Monday, July 1, 2013

The Humans, Matt Haig

The HumansI know some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that they do actually exist. For those of you who don't know, a human is a real bipedal lifeform of mid-range intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small water-logged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe. 

"When an extraterrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry back home to the utopian world of his own planet, where everyone enjoys immortality and infinite knowledge. He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, their capacity for murder and war, and is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this weird species than he has been led to believe. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, develops an ear for rock music and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Martin’s family, and in picking up the pieces of the professor’s shattered personal life, he begins to see hope and beauty in the humans’ imperfection."

The Humans was really a very interesting novel in its way; it showed all the terrible and stupid things that humans do, and also the beautiful things that humans make. It shows us the ugliness and the beauty of human existence. It shows us the wonderful things we do that we don't value enough. 

One point that particularly struck me was the difference between how the humans and the aliens in this book absorb knowledge. At the beginning of the book, the alien is reminded that "humans have to read books. And that takes time. Lots of time. A human can't just swallow every book going, can't chew different tomes simultaneously, or gulp down near-infinite knowledge in a matter of seconds. They can't just pop a word capsule in their mouth like we can." (pg. 19). But what would the point of learning and reading be if it just takes a second? This passage really struck me, because humans have lots of problems, but unlike the aliens, we have feelings, and we savor things. Later on, the alien says, "Where we are from there are no comforting delusions, no religions, no impossible fictions. Where we are from there is no love and no hate. There is the purity of reason. Where we are from there are no crimes of passion because there is no passion. Where we are from there is no remorse because action has a logical motive and always results in the best outcome for the given situation. Where we are from there are no names, no families living together, no husbands and wives, no sulky teenagers, no madness. Where we are from we have solved the problem of fear because we have solved the problem of death...where we are from there are no nightmares. (pgs. 95-96). Reason is all very well, but that sounds like a nightmare situation to me, a terrible place without feeling. 

In another part of the book, the alien says thank you to a being for the first time in his life. That was a striking thought; that he's never thanked anyone for anything before. It is only on Earth that one does that. He also realizes that he's never enjoyed anything before. The aliens have everything but social interaction, pleasure, and affection. Throughout the book it is gradually revealed that the alien society is a terrible, terrible place, devoid of compassion and decency. They think they have everything and are so superior, but in reality, they have nothing. They have intelligence, which is very, very important too, but nothing beyond that. They are smarter than humans, but not smarter at the same time. 

One criticism I have of the novel is that the premise itself is a bit weak. I couldn't quite wrap my head around what was so important about getting rid of the solution that the professor had come up with. It seemed like perhaps not the correct way to bring the story about. The story itself was amazing though. 

The writing in The Humans was really gripping; I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen. But in the end, The Humans was more than just a sci-fi thriller; it was a deeply moving and thought-provoking novel about who we are. As described, it's "compulsively readable". It explores a very important subject - ourselves and our messy, sometimes twisted world. 

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher. The Humans will come out tomorrow. 

278 pages. 

Rating: *****

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