Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Novel Examines 'Humans' from Alien View

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Novel Examines 'Humans' from Alien View

Article excerpt


By Matt Haig (below).

Simon & Schuster ($25)

British novelist Matt Haig explores the age-old question "what's so great about being a human" in his new novel, "The Humans."

The protagonist belongs to an advanced race of beings for whom mathematics is the basis of everything. They live perfect, peaceful lives under geometrically pleasing domes, possess a slew of powerful "gifts" and can travel anywhere in the universe in the blink of an eye thanks to their mathematical knowledge.

Unfortunately for our protagonist, he must leave his calm life and carry out a mission on one of the worst planets in the universe: Earth. Everyone knows that the denizens of Earth are primitive, hideous, violent beings capable of immense destruction.

Therefore, when Andrew Martin, a mathematics professor, solves the greatest math riddle that any human has ever encountered, the higher beings of the universe decide that his progress must be stopped. Given the humans' track record with things such as turning Einstein's equation E=mc2 into the atomic bomb, it seems like a bad idea to let them get their hands on any greater knowledge.

The gentler races are sure that if humans acquired the same capabilities they have, war would break out across the galaxies. So our main character -- who is never given a name of his own, because on his collectivist planet, individual identifiers are meaningless - - takes on the appearance of Professor Andrew Martin and sets out to destroy his life's work.

This also involves killing anyone who might have overheard too much about Andrew's recent discoveries, such as his wife and son. We've seen the overall plot arc of this story before. Scornful alien from a superior, peace-loving and hive-minded race comes to Earth, prepared to hate the warmongering humans, only to discover love and poetry (and, in this particular book, peanut butter).

But Mr. Haig's talent for wordplay becomes apparent in the finer details. From his alien's musings on the freakish human body ("The nose, in particular, bothered me. It seemed to my innocent eyes as if there was something else inside him, pushing through") to the merciless observations about our behavior in general ("Humans, I was discovering, believed they were in control of their own lives, and so they were in awe of questions and tests, as these made them feel like they had a certain mastery over other people"). …

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