In The Humans by Matt Haig, an alien from outer space (way, way out in space) has been sent to Earth on a mission to prevent humans from knowing too much, and is sending updates on his progress back to his home world.
“I know that some of you reading this are convinced humans are a myth, but I am here to state that 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.”
In order to infiltrate the human race and discover who has the dangerous knowledge before it can spread further, this alien assassin assumes the identity of his first victim – Andrew Martin, the Cambridge University mathematics professor who stumbled on the theory that could take human civilization beyond the safe confines of their own universe.
The humor and pathos of the novel comes from the observations about human society that this ultimate outsider makes; his efforts to fit in with Andrew Martin’s colleagues and family without arousing suspicion; and his growing understanding of humans – all reflected in his increasingly subjective reports to his own race. The more the alien interacts as Andrew Martin with the human Andrew Martin’s intimates, especially his wife and son – who were supposed to both be eliminated pretty much immediately – the more he understands that the highly developed civilization he comes from may not be superior in every way, as he had automatically believed when he first arrived on this backwards planet.
Though technically science fiction, I suppose (because of the arrival of a representative from an alien race), the math and science in The Humans is pretty much at the comfort level of a liberal arts major, so I would put it in the category of literary fiction. The theme of the novel – what it means to be human – is more philosophical than scientific.
The Humans is pretty dark, over all, but has a lot of humor and some touching moments, as well. It‘s Matt Haig’s seventh novel for adults, but it’s the first one I’ve read so I can’t compare it to, say, The Radleys or The Dead Fathers Club. The Humans reminded me in some ways of Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks and Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, because they also have an outsider as narrator making observations about how humans behave.
Recommended for readers looking for an unusual narrator’s perspective along with thought-provoking social commentary.
Simon & Schuster