The Humans by Matt Haig

A review of the humorous science fiction novel The Humans by Matt Haig.

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It’s always a joy when a book such as The Humans by Matt Haig lands like a UFO nestling themselves onto your bookshelf. Immediately charming readers with its high-concept ‘what if?’ scenario, Haig’s novel is a rollickingly whip-smart sci-fi novel about an alien from the planet Vonnadoria who takes over the body of Cambridge professor Andrew Martin in good old-fashioned Invasion of the Body Snatchers style.

Sent to Earth to destroy evidence that the Professor has solved a mathematical problem known as the Riemann hypothesis, the Vonnadorians have concerns this innovation will advance mankind into a new age of space travel and deploy this alien in an act of subterfuge. The alien race’s main concern with human beings is that they are violent and primitive in nature, so feel their advancement must be curtailed at all costs, starting with ending Andrew’s life.

Now occupying the body of the Professor, however, the alien must learn to fend for himself on a foreign planet. This involves getting used to his new life as ‘Andrew’; discovering more about the former Professor’s wife (with whom he falls in love); and his son (who helps him understand what fatherhood is about); further complicated by the countless other observations the alien makes about humans and all their fascinating quirks. It’s this thought-provoking angle behind The Humans which allows it to find a winning formula, making full use of its outlandish premise.

Learning how to be human, it seems, lets Haig craft a searingly funny story full of comic moments. He often cuts right to the quick with observational wit but also plumbs character emotion with deft poignancy. The sci-fi concept is as soft as they come; a Douglas Adams influence is evident but Haig doesn’t let it straight-jacket him; the plot zips by with all rapid-fire verbosity of a Richard Curtis script; which fully allows the weight of compassion behind the alien’s journey to make the book really impactful and inspiring. It’s a delightfully memorable novel, chock-full of witty nuggets of wisdom which will stay with you long after putting the book down.

It’s this intoxicating blend of the humorous and the emotional in The Humans which surprised me more than most books of this ilk. Haig manages to amuse and yet totally avoids over-reliance on cheap sentimental tricks, still somehow managing to make this story so moving that it unearths—as clichéd as it sounds—something deeply human. I won’t say much else for fear of spoiling the book, but if you’re looking for a story which is simultaneously hilarious and philosophical, finding humour and meaning in life’s everyday observations, then The Humans is sure to point you towards something to believe in. What you choose to believe is up to you, but in the end, that’s what all the best stories are made of.

Humorous fiction writer, poet and aspiring novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.

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