For a long time I’ve wondered where Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) was when we needed him. Well, I may have found him. He’s lurking in a novel entitled The Humans by someone allegedly named “Matt Haig.” Of course, Haig may or may not be Kurt Vonnegut reincarnated. Certainly, the book’s genre-busting structure, the sometimes hilarious dialogue, and the hapless characters who people the story are all reminiscent of Vonnegut, who is said to have died in 2007. But who knows?
Consider this, for starters. The Humans was a finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, yet in so many ways it’s an example of science fiction rather than a novel of suspense. At least, it’s science fiction in the broader sense of speculative fiction that Vonnegut himself might have grudgingly accepted. After all, if “Matt Haig” can be believed, this is the tale of an extraterrestrial visit from the distant planet of Vannadoria who comes to Earth to inhabit the life of Professor Andrew Martin.
The Humans by Matt Haig (2013) 304 pages @@@@ (4 out of 5)
Finalist for the Edgar Award for Best Novel
Kurt Vonnegut lives in this wacky tale of an alien replacing a human
Martin is a mathematics genius at Cambridge University who has been spirited away because his solution of the Riemann Hypothesis threatens to advance human science much farther than the human race can possibly cope with it. “The humans could not handle progress very well,” Martin muses, “and they were not good at understanding their place in the world. They were, ultimately, a great danger to themselves and others.”
Martin’s mission, then, is to eliminate anyone and anything that might betray even the possibility that a solution to the Riemann Hypothesis is possible. Which means that he must murder the chair of his department, his best friend, his wife, and his son. Will he succeed? Read the book.
Is “Andrew Martin” human or alien?
Could it be that Martin merely suffered a nervous breakdown and only now believes himself to be an alien? Well, the Simon & Schuster Reading Group Guide insists otherwise, referring to “our unnamed alien hero’s home world, Vonnadoria.” So, go figure. All I know for sure is, Kurt Vonnegut lives on in this charming little novel.
For further reading
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- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels;
- Great sci-fi novels reviewed: my top 10 (plus dozens of runners-up); and
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