The Man Who Fell to Earth (1978, Gregg Press) 5 stars

Review of 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

This was my first read by Walter Tevis, and I’m glad it was. I don’t remember how I first heard of his works, maybe in some sci-fi list recommendation, but I am glad I decided to check him out. This book in particular is a great one to start with even if you’re unfamiliar with the sci-fi genre. The book’s premise is essentially a First Contact story, which is one of my favorite tropes, but the story is greater than the sum of its parts. This is not just about the alien, Thomas Jerome Newton, but about the corrupting force of humanity and what it means to have a purpose. There are a lot of philosophical underpinnings at play in this book, which is why I enjoyed it. Newton was writing during the great uncertainty around the Cold War and with increasing concern about environmentalism—and it is a bit sad to realize that these issues have hardly gotten better since.

The sci-fi aspect admittedly isn’t that strong, and for much of the book, it’s a secondary consideration. There were some laughable moments where Tevis gets basic astronomy incorrect, but since this was written in the late 60s, when much of what we now know about space was barely even conceptualized, I’ll give him a pass on that. It’s always fun to read old futuristic novels and see what sort of ideas they had in mind—like how Tevis conceptualizes the concept of instant film technology, rather than what we ended up with, digital imaging. For me this added a fun ‘retro’ color to the book, but others may find this grating.

I also unfortunately decided to watch the 1976 film adaptation of this starring David Bowie. Based on that alone, I had some high expectations for it… and of course, Bowie as Newton was perfect casting. But it ended up being a zany 70s art film, with little verisimilitude to the book and not incorporating its deeper themes—thus, I found it quite disappointing. Still, if you enjoy weird, abstract art films, it may be for you. This was a quick and enjoyable read, and I didn’t find Tevis’s writing style to be dated at all. Aside from certain scientific references, and it being set in the late 80s and 90s, the story is still quite relevant today—and its philosophical insights into human nature ring as true as ever.