The novel “The Mind Thing” by Fredric Brown was published for the first time in 1961.
The Mind Thing was exiled from his world and sent to Earth. He – but it hasn’t a gender – has a physical body with a parasitic nature and seeks to understand which among Earth’s creatures is more suitable as a host. When he wants to change a host, he must kill his former one but to force a human to suicide attracts unwanted attention.
Professor Staunton works on satellite design and goes to Bartlesville just to spend a few days off in the countryside. On the way, however, a dog runs right in front of his car and for him it’s impossible to brake before hitting it. Staunton is puzzled by the dog’s behavior and this helps him think of a connection with a suicide and other strange deaths but what could be the cause?
Generally in stories in which a hostile alien comes to Earth there’s at least initially a mystery around it and the plot is developed around the characters’ attempts to discover its nature. Fredric Brown was already famous for his ability to reverse the points of view such as in his most famous short story, “Sentry” (1954), and in “The Mind Thing”, he applies a similar concept as well.
The novel begins with the point of view of the Mind Thing, an exiled alien who can take possession of the body of Earth’s organisms. For the Mind Thing, the earthlings are aliens, so much that initially he understands little about them and is forced to spend a lot of time to understand the level of intelligence of the various species and their behaviors.
For the Mind Thing it’s not just about improving his situation on Earth, but also finding a way to return to his planet, because for his species being able to return from exile means becoming heroes. This goal becomes even more important when he realizes humans’ level of intelligence as they’d be excellent hosts for his people. The existence of humans is unknown to his species and making it known whould bring him further glory.
Through the Mind Thing’s actions, Fredric Brown shows his ability to control other organisms but also his limits. It also shows how he doesn’t hesitate to force his hosts to kill themselves because his ideas about ethics and morality are completely alien compared to those of human beings as well.
The novel is developed by alternating the point of view of the Mind Thing with that of humans. Shortly after the beginning, Professor Staunton, who was planning to spend a few days off in the countryside, instead gets involved in the events in the Bartlesville area.
The central part of “The Mind Thing” is the weakest because it besiacally revisits the previous events. The Mind Thing reflects on what happened to better understand the behaviors of the earthlings and especially of humans and improve his strategy. Staunton finds the help of Miss Talley, a local teacher who’s also a science fiction fan, and this strange couple reflect on the events to find out what’s behind them.
The novel is short for today’s standards so you can read the middle part in little time limiting its problem of slow pace and repetition of the events already seen. The pace strongly accelerates in the final part though Staunton’s plan really seems of the do-or-die type. On the other hand, that allows to have a final twists, a typical element of Fredric Brown’s stories.
In some ways “The Mind Thing” is dated but in my opinion not so much to spoil its reading. For example, Professor Staunton meets Miss Talley because he wants to make order in his thoughts on the case so he needs a person to dictate them to who can then type them, on a mechanical typewriter, that is. Today this can make you smile but nothing more.
“The Mind Thing” is not perfect but in my opinion Fredric Brown created an intriguing story that shows a truly alien intelligence, a choice that at the time it was written was even more rare than today. For this reason and for the overall good plot development I think it’s still worth reading.