The Man Who Fell to Earth: A vivid portrayal of alcoholism

The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter TevisThe Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter TevisThe Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who has come to Earth on a mission. He hopes to save the remaining 300 aliens who are dying on his home planet. Since childhood he’s been preparing for this, training by watching and listening to Earth’s radio and TV broadcasts. Being mostly humanoid in appearance, and understanding much of Earth’s culture, he has disguised himself to successfully pass as a man from Kentucky.

Soon after his arrival, he contacts a patent lawyer and begins to “invent” the technology of his superior planet. His goal is to earn half a billion dollars so he can have the money he needs to fund his mission. He needs to keep his identity secret because, though his intentions toward the humans are completely benevolent, who knows what they will do if they find out there’s an alien among them.

But there is one human, a chemist disillusioned with his academic career, who starts to get suspicious when he analyzes the alien inventions. They don’t seem possible… in fact, they seem alien. He wants to discover the truth.

The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963), by Walter Tevis, is an emotionally engaging story with much depth. It’s easy to forget that Newton is an alien, or maybe it’s just that it’s easy to not care that he’s not human. His relentless focus on his goal, his love for his people back home, his gradually deepening homesickness, and his sense of isolation are palpable, even though he doesn’t seem to have the full spectrum of human emotions. His thoughts on American society, including its religious institutions and welfare system, are interesting.The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis audiobook reviews

But then he discovers alcohol after befriending a woman who’s an alcoholic. The alcohol seems to heighten his emotions and it’s both glorious and gut-wrenching to watch him start acting more like the humans he has felt so superior to. This causes an identity crisis and he eventually begins to self-destruct, threatening his life-saving mission. Tevis’s description of the downward spiral of alcoholism feels devastatingly real and it’s ironic to realize that the same drug that humanized Newton also de-humanizes him.

I enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of The Man Who Fell to Earth (Recorded Books) which is expertly performed by George Guidall. In 1976, The Man Who Fell to Earth was made into a film starring David Bowie, a great choice to portray the tall, thin, and delicate white-haired alien.

Published in 1963. The Man Who Fell to Earth tells the story of Thomas Jerome Newton, an alien disguised as a human who comes to Earth on a mission to save his people. Devastated by nuclear war, his home planet, Anthea, is no longer habitable. Newton lands in Kentucky and starts patenting Anthean technology — amassing the fortune he needs to build a spaceship that will bring the last three hundred Anthean survivors to Earth. But instead of the help he seeks, he finds only self-destruction, sinking into alcoholism and abandoning his spaceship, in this poignant story about the human condition by the acclaimed author of Mockingbird.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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One comment

  1. I saw the film at a midnight show, but I’ve never read the book. Maybe it would be a good offering for this winter.

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