The Mystery Writers of America Best Novel nominees line-up is six-deep, and I had read five of the six finalists previously. The Edgar awards will be presented on May 1, so I’ve got time now to review and rank them all, starting with Matt Haig’s The Humans. And I’ll get it out of the way right up front: I can’t fathom the mystery of this book. Literally. It’s not a mystery. Or a crime novel. Or suspense. It is, quite simply, science fiction. Pretty darn good science fiction, but still…
Here’s the set-up: there’s a naked man on a lonely country road. He looks like mathematician Andrew Martin, of Cambridge University. But he’s not. He’s an alien who has killed Professor Martin because he proved the Reimann Hypothesis. The alien has taken over the professor’s body so he can destroy any existing evidence and kill anyone who may know of the professor’s achievement. (Fortunately for alien Andrew, Martin tends to secrecy and has only told one colleague.)
Alien Andrew, not knowing Earth’s ways well, is hit by a car, escapes from the ambulance, jogs to a Texaco station where he learns Earth’s ways a little bit better by reading a copy of Cosmopolitan magazine. (The Humans is not without humor!) He ends up home with his not-all-that-loving wife, Isobel, and his troubled son, Gulliver. You recall that he’s supposed to kill everyone who knows of Andrew’s discovery… fortunately for Isobel, she and Andrew haven’t been talking that much lately. Not such good news for the professor’s colleague. And it could have been seriously bad news for the son.
As an alien, Andrew is part of a communal consciousness where all is always perfect and no one dies. The goal is to keep this perfect state, which is threatened when any civilization becomes too advanced. Human Andrew begins to appreciate that the communal consciousness is not all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, the essential loneliness of humanity is the reason why love is so precious and loss so painful. He fights for his family and for the human race, giving up immortality in the process.
I’ll admit it, I enjoyed the book. Totally caught up in it, and about 1/3 of the way through, I gave up trying to figure out where the mystery was and settled in for the ride. But I had a nagging sense of déja vu, until it finally hit me: Starman. The Jeff Bridges movie about a alien who takes on the form of a young widow’s husband, and they’re pursued cross-country by the U.S. government. It has alien nudity, super-natural powers, growing romance, and self-sacrifice. All of which are notably present in The Humans as well.
I think it’s quite likely that The Humans will end up ranking at the bottom of my list, if only because I can’t quite get my head around the fact that it’s even up for an Edgar. With my luck, it’ll win. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy putting it at #1 for now!
Lunchbox Rankings: Best Novel
1. The Humans by Matt Haig