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An alien lands on earth to steal a mathematical formula and prevent the human race from advancing beyond his own species.
Somehow, this becomes the most interesting story of the highs and lows of modern human life that I’ve ever read.
I can’t take credit for discovering this book – a favourite professor of mine recommended it to me. “I know it sounds weird,” she said to me, reading my expression after she had explained the premise. “But I promise you’ll love it.”
A couple days later, I ran to the bookstore the night before I was heading out of town. I saw this book, The Humans by Matt Haig, and decided why not? The next morning I settled myself into a cramped airplane seat and cracked this book open as we took off.
I didn’t look up for the next six hours. My boyfriend, seated beside me, said I basically went into a trance. That’s how weird and amazing and all-consuming this book is.
I didn’t expect a book with this much praise to be about an alien heist. I thought maybe there would be a page or two in the beginning where they’d explain the whole alien thing and then move right along. I was wrong – throughout this novel you never forget that the narrator is an alien who thinks that the human way of life is unproductive and illogical. This is what makes the book so hilarious.
When the alien first lands on earth (this happens in the introduction so it’s not a spoiler) he can’t speak human languages and has no idea where he is. So he runs into a gas station and instantly learns English (he has a super-powerful alien brain) by reading an entire Cosmopolitan magazine… you can imagine what an alien would assume about the human race if the only thing intel they had was a Cosmo article.
“Orgasms, I realized were an incredibly big deal. It seemed orgasms were the central tenent of life here.”The alien narrator, The Humans
I can’t begin to tell you how many times I laughed out loud reading this book.
The alien comes from a planet where every decision is made for the good of the species and based on pure logic. Obviously, human life makes no sense through that lens. Why do we wear clothes when everyone already knows what genitals look like? Why do we read magazines that make us miserable? Why do we use advertisements to trick each other into spending money? What is the point of money, anyway, if everyone could just work together to provide the entire planet with a good quality of life? These are the kinds of questions that are constantly swirling in the alien’s mind as you watch him grapple with his challenge: to impersonate a brilliant mathematician and steal his formula, thus preventing the human race from surpassing his own species on his faraway home planet.
The one flaw in the alien’s plan? He is stuck impersonating this mathematician, and living with his human family, while attempting to steal the formula. This new family includes a bitter wife who’s been romantically neglected for years, an angry teenage son, and a very sweet dog.
Why You’ll Love It
Kissing was very much like eating. But instead of reducing the appetite, the food consumed actually increased it. The food wasn’t matter, it had no mass, and yet it seemed to convert into energy inside me.– The Humans, Matt Haig
The author manages to perfectly describe how an alien with no emotion would interact with a family teetering on the edge of an emotional breakdown. Imagine an alien trying to make sense of teenagers’ obsession with emo music and “copious amounts of masturbation”, or discovering the deliciousness of peanut butter, or listening to the swell of beautiful music, or getting a wine buzz, or kissing – all for the first time.
The book is full of these wry observations. Every single day, we forget to notice the things that make our lives beautiful. Using an alien narrator is a clever trick by the author, because it means that no part of the human experience is taken for granted. This book manages to describe the foolishness and the beauty of human life in a such a genuine way that it will break your heart and revive it all at once.
In the alien’s home world, there is nothing that exists purely for beauty’s sake. Everything is calm and productive, but there is no joy. There is no war, but there is also no music, no delicious food, no art, no sex, no love. The world we live in has endless irrationality, tragedy, and pain, but it also has endless beauty. Anyone who has ever suffered through a broken heart knows the sweetness of then finding to the perfect breakup song, and the beauty of learning to love again. Life is bittersweet – that bitterness and sweetness go hand in hand. Our fallibility and imperfections are precisely what makes the human experience so meaningful.
“Love is what humans are all about but they don’t understand it. All I know is it’s a frightening thing. And humans are very frightened of it, which is why they have quiz shows. To take their mind off of it and think of something else.”– The Humans, Matt Haig
What About the Alien’s Mission to Get the Formula?
The alien will eventually have to choose whether he should complete the task he was given or find a way to stay on earth. But ultimately, this story isn’t really about the alien’s quest to destroy the mathematical formula. It evolves into something much more tender.
If a book is really, really good, I get sad when it finally ends. There’s this feeling of profound loss because now the universe of that story is over. As I get older I have that feeling less and less often, but this book felt hard to close even after I’d turned the final page.
When I finished this book, I was on a plane flying away from my city, my job, and my support system. My plan was to accomplish my 2018 goal of hiking a mountain – really, though, my vacation was an excuse to get away from my daily routine, to see something new and exciting and beautiful.
After finishing this story, I felt different. I realized there is already so much beauty in my life – if only I could make the time to recognize that beauty everyday, as if seeing it for the first time, I might feel the urge to run away less often.
I’m telling you to read this book because I think the same would probably be true for you, too.
I hope this was a strong enough recommendation for you to order this book asap. As a wise woman once told me, I know you’ll love it.
Did you love The Humans as much as I did? Is it one of your favourite recent reads, despite the wacky premise? Sound off below (I’ll respond to everyone)!
SPOILER ALERT: I won’t be screening comments for spoilers, so if you haven’t read the book yet, stay away!