The Man Who Fell to Earth | 30-second book review

Pink and white Roseate Spoonbill bird flying with its wings spread around its head on a solid white background.

Alien Thomas J. Newton gets under the skin of the human race in Tevis’s classic sci-fi story, The Man Who Fell to Earth.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is a 1963 sci-fi novel by Walter Tevis. While it’s not particularly literary or memorably written, its story is nonetheless affecting and compelling.

Thomas J. Newton is an alien in human form. After landing on Earth, he devotes his time and energy to making vast sums of money, building a secret space ship and drinking gin.

The story that follows falls somewhere between The Body Snatchers and The Day the Earth Stood Still. In having Newton pretend to be an Earthling, it asks what it takes to be human.

It also considers whether extraterrestrials would be friend or foe to the planet. On either side of the equation, human nature is left wanting:

“To tell you the truth, it dismays us greatly to see what you are about to do with such a beautiful, fertile world. We destroyed ours a long time ago, but we had so much less to begin with than you have here.”

The Man Who Fell to Earth

Tevis makes one or two smart predictions about life in the 1990s, including ‘picture phones’ which sound remarkably like modern cellphones. But the spirit of the book feels moored in the 60s, which spoils the effect a little.

This is also noticeably a story of and about white men, particularly in its treatment of America as synonymous with ‘the world’.

Tevis’s handling of humanity, friendship and power strikes a chord with Orwell’s 1984, and these form some of the most touching and troubling portions of the book.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), by Walter Tevis

Quoted edition published by Gollancz, 2016

What to read or watch next
  • The Hustler, The Color of Money, The Queen’s Gambit (same author)
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976 film adaptation starring David Bowie)
  • 1984 (dystopic fiction, power and pain)
  • Fahrenheit 451 (dystopic fiction)
  • Rendezvous with Rama (future humans, alien contact)
  • Project Hail Mary (sci-fi comes full circle)

Picture credit: Ray Hennessy