The Humans is a book of a peculiar genre. It involves a nameless alien and the technology of their home planet. This would classify it as science fiction. However, unlike the typical science fiction book, The Humans isn’t at all concerned with the technology of this alien species. Instead, it is merely a means to an end in this story. Instead, Matt Haig has chosen to focus on the experiences of our alien friend and their meaning.
Those who have read other works from Matt Haig will not be surprised by this – he is a champion of dealing with the human condition and mental illness in his writing. However, the alien approach he has taken with The Humans is something rather different than the famous The Midnight Library. In this story, the alien makes all the difference. It is what allows The Humans to be so charming in its presentation. However, potential readers should be advised that themes of suicide and other mental health issues are present in the novel. Read at your own risk.
At the beginning of the story, the so-called protagonist, Andrew Martin, is already dead. He has been replaced by the real protagonist, an unnamed alien from the planet Vonnadoria. Vonnadorians are ruled by mathematics, logic, and rationality – these are the pillars that govern their painless immortal existence.
Before his demise, Andrew Martin, a professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, had solved a previously unsolvable mathematical problem. Our alien friend has been sent to Earth to destroy the evidence of this discovery. They must also eliminate any humans who might be aware of it.
However, in the process of fulfilling his mission, the alien finds themselves learning about the professor, his wife and son, and “the humans.” Where at first they feel disgust, their emotions gradually begin to change as they learn more. Soon, they will have to choose between completing their mission and returning home and finding a home on Earth – a place they previously felt was only a place of violence and turmoil.
Humans as Contradiction
Unsurprisingly, a main focus of this novel is on the human condition and all its beauty and complexity. When the alien first arrives on Earth, they are disgusted by everything. They can’t stand to look at the horrific human faces or eat the terrible food. The only creature they can relate to is the Martin’s family dog, Newton. However, through careful observation. the alien’s feelings begin to change.
Haig has artfully crafted this change of heart through showing things of beauty that humans have created. This works in contrast to the negativity that plagues human civilization today. There are wars and famines. People only seem to care about what is the most close to them. Yet, these horrible things exist together with great beauty. Haig has done a spectacular job showing that beauty and horror can exist simultaneously. They work continuously in contrast to each other.
Being an Alien
Another area that Haig really focuses on in this novel is mental health. We are introduced to the alien being put through some wild situations. There is even an instance of a human thinking they are an alien. This metaphor works wonderfully to display how we still deal with mental illness as a society. Not unlike our alien protagonist, those with mental illness in the story are seen as outcasts. In fact, one could even argue that they are viewed as aliens themselves.
While this is a message that Matt Haig continues to champion, it is nonetheless an important one to consider. What would happen if individuals with mental illnesses were treated with the same respect and courtesy as everyone else? More importantly, what would happen if we viewed ourselves that way. It is common in mental illness to treat yourself poorly. But we all know that isn’t good. We are not the aliens that we think we are. Even if we were, that would be just fine.
The themes addressed in The Humans aren’t complicated ones. They don’t have to be. That’s what makes the story so digestible in the first place. Not every book needs to require effort. Sometimes, it’s great to just pick up a book and know where you’re heading. That doesn’t make the story any less of a hard hitter. You will be moved reading this story. You will feel sorrow and joy. Though simple in style, The Humans is an absolute must-read – especially for anyone questioning what exactly it means to be human.