Sci-fi novel comments on the human experience

By: Chloë Williams, Columnist

The Humans is a 2013 novel by English novelist Matt Haig that offers a unique perspective of humankind. The story is narrated by a Vonnadorian alien, who has been tasked with replacing the life of Cambridge professor and mathematician, Professor Andrew Martin. Martin has solved a previously unsolvable puzzle, which could advance Earth society beyond what it is currently able to handle. With the real professor killed, this alien is free to explore this strange new world as a real earthling. Our alien gives us its take on everything from diet soda to poetry. 

This novel is a handbook to other Vonnadorians back home, explaining to them that Earth might not be the violent, war-hungry place that they originally assumed it was. Sure, it is a foreign place with ugly lifeforms and primitive transportation modes, but it is a place of love, creativity, and feeling. Vonnadorians think of emotions as destructive weaknesses, and gave up emotion for healing powers and high intelligence. They avoid war by erasing the ability to hate. However, with this comes an inability to love, which is the thing that makes the human race so different and special.

But emotions aren’t the only thing that makes humans unique: they are also mortal. While this life may seem short and unfulfilling to the aliens, it adds meaning to earthlings. The alien explains being impressed with just how much humans can achieve within a finite lifespan. The Vonnadorian begins to wonder if a mortal life full of purpose and emotion is better than an immortal life of endless knowledge. 

When introduced to the professor’s distant wife and depressed son, the alien slowly comes to learn what loving something means. Through them, the aliens gain an insight into the importance of human interaction and relationships, and starts to put the pieces of their family back together from when the real Andrew Martin destroyed them in the first place. As the Vonnadorian begins to learn what it means to be a father, a husband, and a friend, perhaps better than the original Andrew Martin, the alien also comes to grow very fond of its connections made on Earth. The alien even forges a friendship with the household dog, who makes more sense to him than the humans themselves. However, this loving humans is wildly off-plan from the given orders, and the alien must choose to kill this family, or give up ties to Vonnador, as well as all powers and immortality.

 “The Humans” offers readers a chance to look at life through a new lens and appreciate the world as though it is being experienced for the first time. Through the first-person point of view, the audience becomes the traveller, learning about our own culture as if it were a distant, nonsensical world. It exposes some of the negative aspects of our society, such as the unfortunate bullying of Andrew Martin’s son and his increasingly suffering mental state. However, it also suggests the inherently positive qualities of human nature, such as the perseverance of relationships, the necessity of art, the beauty of simple pleasures, and the importance of all emotions.

This novel uses humor and outsider perspectives to challenge the audience to reconsider a familiar world as something exciting and new. The audience experiences something as tangible and mundane as daily life transformed into something to be marvelled. Or, at least, to offer a dissimilar intelligent consideration of what it means to live on planet Earth: to live, die, fight, make up, drink wine, spend time together, to write, catch the train, eat peanut butter, have a dog, have a family, make music, to sacrifice something, and to feel a plethora of emotions all at the same time. 

“The Humans” is the book Matt Haig asserts he is most proud of. It was a finalist for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel in 2014 and was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Awards Best Science Fiction award. It was also chosen to be a title for the 2014 World Book Night. While “The Humans” may be a science fiction novel, it is the most human book you’ll ever read.


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