The Humans

Rating: ⭐.5
Author: Matt Haig
Genres: Science Fiction
Pub Date: May 2013 (Read Apr. 2018)

I have mixed feelings about this book. The author definitely provided some interesting social commentary on humans and some of our eccentricities and social norms, but I thought the story was flawed and there were a lot of things that bothered me.

The Humans is a sci-fi novel very reminiscent of Douglas Adams’ writing. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy isn’t one of my favs, but I did appreciate some of the humour in this book. The book starts with an alien who has taken over the body of professor Andrew Martin. Martin worked at Cambridge University as a mathematician and had a breakthrough in his work with prime numbers that could have changed everything for humans and greatly accelerated their technological advancements. The aliens are apparently threatened by this and send an unnamed alien to inhabit Martin’s body and destroy all evidence of his discovery (and anyone he might have told).

The alien is confident in his mission, but he quickly becomes baffled by humans and their emotions and begins to develop feelings for Andrew’s wife and son. He had thought the humans were a primitive race and is confused by many of their social norms and customs, but he starts to learn there are more to humans than meets the eye and that their ability to love and care for one another is actually one of their greatest strengths.

Like I said, this did have some interesting social commentary and made me think about how odd we can actually be. Humour is an effective way to highlight shortcomings and I thought the author did this well. But I just got so hung up on some of the inconsistencies in this book that I couldn’t love it. Minor spoilers below.

First of all, why do the aliens care about earth at all? They live a million light years away and I couldn’t understand why they would care if earth started to become more advanced. I kind of pictured things like star trek, but where humans are the primitive species that hasn’t yet progressed enough to be invited to join the federation, so the rest of the galaxy just leaves us to our ignorance. If there’s so many galaxies and other life forms, I don’t see what the big deal would be with earth advancing. We’d probably just accelerate the destruction of the planet knowing humans. So I thought the story was incredibly flawed for this reason.

Second, there were too many inconsistencies in what part of our culture the alien just inherently understood and didn’t understand. He can extrapolate the entire english language from one reading of Cosmo magazine, but he doesn’t understand why it might be imperative that he find himself some clothes so as not to draw attention to himself? Likewise, he knows to hit up a bar to drown his sorrows in alcohol, but he doesn’t understand that infidelity is not an acceptable thing? He read Cosmo! He should know better!

I get the whole not understanding emotions, but I feel like the author was just picking and choosing what would make sense to this alien to try and make the points he wanted to make. I was too frustrated by what was the point of it all to be enamoured with the author’s writing and I couldn’t suspend my disbelief that the alien would adapt to earth so quickly. If this alien came from a race without emotions, would he really start to develop emotions so quickly? Wouldn’t he be more like the vulcans and just not understand emotion at all? And don’t get me started on the “advice to a human” chapter. I’m sorry, but this was one giant eye-roll for me. This alien has been on the planet for like 2 weeks, no way he understands complex human emotions or is able to offer any meaningful insight about it that writers, artists, philosophers, and psychologists haven’t already observed.

So this wasn’t a win for me, but sci-fi isn’t really my genre. I don’t like being beaten over the head with social commentary and prefer for it to be woven into a story in a more meaningful way. This storytelling was more, ‘I’m going to tell you want’s wrong with humanity and what’s impressive about it’, vs telling me an emotional story that is going to indirectly lead me to the same conclusions. I can understand why some people like this, but overall not for me. Just taking the time to reflect and write this review has already lowered my opinion of this book, but I have a book club meeting about it on Friday, so I’ll see if maybe they can drag me back up on this one. (spoiler: they didn’t)

Sleeping Giants/Waking Gods

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
Author: Sylvain Neuvel
Genres: Science-Fiction
Read: Nov. 2017

 

I read Sleeping Giants and Waking Gods back-to-back and they are quite unlike anything I’ve read before – granted, I don’t read very much sci-fi. I saw these two popping up on my newsfeed throughout the year, but the synopsis sounded so weird I immediately passed over them. But I decided to give them a try when I saw them nominated in the Goodreads Choice Awards.

I can’t remember if the time period in which the books take place is ever stated, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume they occur around modern day. The story starts when young Rose Franklin falls off her bike in the middle of the woods and finds herself in the palm of a giant metal hand at the bottom of a glowing hole. Fast-forward to the future and Rose is now a doctor of physics and is recruited to solve the mystery of the hand she fell into as a child.

It turns out the hand is just one piece of a giant robot that predates technology by ~6000 years. Sleeping Giants raises some really interesting questions about extraterrestrials and how small it makes you feel to think there may be other lifeforms far more advanced than you, that have presumably visited your planet in the past and could theoretically return at any time. Especially when that species in the owner of a 200-foot tall killer robot and could conceivably destroy your entire planet if they so desired. I think humans are pretty proud of our intelligence, so it is a humbling thought to think of what it would be like to suddenly realize that you’re not only not alone in the universe, but that you are not the most intelligent life form in the universe either.

I rated both books 3 stars, but I think I liked Sleeping Giants a bit better. The plot felt like it had a bit more direction, whereas in Waking Gods, I really had no clue wtf was happening or where the story was going.

I didn’t think I was going to like the format of the series, which is told entirely through a bunch of interviews, news articles, and journal entries known as the Themis Files, but actually the format really worked for me. Most of the interviews are conducted by a nameless agent who has put together a team of scientists and military personnel to scour the globe for all the robot pieces, study them, and learn how they work. I really liked the team, particularly Kara and Vincent, and I liked that the story spent a lot of time on their personal relationships as well.

Waking Gods opens with the appearance of an unknown robot in the middle of central London. The team has learned a little bit about how to pilot Themis (the name of their robot), but still know very little about where she came from. Waking Gods looks at some really interesting moral issues as well and is a fast-paced apocalyptic novel about a robot invasion, but I found it slightly less compelling than Sleeping Giants. They were both quite good, but I’ve reached the point now where I really need some answers! We did get some insight into the aliens motivation towards the end of the book, but I need to know more!! I think that is part of the genius of the series though. In the scenario of a hostile robot invasion, you probably wouldn’t get a lot of answers and the speculation is what makes the story so compelling.

It really is a hard-to-put down series and I would recommend for sci-fi fans. I’m just not really the biggest sci-fi fan and I preferred some of the other sci-fi books I read this year over the Themis Files. Notably I loved Dark Matter, which is extremely compelling and science-y and Marie Lu’s Warcross, which is arguably a much lighter version of science fiction.