Matt Haig's The Humans was nominated for the 2013 Goodreads Choice Award for best science fiction. And even though it didn't win, I was intrigued by the summary and decided to go for it. And it is unusual for me to be drawn to a story that involves an alien invasion. But instead of the aliens coming down and simply attempting to take over or obliterate life on earth, these aliens are attempting to protect humankind...sort of.
The Situation: Andrew Martin has died. He found out something no human being should ever know, so he had to be dealt with. And anyone he told about his discovery must be dealt with as well. That is why an alien form, who is never given a name, most likely because they don't have them (or even a need for them) on his home planet, has taken over Andrew's body. The real Andrew Martin is a fairly well-known mathematician who has made a discovery that would advance human existence by leaps and bounds. But the alien beings, who have already advanced to the point where they can never die or decay unless they are killed, know that this discovery would cause the humans to advance too quickly, ultimately causing massive harm to themselves and to other species in the universe, should they ever come into contact with any. The mission is simple: get rid if any evidence of the mathematical breakthrough, and do the same to anyone else who may have known about it, even Andrew's wife and child.
The Problem: Apparently Andrew Martin, the real one, was a bit of a jerk. And because the alien being wasn't given a thorough profile of the man whose body he would be inhabiting, he finds this out slowly but surely through interactions with his wife and son. Any small act of kindness is questioned, as is any indication that Andrew might actually care about anyone else. This really isn't so much an issue for the mission as it is an annoyance. The real problems begin when alien Andrew begins to find reasons to not be repelled by his surroundings, other humans, and even their food. He also discovers poetry, music, and the feeling of companionship that comes from having a loyal dog in the house. Once Andrew begins to find beauty in the things he is meant to destroy, and begins saving them instead of killing them, things start to take a turn, and he begins to learn, with all of its ups and downs, what it may really mean to be human.
Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel that doesn't take place in the distant future or on some dystopian version of earth, or on another planet. But it does involve aliens, space travel, and advanced technology that can heal at a rapid speed, hypnotize, and of course, as it is part of Andrew's mission, kill. The book is both an indictment of human behavior, mostly about how we keep choosing to make ourselves miserable in various ways, and gathered evidence of many reasons why human life in earth is worth living, and ultimately, probably better than a bland controlled existence with absolutely no drama. In the acknowledgements, Haig admitted that the idea for the story came from a time when he suffered from a panic disorder, and for him, being a human being at this time was just as stressful and strange for him as it is for the unnamed alien. So while it all boils down to a human author writing about what an alien may think and feel after having arrived on our planet for the first time, it may actually be an accurate description...as much as it can be. Ultimately, The Humans is about being human, for an entity that has always been the farthest thing from it.
My Verdict: It's a bit weird, because there are moments when the fake Andrew is absolutely infuriating. He relentlessly points out the flaws of human beings and their existence and to why the way of life on his home planet is far superior. But then there are other times when he happens upon something he unexpectedly likes, and his description of it makes the reader feel for him again. And while I can't quite say I wanted him to complete his mission, I did want him to become used to his surroundings and not get found out, and ultimately find happiness using Andrew's body, hopefully doing more good with it than the original Andrew was able to. Haig is able to accomplish the always difficult goal and having a reader care for an entity that, in the beginning, only wanted to cause harm.
Favorite Moment: When alien Andrew heals the dog, Newton, or his near blindness and arthritis, therefore making a very loyal friend. This is only the beginning of the alien finding out what makes human life worth it.
Favorite Character: It's actually a bit hard to choose. I like alien Andrew, eventually. But I also like his son Gulliver eventually. His wife Isobel I liked from the beginning, so there is that. But really, there aren't many downright despicable people in the novel. Even the alien race is doing what they think should be done to preserve the universe as a whole.
Recommended Reading: As I said before, I don't normally pick up books involving aliens. The only other book I have read recently involving species from another planet is Ender's Game, and that doesn't feel right as a recommendation. And with that option taken out, I can say with absolute certainty that I got nothing.