Skip to main content

One of the things that stood out first in novels I liked was the acknowledgement that human beings are odd creatures that are not easily understood, and that the author was looking at these odd creatures to find ways in which they could be better understood. Years later, I came across the term that novels seek to express "the human condition" and that made sense.

Matt Haig's novels take up this notion explicitly. In The Radleys, the outsiders looking in were vampires -- whole families learning about themselves and each other, and how to exist, co-exist and perhaps care about others.

His latest novel, The Humans, is told from the point of view of the most outsider of outsiders, a member of an alien species sent to Earth on a seek-and-destroy mission. Haig uses science fiction tropes and a highly successful dark comic voice to write about what it's like to be an outsider trying to figure out these odd creatures.

As the newcomer to Earth states in beginning his story:

I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state they do actually exist. For those that don't know, a human is a real bipedal life form of midrange intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small, waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.

For the rest of you, and those who sent me, humans are in many respects exactly as strange as you would expect them to be.

The new arrival takes over the body of Andrew Martin, a Cambridge professor who may have solved the Riemann hypothesis, a great mathematical puzzle about prime numbers. This is something the extraterrestrial's planet does not want, hence the covert ops mission. Haig writes about the math in such a way that someone who struggled with geometry and never went farther got it.

Upon arrival, the being who has taken over Martin's body is standing in the middle of the road in the middle of the night, naked. A car is coming at him. That's a lot to process when you are not normally a bipedal being whose culture depends on outer clothing and who has different ways of communicating. Just because someone spits at you, for example, does not mean it is a normal greeting when encountering other beings.

The crafty undercover agent figures out how to get out of police custody and the mental hospital to return back to Martin's home and office. And that, of course, is when things get complicated. Martin's wife is a history professor and best-selling author in her own right. Their son, Gulliver, is a prototypical brilliant, sullen teenager who has been kicked out of a prestigious private school. The colleague closest to Martin is someone he hates. Martin's wife tells him most of his problems stem from unresolved mommy issues. And there's another woman.

Whew. These humans are messy creatures. Plus, they have these noses. They stand out so. They are horrid. Good thing there are objects such as magazines with Cosmopolitan advice to help one understand what matters to humans. And there also is the news, or what should be called "The War and Money Show." How humans revere these things and still are able to occasionally produce an Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman is something of wonder to our visitor.

Humans, as a rule, don't like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rain forests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is a question sometimes of time and sometimes of postcode.
The voice Haig uses in telling this story is so pitch perfect that reading The Humans is worth it for that alone. That the voice is employed to tell such an affecting story is even better.

In the acknowledgments at the novel's end, Haig writes about where the story came from and why he wanted to write it: "a look at the weird and often frightening beauty of being human." Why Haig felt the importance of doing this makes the story all the more compelling and a fitting way to tell the story of an outsider looking in at what it may be like to be human.

Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:

DAY TIME (EST/EDT) Series Name Editor(s)
SUN 6:00 PM Young Reader's Pavilion The Book Bear
2:00 PM What's on Your E-Reader? Caedy
2:00 PM Bibliophile's Wish List Caedy
Sun 9:30 PM SciFi/Fantasy Book Club quarkstomper
Bi-Monthly Sun Midnight Reading Ramblings don mikulecky
MON 8:00 PM Monday Murder Mystery michelewln, Susan from 29
Mon 11:00 PM My Favorite Books/Authors edrie, MichiganChet
TUES 5:00 PM Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left bigjacbigjacbigjac
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM LGBT Literature Texdude50, Dave in Northridge
alternate Tuesdays 8:00 AM All Things Bookstore Dave in Northridge
Tue 8:00 PM Contemporary Fiction Views bookgirl
WED 7:30 AM WAYR? plf515
Wed 2:00 PM e-books Susan from 29
Wed 8:00 PM Bookflurries Bookchat cfk
THU 8:00 PM Write On! SensibleShoes
Thu (first each month) 11:00 AM Monthly Bookpost AdmiralNaismith
alternate Thursdays (on hiatus) 11:00 PM Audiobooks Club SoCaliana
FRI 8:00 AM Books That Changed My Life Diana in NoVa
alternate Fridays 8:00 PM Books Go Boom! Brecht
Fri 10:00 PM Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable shortfinals
SAT (fourth each month) 11:00 AM Windy City Bookworm Chitown Kev
Sat 12:00 PM You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews pwoodford
Sat 9:00 PM Books So Bad They're Good Ellid

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site