'Body Snatchers' Argues Resistance Isn't Futile Thriller writer James Rollins says Jack Finney's McCarthy-era pulp classic — unlike the movies based on it — makes clear that one determined fighter can matter, even when the odds are overwhelming.
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'Body Snatchers' Argues Resistance Isn't Futile

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'Body Snatchers' Argues Resistance Isn't Futile

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'Body Snatchers' Argues Resistance Isn't Futile

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

Once again, our summer reading series, You Must Read This. Author James Rollins remembers a story he discovered as an adolescent at the movies.

JAMES ROLLINS: First of all, I'm a thriller writer - plain and simple. I write novels to get the adrenaline flowing and the pages turning, where the pacing is staccato, the hero is bigger than life, and yes, that bomb is indeed ticking downward.

I was hooked on the adventure stories of the '30s and '40s. As a teenager, I couldn't get enough of them. So it was inevitable that one day I found a copy of Jack Finney's "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" in my hands.

I was in high school and I had just returned from seeing the 1978 remake of the original black-and-white classic. I vaguely remembered Dan Siegel's original masterpiece, with the haunting last scene of a raving Dr. Miles Bennell, running through the streets wailing, you're next.

But as an avid reader of all things pulp, I needed to read the original novel. So I found a battered reprint in a secondhand store. I've read the copy in one long sitting, baking under a window as the sun slowly moved across the sky. It was a simply story: aliens invade a small town, replacing its inhabitants with perfect simulacrums, the so-called Pod People.

Now keep in mind, I just watched the movie. I knew the gist to the storyline. But the horror of the book reached deeper. It wasn't flickering on the screen, rushed through from opening frame to end credits. It was the first time I'd ever read a book after seeing the movie. Since that summer, I've returned again and again to this novel. I grew to recognize the layers of paranoia folded into the slim volume, how it reflected the paranoia of Jack Finney's own time. Between 1950 and '54, the witch hunts of Joe McCarthy were in full swing, stoking rabid suspicion across America. Who could be trusted? Who amongst us hid behind false faces?

Then three months ago, I picked up the novel again. I had just heard another remake was coming to the silver screen in August, this time starring Nicole Kidman. So as I read the book yet again, I was struck by something new. All of the prior movies had ended on the same pessimistic note - you're next - but not the book. In the last act, Dr. Bennell has a chance to escape. But instead, he remains behind to burn a field of seedpods. This last act of defiance has an unexpected result.

The pods abandoned their invasion, rising away, forsaking the planet and its stubborn inhabitants. In this final act, Finney offers one thing absent from all of the movies: hope.

Finney suggests that it takes only one person to stand up against the overwhelming tide, whether against the Pod People, the witch-hunts of Joe McCarthy, or the slow dismantling of our civil liberties today. It takes only one person. It was an important message then, and it's an important message now.

NORRIS: James Rollins is the author of nine thrillers - all best sellers. His latest, "The Judas Strain," is described as a contemporary take on "Indiana Jones." There are more You Must Read This picks and tips for late-summer reading at npr.org/summerbooks.

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