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Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Adams’

I can’t quite remember how I heard about Matt Haig and his novel The Humans, but it arrived on the state library van as an interlibrary loan for me this week and it’s the first book that’s kept me up too late in a few months at least. I really didn’t want to put it down, and not just because I’d dropped the “blue card” with the circulation bar code on it in the dark and subsequently woke up repeatedly in the night worrying I’d have to return it sans card. (When I woke up the card was on my slippers).

The premise of the book is that the narrator, an alien assassin, has been sent to Earth from a planet many light years away to eliminate a maths professor, Andrew Martin,  at Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College because he has discovered the proof for the Riemann Hypothesis, the inhabitants of his planet believe humans aren’t ready for such progress.  The only problem is he arrives on earth with little knowledge of everyday human life and culture, and for some reason, arrives in Andrew Martin’s naked body on a dark country road.

Alien Andrew Martin has to convince his wife, Isobel, his troubled teenaged son Gulliver, and their dog, Newton, that he’s the same man they’ve always known, despite his powers (he can heal, for example), and what appear to them to be his mental lapses. Such as a complete lack of understanding of adultery. And, he has to kill them, since that’s what he was sent to do.

Instead, he begins to admire human life, and to understand it. He learns to like music: “The last thing I listened to was a tune called ‘Clare de Lune’ by Debussy. That was the closest representation of space I had ever heard, and I stood there, in the middle of the room, frozen with shock that a human could have made such a beautiful noise.” And he discovers poetry, especially Emily Dickinson. And peanut butter, which he shares with Newton. As he learns about being human, he becomes a vastly kinder, more considerate one than the real Andrew Martin ever was. Which is where the problems begin.

I don’t know why I am on a British witty urban scifi kick lately, but at risk of repeating myself, if you like Tom Holt or Daniel O’Malley or Douglas Adams or Nick Harkaway you’ll like this book, which is less showy in the bells and whistles of alien life, but funny in its own dry way, and lovely too, in the tenderness alien Andrew Martin learns. It’s a quick read, entertaining, but also thought provoking. Haig writes in the afterward that he recovered from panic disorder by reading, and by writing this book. How beautiful, that a novel about what it means to be truly human gave its author a sense of being comfortable with his own humanness.

 

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The parent of a member of Teen the Younger’s FIRST Robotics team showed me the first page of Daniel O’Malley’s debut novel, The Rook at a competition: Dear You, The body you are wearing used to be mine. The scar on the inner left thigh is there because I fell out of a tree and impaled my leg at the age of nine. The filling in the far left tooth on the top is the result of my avoiding the dentist for four years. But you probably care little about this body’s past. After all, I am writing this letter for you to read in the future. Perhaps you are wondering why anyone would do such a thing. The answer is both simple and complicated. The simple answer is because I knew it would be necessary.”

I was hooked after reading just that much. Rook Myfanwy Thomas is a young woman whose brilliant administrative skills have landed her in position of considerable power and influence in the Court, which functions as a sort of cabinet, in very hierarchical secretive British agency called the Chequy. The cover of the book says “On her majesty’s supernatural secret service,” which sums up the Chequy nicely.

O’Malley has a smart, dry sense of humor in the same vein as Douglas Adams and Tom Holt. Myfanwy Thomas reminds me of another brilliant heroine of genre-bending crime/humor/fantasy literature, Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next. The Rook is deliciously funny but it’s also a spy thriller with cunning villains, power-hungry plotters, and international subterfuge. And it’s a fantasy, with characters whose powers include visiting people’s dreams, making and emitting chemicals through the pores, or turning one’s body into metal.

Mfanwy is endearing because she’s both a modern career woman, angsting about her wardrobe, what people think of her, and whether she’ll ever have a normal life, and a high powered agent fighting paranormal wrongdoing and protecting the world as we know it from the world as she knows it. Oh, and hunting hunting the mole who wants her dead and stripped her memories right out of her brain.

A rollicking, intriguing read full of fascinating characters, a witty and page-turning plot, and plenty of supernatural elements existing in our own world. This is the kind of book perfect for the hammock or lounge chair. The lawn can wait until you find out whether the Grafters are invading or not!

 

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