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.
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.