Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Humans: Every few years we have to convince some alien race that we deserve to live and also that our noses are nice. Oh, the burdens of humanity.

Matt Haig retweets a lot of the nice things people say about his book (which you shouldn't do too often, authors, please keep in mind) and I suppose all that niceness wheedled its way into the book-choosing region of my brain.

So it came to be that I was opening The Humans, without knowing much of anything about it.

I should be annoyed with you, but here I come I guess.

The premise is pretty simple: Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, has unlocked a mystery of prime numbers that could change the course of human history. A member of an advanced alien race in another galaxy is sent to Earth to make sure no one ever finds out about this breakthrough. The alien takes over Andrew's body, infiltrating his workplace and family, and sets to work undoing his progress. The book is a first-person record of the experience, addressed to his fellow aliens.

At first, Alien Andrew is horrified and disgusted by the human form (especially noses, because what are those all about?) and the primitive ways of the human species. The members of his race have always believed the worst about humans, and his observations often corroborate that view.
The humans are an arrogant species, defined by violence and greed. . . . They have created a world of divisions and categories and have continually failed to see the similarities among themselves.
But the longer he spends in Andrew Martin's body, the more he sees the complexity and value of humanity, messy as it is.

Alien Andrew makes loads of poignant observations about the human condition, but he's at his best when he's describing the mundane.
The "pub" was an invention of humans living in England, designed as compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England.
This is what dogs liked to do, I discovered. They liked to run around on grass, pretending they were free, shouting, "We're free, we're free, look, look how free we are!" at each other. It really was a sorry sight.
So yes, I'm glad the hive mind convinced me to read this tidy black comedy with hints of Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and The Rosie Project. Very glad indeed . . . if just a little bit more self-conscious about my nose.

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