This question: Manga about miniature people piloting cloned women, movies like "Inside Out" and shows like the "Let's Kill Hitler" episode of the Doctor Who revival series got me wondering how far back the concept goes in science fiction/fantasy either in-print or on-screen of a "person" being operated by a crew of tiny people. I can't help thinking that I saw something built on that concept in the early 1960s; I don't recall if it was in print or on screen (might have been a comic book), so I'd be curious to find out what were the earliest stories constructed on that premise appearing in English (any medium).


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1938: "Impulse", a short story by Eric Frank Russell, first published in Astounding Science-Fiction, September 1938, available at the Internet Archive. A human corpse is occupied and controlled by a swarm of microscopic alien invaders.

"Two days ago," gargled Clegg, or what had once been Clegg, "a so-called meteor landed outside this town."

"I read about it," Blain admitted. "They looked for it, but failed to find it."

"That phenomenon was actually a space vessel." The automatic sagged in the flabby hand; its holder rested the weapon on his lap. "It was a space vessel that had carried us from our home world of Glantok. The vessel was exceedingly small by your standards—but we, too, are small. Very small. We are submicroscopic, and our number is myriad.

"No, not intelligent germs." The ghastly speaker stole the thought from his listener's mind. "We are less even than those." He paused while he searched around for words more explicit. "In the mass, we resemble a liquid. You might regard us as an intelligent virus."

[. . .]

"We Glantokians are parasitical in the sense that we inhabit and control the bodies of lesser creatures. We came here, to your world, while occupying the body of a small Glantokian mammal." He coughed with a viscous rumble deep down in his gullet, then continued.

"When we landed and emerged, an excited dog chased our creature and caught it. We caught the dog. Our creature died when we deserted it. The dog was useless for our purpose, but it served to transport us into your town and find us this body. We acquired the body. When we left the dog, it lay on its back and died."

[. . .]

"We took this body, liquefied the congealed blood, loosened the rigid joints, softened the dead muscles, and made it walk. It seems that its brain was fairly intelligent in life, and even in death its memories remain recorded. We utilize this dead brain's knowledge to think in his man terms and to converse with you after your own fashion."

In case that story doesn't meet your requirements, here is another offering:

1960: "The Handler", a short short story by Damon Knight, first published in Rogue, August 1960. The story was reprinted in the collection The Best of Damon Knight which can be borrowed (for free but registration required) from the Internet Archive.

"Next my real sweetheart, Ruthie, where are ya? Honey, you were the greatest, really perfect—I mean it, baby—" He kissed a dark girl in a red dress who cried a little and hid her face on his broad shoulder. "And Frank—" he reached down and grabbed the skinny pop-eyed guy by the sleeve. "What can I tell you? A sweetheart?" The skinny guy was blinking, all choked up; the big man thumped him on the back. "Sol and Ernie and Mack, my writers, Shakespeare should have been so lucky—" One by one, they came up to shake the big man's hand as he called their names; the women kissed him and cried. "My stand-in," the big man was calling out, and "my caddy," and "Now," he said, as the room quieted a little, people flushed and sore-throated with enthusiasm, "I want you to meet my handler."

The room fell silent. The big man looked thoughtful and startled, as if he had had a sudden pain. Then he stopped moving. He sat without breathing or blinking his eyes. After a moment there was a jerky motion behind him. The girl who was sitting on the arm of the chair got up and moved away. The big man's dinner jacket split open in the back, and a little man climbed out. He had a perspiring brown face under a shock of black hair. He was a very small man, almost a dwarf, stoop-shouldered and round-backed in a sweaty brown singlet and shorts. He climbed out of the cavity in the big man's body, and closed the dinner jacket carefully. The big man sat motionless and his face was doughy.

The little man got down, wetting his lips nervously. Hello, Harry, a few people said. "Hello," Harry called, waving his hand. He was about forty, with a big nose and big soft brown eyes. His voice was cracked and uncertain. "Well, we sure put on a show, didn't we?"

Sure did, Harry, they said politely. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand. "Hot in there," he explained with an apologetic grin. Yes I guess it must be, Harry, they said. People around the outskirts of the crowd were beginning to turn away, form conversational groups; the hum of talk rose higher. "Say, Tim, I wonder if I could have something to drink," the little man said. "I don't like to leave him—you know—" He gestured toward the silent big man.


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