Book review: The Humans by Matt Haig

This is going to be a shorter review than is typical for me, mainly because I don’t have much to say about The Humans. I went into it with too high expectations based on my first read of Matt Haig’s work, The Radleys (which I loved), and by the blurbs littering the cover with gushing praise. And I should say that yes, I liked the story. But do I think it is “Wonderfully funny, gripping, and inventive”? No. Would I call it “Hilarious”? No. Would I describe it as “A laugh-and-cry book”? No. (I also wouldn’t call it that because ugh, hyphen abuse.) What I would call it is “Somewhat adequate.”

Putting it simply, The Humans is a retread of just about every “going native” story I’ve ever read or seen as a film. It’s the same as the many stories of tourists visiting another country and being bewildered by culture shock, only to eventually fall in love with the people (usually first with just one person) and coming to terms with their unusual habits. It’s Dances with Wolves, and Avatar, and any other number of examples across multiple genres.

The narrator for this book is an unnamed alien sent to Earth to erase evidence of a mathematical breakthrough that might somehow evolve the human race to the point of space travel. Why? Well because even if the claim is made many times that the whole race feels no emotions, they clearly fear the humans. I’m not even going to argue with their reasoning, because just look at what we’ve done with the internet and smartphones, and it’s clear that we do indeed have a problem with our technology advancing far too fast for us to catch up culturally and socially. So even if it seems illogical that the aliens who feel no emotions should fear humans, I can’t fault their desire to keep us constrained to one planet until we’ve had the chance to mature beyond our territorial pissing contest mentality.

The narrator initially shows up so confused about human customs that he makes himself an online celebrity with a nude walk across the Cambridge campus. Everything humans do is revolting to him, and nothing in the world makes sense. Yet he comes to love his family, and through them, he begins to feel empathy for the whole human race.

And, that’s the story, minus some spoilery bits. It’s kind of cute, and there were several lines clever enough that I felt the need to read them aloud to hubby. But there were no laugh out loud moments, no tear jerking scenes requiring a trip to the tissue box before I could continue. Even the wittier observations feel like retreads of comments made in Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett novels. So if I were to sum this book up, it’s a casserole. The ingredients are all familiar and maybe a bit near their expiration dates, and combined as a whole they make something satisfying. But at the end of the day, a casserole is still just a casserole, and it’s not something I would call “extraordinary.”

That’s why I’m giving The Humans 3 stars. It’s a fine light read for fans of sci-fi, even if most of the story wanders the same path of many other tales before it. Just don’t go in with expectations as high as mine were and you should have a good time with this.