Thomas Jerome Newton is an extraterrestrial from the planet Anthea, which has been devastated by a series of nuclear wars, and whose inhabitants are twice as intelligent as human beings. When he lands on Earth – in Kentucky, disguised as a human – it’s with the intention of saving his own people from extinction. Newton patents some very advanced Anthean technology, which he uses to amass a fortune. He begins to build a spaceship to help the last 300 Antheans migrate to Earth. Meanwhile, Nathan Bryce, a chemistry professor in Iowa, is intrigued by some of the new products Newton’s company brings to the market, and already suspects Newton of being an alien. As Bryce and the FBI close in, Newton finds his own clarity and sense of purpose diminishing.
I’m gonna be honest and say I’m not 100% sure where to begin with this review. As with many books I’ve been reading recently, I had no idea what to expect when I picked up The Man Who Fell to Earth. I’ve tried to read sci-fi classics in the past and have often found that they go straight over my head in terms of the meaning behind their words.
It took me a good couple of days to get settled into this book. The narrative shifts between the characters and combined with cultural references from an era I never saw, I will be honest and say I initially found it very confusing. Newton intrigued me, no doubt about that, and I wanted to know more, to understand his motives and to learn his history, but in terms of the written style, I felt way out of my depth.
But let’s hark back to my use of the word ‘initially’. By the time I reached the final pages, my heart felt like it had been pulverized and tears were brimming in my eyes when I read the poignant two lines that conclude this fantastic little book.
The Man Who Fell to Earth isn’t a flying-around-space-shooting-bad-guys-with-lasers kind of book. It’s a quiet, dignified contemplation of the human condition and the many flaws existing within it, all shown from the perspective of a newly landed alien and the people who witness these flaws being mirrored right back at them through Newton.
Newton – poor, sweet, fragile Newton who I just want hug – arrives on this planet, harboring hopes of saving both his people and the people of Earth. The plan he puts into action is set to take years and as these years pass, Newton adapts to his new environment and adopts humanity’s ways.
The tragedy comes when he becomes just a little bit too human.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is a relatively short novel, spanning the breadth 185 pages, so I can’t say too much more without revealing any major spoilers! I will say this, though; everyone needs to read this, even if they’re not a sci fi fan. The Man Who Fell to Earth reveals painfully harsh truths about humanity and, to quote Ken MacLeod in his introduction to the edition I read, “what makes it literature is its honesty”.
Heartbreaking and still relevant, The Man Who Fell to Earth is an unassuming masterpiece.
Rating: 5 out of 5
Song: Elton John’s Rocket Man (I felt David Bowie would be too easy a choice haha)
This book is available on Amazon in both e-reader and paperback format.