“The Humans” – Book Review

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“The Humans” was one of my holiday reads. It is a book I would’ve probably never picked up to read based on its 4th cover description. It was given to me as a present and because it was different than what I would usually choose to read, I took it as a challenge and started reading right away.

I was not familiar with the author either. In this matter, the 3rd cover was quite useful. Matt Haig is a British novelist whose works have been translated in over twenty languages. Among his best-selling books, “The Last Family in England” and “The Radleys”.

“The Humans” is a satire in the form of a science-fiction novel that tells the story of Cambridge Professor Andrew Martin and his peculiar, but fascinating experience as a being for whom even basic human attributes seem alien as a result of an “incident” that triggered curious, but revelatory happenings. Since that rainy night, the Professor’s existence has been irremediably changed and that of humanity, too.

Using the Riemann Hypothesis as a symbol for the last mathematical riddle the Universe poses to us, Haig dabbles the subject of the transformation humanity would undergo if all of its main now problems and limits would disappear and what would happen if what our present collective mind considers a perfect existence, with no pain, no social problems and no death, would become a reality. How would those perfect beings compare to what we now see as imperfect humans?

The alien that substitutes Andrew Martin comes to discover step by step what being a human means and why this attribute is of great value in its present form, through various social interactions, among which, the most significant are those with the Professor’s wife and teenage son. The book is actually the portrayal of this journey of getting to know humans and most of all, appreciate and value them. Value ourselves.

The endeavor is not new, the synopsis is not new either, most scenes give you a déjà connu feeling and the literary style is rather naive and sometimes, unnecessarily pretentious. But it works.

If the aim of this book is to make humans realize they matter and that humanity itself is already beautiful just through the fact that it exists, it works. If, when reading the book, people come to realize that building a new world implies killing the old one, it works again. But we’ve seen the New World killing the Old one in Huxley’s “Brave New World” too. Huxley’s New World is intellectually advanced, emotionally stupid and socially sterile. So is Haig’s. When it comes to literary showcasing, I prefer Huxley. But they may appeal to different reader types and this is why a book like Haig’s is a good one to have written and published in these modern times. I think it may appeal to a wider range of readers.

I was reading a short review on Goodreads and somebody was saying that the book may not be fit for teenagers, because they may not be able to grasp the meaning, the satire, the adult functionality of relationships (the book also approaches subjects like adultery, suicide, mental illness). Now, if the reading level of a book like “The Humans” is not considered fit for an audience like regular teenagers, then I think we need to work on bettering our education systems. In my opinion, the book is accessible to anyone who has a basic ability to understand metaphors and analogies and can reason at an abstract, conceptual level.

With the exception of several scientific inaccuracies, the story is actually well structured, entertaining, and the pro humanity argument flows nicely throughout the book. And although the portrayal of humans is a bit too romantic for my taste – too much emphasis on the emotional dimension as being the one that defines and gives value to people -, the book could be translated beautifully into a movie. While reading, I often had the feeling that Haig intended it more like a movie script or worked on the book with a script in mind – some chapters seemed like distinct and well outlined movie scenes. Therefore I was not surprised when I read in the final notes that he is actually working on the screenplay. The movie version of the story could actually turn out really well – maybe even provide a better result than the book itself -,  since certain messages could thus be easier conveyed to the general public.

I actually finished reading the book in the evening of December 31st, so it was the last one I read in 2015. It was a good way to end the year since “The Humans” offers a variety of micro and macro subjects to ponder upon.

Read it if you’re a fan of science fiction, if you want an easy, entertaining read that is also really generous with the ways in which it conveys appreciation and admiration towards the human nature. Humans from now should read it before creating the human of tomorrow.

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