‘The Host’ Is Playing Up Teen Romance

When the first teaser for The Host, the adaptation of Stephenie Meyer’s science fiction novel starring Saorsie Ronan as an alien lifeform implanted in the body of a young human woman, came out, I decided to give Meyer the benefit of the doubt and give the book a shot. I was pleasantly surprised, and it made me wonder how Meyer’s career might have gone if The Host had been published before Twilight and Meyer had been embraced as a science fiction novelist, rather than primarily as a romantic one. But we live in the world that Twilight built, and so The Host looks like it’s going to be marketed as an intense young adult love story:

This is too bad, because to my mind, the most interesting thing about The Host as its status as a kind of peaceful Old Man’s War from the aliens’ perspective. Ronan’s character is an extremely fragile alien who goes by Wanderer. Her species is a colonizing—and as they see it—civilizing one that travels to new planets, removes the consciousness from the sentient species who live there, and insert themselves. The worlds they run are free of conflict, poverty, disease, and ecological devastation. In Wanderer’s opinion, this is a significant improvement, and lets her species, known as Souls, gather the stories, traditions, and wisdom of the species whose bodies they occupy. Where in Old Man’s War, John Scalzi’s characters drop in on species and civilizations as they fight their way through the galaxy, Wanderer gives us fleeting but powerful glimpses of life in all its possibilities.

That’s not to say there isn’t a YA-level love triangle in the novel, but rather than being defined by Who Loves Bella Swan more, the people who end up competing both for Wanderer’s love and the affection of the body she inhabits offer differing models of human independence in the face of alien invasion. The man who loved the body Wanderer occupies before it was hijacked stands for resistance to the invasion, to an inflexible vision of humanity as pure and independent, while the man who comes to love Wanderer for herself is one of the first humans she meets who is intrigued by the possibility of expanding his knowledge of the universe and his understanding of the kind of people who are worthy of sympathy and empathy. It’s a triangle with intellectual purpose beyond emotional frisson.

The book isn’t perfect, far from it. But it’s going to make me sad if The Host gets sold as another romance in the vein of Twilight and not as anything more. I’d like to think that a sense of wonder is still something that can get pricked by exposure to the potential size of the universe, not just by the sensation of being desperately wanted. Maybe The Hunger Games will convince folks that if you heighten romance with a postapocalypse, girls won’t be deterred, and boys will feel there’s something there for them, too, and we’ll all get a better movie as a result.