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The Man Who Fell to Earth by William Tevis This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

In William Tevis’ fantastic novel The Man Who Fell to Earth, there is an alien invasion and all the familiar tropes that go with it. There is a man with the power to stop it, a woman who becomes deeply involved, government agencies seeking to find the answers. However, the book is about none of these things.

Rather, it centers on one sole alien by the name of T.J. Newton. There are others of his race waiting off screen, three hundred in fact, but we only get to meet one of them. He is not a laser-gun-toting warlord set on domination, nor is he an invincible superpower who wows the puny humans with his near-supernatural abilities. Instead, he is vulnerable, perhaps even weak. His alien physiology means everything from jerking elevators to heat waves pose a danger.

The details of his mission are revealed slowly as the book goes on. Life on his home planet is never fully explored but, aliens and spaceships aside, this isn’t a story about extraterrestrial culture. The closest Tevis comes is to compare and contrast the differences to Newton’s Anthean race and humans, but this serves as only a fragment of a greater purpose. Here is a story about loneliness, about emptiness, about – as cheesy as it may seem – what it means to be human.

The novel spans about six years and a variety of locations throughout the United States, but in scope it is small. Rather than exploring the effects of first – or, as Tevis suggests, first modern – contact on a worldwide scale, he chooses to focus on three individuals, brought together by the story of the title character. The novel is all the stronger for it, bringing the ultimate theme of humanity to the foreground. This being said, Tevis walks a slippery slope. The
book relies on one’s ability to sympathize with the characters, which in turn depends on one’s ability to care about people who may not, at first glance, be all that likable.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is full of things I love to read about – aliens, heavy doses of dialogue, tragedy, broken characters, cold war paranoia, even politics. That being said, while many things happen it’s not conventionally exciting. The story is told through dialogue and thought, rather than sequences of action. This too serves the larger purpose of discussing those all-important themes, but it may make it less accessible to readers craving excitement. Ultimately, however, Tevis’ novel isn’t that kind of alien story, being on the opposite side of the spectrum from the traditional War-of-the-Worlds type invasion yarn.

If the novel has one weakness, it is its brevity. Tevis could have made the novel much more complex, perhaps gone even deeper into the wounded psyche of his characters. But he really doesn’t need to. As a small story on a small scale, it is best for the novel itself that we see the presumed downfall of humanity in the downfall of one man, making it all the more connecting and emotional.

The Man Who Fell to Earth can be read in many ways. It’s a science-fiction story about aliens on Earth, a parable of failure and loneliness, a warning in the tradition of the time of the ultimate destruction on mankind. No matter what, it’s a tragedy, and like any tragedy, there’s a worthy discussion to be had regarding who can take the blame for the disastrous consequences. Worthy, but not necessary.

Really, all it takes to appreciate this beautiful, clever, sorrowful little book is to be willing to feel.




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