When a friend of mine, who is as literarily-inclined as myself, recommended this book, I thought it was going to be some snarky glimpse into the human psyche or some mildly anthropological report on humans and our inherent stupidity. After a couple of pages, I realized that I wasn’t completely wrong, but I wasn’t completely right either. I didn’t read any summaries or synopses of the book before I started, so I was very pleasantly surprised by Haig’s ability to combine anthropology, sociology, science-fiction, and existentialism all into one abso-freakin’-lutely hilarious and yet superbly insightful novel. I never thought I’d love a book about math, but holy crap, Mr. Haig, you did it.
Spoiler-free summary: The story follows the alien impostor who is inhabiting the body of Professor Andrew Martin, who is a brilliant mathematician and somewhat of a jerk. This alien visitor’s job is to erase any evidence of a colossal mathematical breakthrough that Professor Martin had spent much of his life working on. The breakthrough itself would have propelled mankind’s advancements thousands of years into the future, yet other inhabitants of the universe do not believe that the primitive humans are ready for such a leap in evolution. As he goes about his mission, he begins to understand why humans are the way that they are, and soon comes to empathize with them. This causes many complications, and the new Professor Martin must make a choice, no matter what the consequences may be.
What I liked:
- Haig’s writing style: One would assume that a story about aliens is purely science-fiction, however, Haig’s writing makes it something completely new and refreshing. You’re reading it from the perspective of an alien who is observing human life for the first time ever, so, much of the time, it feels like you’re watching a National Geographic documentary about humans and their litany of idiotic conceptions of the universe and life itself. I didn’t feel like I was reading a science-fiction novel, where I had to stop and google quantum physics or how spaceships work. The way he describes some of the most commonplace things in humanity, such as pants or sneezing or even the evening news, makes you look at our world in a whole new light. I laughed and winced and teared up and laughed some more.
- The actual science & math: Math and I are not friends. We have never been friends and we will never be friends. BUT! When Haig mentions any of the complex mathematical theorems or refers to some super-advanced alien knowledge, it is explained so thoroughly and with such clarity that even I, a mathematics chump, could understand it. Granted, I had to google a few things, but I actually wanted to know more about these mind-blowing, planet-shaking theories he was talking about. Haig gets a million gold stars for the mere fact that he made me want to understand a mathematical theory that’s been haunting mathematicians for centuries. Although I didn’t understand a single word, number, or letter, I was still very curious and actually interested, and that is a feat in itself.
- Character development & dialogue: The main character’s development, as both an alien and a human, was immensely fun to observe. The more he learns about humans, the more confused he becomes, but he also becomes more curious and strives to understand more. It is probably the closest anyone has ever come to explaining the essence of human life and the meaning behind it. The conversations and encounters throughout the book are eye-opening for the protagonist and the reader alike. The dialogue flows so smoothly, even though half the time, the main character has no idea what anyone is talking about, yet somehow, it brings upon some sort of epiphany in both of you.
- The plot: I loved how many twists and turns just kept creeping up on me throughout this story. The premise is already unique in itself, but the story runs in an unexpected direction every time you think you know what’s about to happen next.
What I didn’t like: Literally nothing. I loved every second of it.
- It’s rare that I can’t find a single thing I didn’t like about a book. I reserve that honor for James Joyce alone. Yet this book was so creative and fun to read that I actively tried to stop reading it, because I didn’t want it to end. It made me really think about all of the things that we humans care so much about, but ultimately realize that they’re superfluous to our evolution as a species. Ads? Clothes? Money? Drugs? Why can’t we all just live our lives pantsless, actively making the world and ourselves better, and not have to worry about wars and evil, about what the other humans will think of us? Ah, to live in such a world.
Verdict: 5 ★s!
This book deserves all five stars. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading, not just sci-fi, not just mystery, not just humor, but reading in general. It was so hard for me to decide what genre this book actually fits into, and I realized towards the end that it defies classification to an extent. It blends several different genres together and culminates in a humorous, philosophical, science-fictional, romantic, suspenseful masterpiece of contemporary literature. And dear friend and recommender, you will be thrilled to know that this is now on my list of favorite contemporary books and I will recommend it to everyone I meet, even the kassa-girls at the store who don’t even speak English.