Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Murray Leinster's The Invaders

The Invaders is a 1953 novella (at a stretch you could call it a short novel) by Murray Leinster (1896-1975). Leinster is a science fiction writer who deserves a lot more attention.

The Invaders is (obviously) an alien invasion story. This was 1953, with the UFO craze getting into top gear, and the saucer-shaped alien spacecraft are clearly an attempt to cash in on this. It’s also a story with obvious resemblances to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters. Heinlein’s novel was published in 1951 and Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers appeared in 1954. The aliens in The Invaders look just like us. They’re totally non-human but they can make themselves look thoroughly human.

The Invaders, like Heinlein’s and Finney’s novels, has something of a Cold War atmosphere.

The Invaders begins in Greece. Coburn is an American. He witnesses a Bulgarian raid into Greek territory. It’s not a full-scale invasion but it’s a large-scale raid intended to provoke the Greeks. Coburn runs into a British reporter named Dillon and a pretty American girl named Janice. What Coburn witnesses is extremely puzzling. In fact it just doesn’t seem possible.

Coburn finds that he can draw only one conclusion. There are alien invaders on Earth. Aliens from outer space. But is it likely that anyone will believe him?

This is of course a setup that has been used countless times. The hero knows the truth but can’t get anyone to listen to him. This book does however throw in a twist. It’s not Coburn’s veracity that comes under question, but his motivations.

The question of course is the intention of the aliens. Coburn has no doubts about this. They want to take over the Earth.

The aliens have other advantages aside from their ability to look human. They have highly advanced technology. The latest American fighter jets are helpless against therm. The latest guided missiles are of no use.

Coburn has one factor on his side. He has figured out a way to recognise the aliens.

It all sounds like a thoroughly conventional alien invasion story but Leinster wasn’t interested in just churning out completely predictable pulp science fiction. He has some plot twists up his sleeve. The motivations of the aliens remain nicely mysterious. The outcome of the confrontation between Earth and an alien civilisation remains in doubt until the very end.

There’s some action, and it doesn’t always play out predictably.

The Cold War angle adds further complications.

This might not be one of the great alien invasion stories but it holds a fair bit of interest and it captures some of the mood of the time, when people first started seriously considering the possibility of extraterrestrial life and were starting to speculate about the forms such life might take, and the potentially momentous consequences of contact with alien cultures. Plenty of alien invasion stories had been written before this time but the early 50s was the time that aliens started to seem like maybe they might be more than science fiction.

Not quite a neglected classic, but worth a look.

Armchair Fiction have paired this one with Laurence Manning’s World of the Mist (which is quite good) in one of their two-novel paperback editions.

The Del Rey paperback collection The Best of Murray Leinster includes most of his notable short stories and is very much worth getting hold of.


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  2. Unrelated with the 60s TV series?

    1. Yeah, apart from the fact that both deal with alien invasions there's no connection with the TV series.