Monday, January 12, 2009

Monsters of the mind




A reliable staple of horror is having one’s mind controlled by some other entity. This can be another person, a creature of some kind or an entire race, and it can be either within or outside the person being controlled. I was wondering whether this could work in a fantasy context as well.

Science fiction features a vast array of mind-controllers, from Robert Heinlein’s Puppetmasters to Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. The Borg from Star Trek are another good example, though their extensive reconfiguration of the body tends to overshadow the mind-control aspect.

One thing I love about science fiction is that such controllers come in all shapes and types. I think Jack L. Chalker’s Well World series features a sentient virus which dominates anyone it infects, and Star Trek has had some sluglike creatures which do the same thing.

In contrast, the only such creatures from fantasy that came to mind right away were the illithids of Dungeons and Dragons. I’ve come across one or two other mentions of parasites which take over the host’s mind, but these weren’t fleshed out or given any unique features.

While I haven’t read The Host, the premise of it is intriguing because the alien invaders (called “souls”), genuinely believe that they are doing good by controlling the human capacity for violence. Too often, stories don’t give anyone who practices mind control this much benefit of the doubt. Instead, writers often have such people or creatures resorting to brainwashing to further their own predatory and rapacious goals.

But what if they had no choice in the matter? The souls of The Host need human bodies to survive, and likewise other species may not choose to mentally dominate anyone near them. It may simply be a feature of their biology, one which they can’t control any more than we can change our height or warm-bloodedness. Perhaps some such inadvertent puppetmasters would feel responsible for anyone falling under their sway and would treat them well, though others would not.

Or perhaps the manipulation is more subtle. Controllers who didn’t want to be either treated with hostility or exposed for what they were might be very careful. Rather than openly controlling other people, they might simply introduce intuitions or suggestions into other people’s minds. As a result, they might do genuine good, or be considered useful by people in a position of power.

And to take it one step further, what if the host chose to be controlled? I can’t see myself giving up part of me to an alien or fantasy race of any kind. But I can see myself doing the same thing if someone I loved very much was dying, and the only way to preserve some small part of them was to allow their mind into my body. If the only alternative was to lose that person entirely, undergoing a voluntary version of multiple personality disorder would not be so bad in comparison.

Or at least it might not seem that way at the start…

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On another note, I took the "What font are you?" test. Turns out I am Impact, "the preferred font of LOLCats everywhere. A little dark. A little narrow. That's because you spend too much time in front of your computer." That, and coming from South Asia.

8 comments:

kimmirich said...

Good Monday morning, Marian. Just popping in to let you know you're the winner of The Unbreakable Child book give-a-way on my blog. Send an addy and I'll mail as soon as I get.
hugs

Marian said...

Yay! :)

Thanks again.

Randall said...

The "agreeing to let a loved one ride in your mind to avoid them dying" bit is, of course, the plot of Tanya Huff's Fifth Quarter and No Quarter.

Marian said...

I just completed another blog post about how there are no new ideas. :)

Pink Ink said...

I loved Sci-Fi, too, growing up. The implausible made plausible, the ethical questions...

GunnerJ said...

The idea of a mind controller who can't control it is really cool. Perhaps they're not even aware of animals that can't control minds as being sentient at all, and see humans as raw material or chattel. They roll through, sucking people into their thrall, and don't even realize how the subject of their control might respond because to them, it's as natural as picking up a hammer or mounting a horse.

colbymarshall said...

I tried really hard to read the Host, but I couldn't get into it. Maybe will come back to it sometimes and see if it makes more sense after a break from it.

Marian said...

Hey Colby,

I've read criticisms of the writing in The Host, so it's not at the top of my to-be-read list. But I did like the idea of parasitic aliens who genuinely believed they were doing good by possessing people.