports that) How did they gain the ability to have all of their personality and memory contained in a liquid that attaches itself to the spinal cord of a body and takes it over? How did humans come to be subjugated?

This sounds like a mix of the Trill from Star Trek and the ascended Ancients from Stargate , except now seeming pretty evil, and set in a dystopian future.  Excellent!

I was roundly disappointed as I looked through the covers and skimmed a couple of reviews to find that this was pegged as a novel about a “peace-loving alien” in a girl’s body, with the original girl, the alien, and a guy falling into a love triangle.

While I admit that I haven’t read the book, I’m going to go ahead and guess that none of the questions I had up there get answered. *sigh* So much potential.But that wasn’t what had me put the book down, since I didn’t look into that until I did some research for this post.

It started with me noticing that the syntax was a little stilted, like someone had overused a thesaurus, and that the third person narration sounded exactly like the first person narration. That’s a little weird, since the characters should have their own voice, but I put it aside since I was curious about the setting.

The point where I decided that I was done with this book was when it broke my suspension of disbelief. I was entirely ready to accept empire-building parasitic aliens that exist as a goop [added to the list of questions: how did they conquer their first species?] and take over bodies.

But when the book enters first person narration from the point of view of the alien, she seems confused with the emotions in the memories of her host. Granted, it’s a pretty traumatic memory, but the alien seems bewildered by the emotions themselves. We just saw the doctor, assistant, and medical students – also aliens in human bodies – express emotion, and the one inhabiting the protagonist has been through 6 other hosts and their memories. This just doesn’t make sense.

I tried to make it a little further, but I couldn’t get past the alien listening to the doctor and assistant argue and think about how she’d never heard something like that before. What?

Don’t get me wrong; one of my favorite shows has a man flying through space and time in a phone box that is bigger on the inside and saving the world from aliens that seem particularly fixated on destroying London. Along the way he’s inadvertently made someone immortal, accidentally sent a friend and a clone to a parallel universe , and battled everything from headless Jedi monks to quantum locked beings disguised as statues that are rock when being observed but if you blink will send you back in time and feast on your potential energy.

I wasn’t exaggerating, these guys have lightsabers.

But the characters are recognizable since even the aliens act in ways that I can relate to, and I can understand their motivations and emotions. The rest of it just falls into science fiction: I expect to find unbelievable things when I watch or read this genre, but not unbelievable characters.

Ah well. It might be for the best that I couldn’t finish The Host. With a premise of a love-triangle between a girl, the girl inside that girl, and a guy, there’s probably room for a whole lot of creepiness there. Meyer has already written about a guy falling in love with a girl and, when rejected, falling in love with her baby girl and promising to be the baby’s older brother figure until she’s old enough to be romantically involved with him. I’m not sure I want to see what she does with a two-person-in-one-body scenario.

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