Completed 10/15/2021, Reviewed 10/15/2021
This is the book club selection for November. I’m reading it early because I wanted to get it from the Library and the ebook version already had several holds on it. I’m glad I read this book. It’s a well written, interesting, philosophical take on being human, told from the perspective of an alien. It has a lot of very dry humor. I didn’t find any of it laugh out loud funny, though the book has been compared to Douglas Adams. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book, though I was consumed by reading it. I guess it filled me with pathos for the human condition.
An unnamed alien takes the form of Professor Andrew Martin, killing him in the process. The actual Professor Martin has solved the proof of a centuries-old mathematical theory. The alien’s mission, to prevent humanity from advancing too far, he must kill anyone Martin may have shared the proof with. The reason: this knowledge would advance human knowledge in such a way to cause it eventually to destroy itself. In the process of infiltrating Martin’s life, he develops empathy for his wife and son, thereby thwarting the mission.
It’s an interesting way to tell the story of a brilliant mathematician whose life is falling apart and trying to put it back together again. Without the alien angle, that would be what this book is about. Martin is a philanderer who ignores his son and basically has only one friend. Every other acquaintance is either an intellectual rival or not worthy of the time of day. With the alien’s narration, it transforms into something richer and more deeply understood. It’s kind of ironic since the alien doesn’t understand human emotion, as well as customs and behavior. Nor does it know anything about Martin’s life. It fakes it until it realizes it’s having emotions and is falling in love with the wife and son.
The prose is really lovely. My only problem with it is that Haig waxes philosophically quite often. Those parts, while interesting at first, eventually start to drag the passages down. Fortunately, the chapters are very short, so they don’t go on too long. I preferred the parts of the story where there was actual interaction between the characters. With the alien’s naivete, it made for some really rich sequences.
The character of the alien is done very well, as are those of the wife and son. The son is particularly interesting in that he’s a suicidal loner. I thought it was a very authentic and compassionate plot line. It is one of the things that helps the alien become more human. It’s the alien’s turning point from assassin to traitor to his people. Overall, the interaction of the whole family is just terrific.
I give the book four stars out five. It’s very nearly a five-star book in that it made me feel an awful lot of emotions as the alien developed them. But it’s just that reason that made not really enjoy it. It didn’t make me feel either happy or sad, but I ran the gamut of everything else in between. I do recommend the book, though. I haven’t read anything else quite like it, although it’s been compared to “The Man Who Fell To Earth” among other books. It will leave you with a sense of wonder about the human condition and make you think about what makes you human as well.