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The Man Who Fell to Earth Book Review

Updated on December 30, 2009

Science Fiction by Walter Tevis

Many people are aware of the cult classic movie "The Man Who Fell to Earth," starring rock legend David Bowie.  However, as these things tend to go, before the movie came about, there was the book.  The Man Who Fell to Earth was written by Walter Tevis, who also created Mockingbird and The Hustler.  It first appeared in 1963 yet is as relevant today, if a bit dated in speech and Cold War mentality, as any science fiction novels produced today.

Sometimes the loveliest, most enviale novels come short, under 200 pages or so, much like many of Hermann Hesse's novels, and exactly like The Man Who Fell to Earth.  One of the higher stylistic points of the story is that it avoids the normal, generally hyperinflated stereotypes of what aliens might be like.  Instead, our resident alien, Newton, is very human in not only form, but in many of his ideas and habits, as when he "goes native" in numerous respects, including sinking into the depths of melancholy, much aided by alcohol.

This is the tale of an alien who comes to planet Earth with a mission that will allow the people of his own barren planet to survive.  They have had a bellicose existence, much like war-happy Earth.  However, they have been more successful at war, destroying a vast proportion of their population.  As much as a messiah for his planet, Newton comes with a message to ours:  war means entrance into oblivion.

Overall, the characters hold little depth, yet what depth they do have suck the reader in, touching him or her as the alien Newton reflects the human condition back at the reader.  Newton is easily loved, as is Bryce, the scientist who comes to Newton's aid in more ways than mere technical assistance.  As the novel is shown from the perspectives of both of these two central characters, mystery and intrigue are set at a higher pitch than if the voice and perspective were singular.

What is especially telling about this story is its time setting, during the thick of Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union.  The tale is almost Orwellian in much of its feel and plot nuances.  This is exemplified in the latter half of the plot, and with Newton's experiences in draconian, McCarthyist  governmental tactics played out in an initially easily surmised scenario which ends in a meaninful surprise.

This story is very plot driven, as well as being bolstered by the personalities that make their presence felt throughout the tale of the lonely alien on the lonely planet Earth.

Finally, a bit disconterting, even dramatic, was the 1981 copywrited paperback version's of the story type.  Bold and almost alien itself, the type was undoubtedly chosen as it helps to form the alien landscape described by the story's protagonist, not merely with imagination, but directly and literally onto the pages of the book itself.  As well, the tall, lanky letters also mirror the height and lean phenotype of the alien Newton.

This is an enjoyable book that will hold relevance for humans (and maybe some covert, visiting aliens) for many more centuries.


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      Daisy 5 years ago

      I loved this book! Such a sad ending though...