The Man Who Fell To Earth
By Walter Tevis
Genre: Science Fiction
The basis for a feature film starring David Bowie in his first major role, 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 300 Anthean survivors to Earth.
But instead of the help he seeks, he finds only self-destruction, sinking into alcoholism, abandoning his spaceship, and can save neither his people nor himself. This is the poignant story of a man fallen to addiction, materialism, and loneliness.
Finding the words to articulate my feelings for this poignant story is no easy task. It is one I have chosen to minimize as I feel this a novel best left interpreted by the individual reader. There is much to be gained during the small time spent with this classic novel.
Initially I did not fully discern just how much was happening within this misleadingly simple story of an alien from the planet Anthea sent to Earth in hopes of securing a means to save his own race.
The plot is very basic. Our protagonist and the message he carries is anything but.
The Man Who Fell To Earth is not your typical speculative fiction. You will not find yourself whisked away to futuristic planets among incredible alien races. The only spaceship in this story no longer functions. There are no magical worlds and fantastical events occurring. No, this is not about any of those things. This is a journey of exploration that will take you much further than that. And that journey begins and ends with one man..
Meet T.J. Newton (Tommy). He has been sent to Earth in hopes of saving his race from their dying planet. His plan is simple. Patent Anthean technology (while disguised as a human) and acquire enough money to build a spaceship to bring the Antheans to Earth. However, all does not go exactly as Tommy plans and he ends up acquiring something much larger than any spaceship. Humanity.
“He was human; but not, properly, a man. Also, manlike, he was susceptible to love, to fear, to intense physical pain and to self-pity.”
The Man Who Fell To Earth is a quiet, elegant and lonely look at the deepest of “human” characteristics through the eyes of an alien. Through Tommy’s time with man we observe life and the emotions and traits that encompass our very existence. We are given a new perspective and challenged to observe ourselves outwardly.
Tommy’s time away from Anthea is filled with pain and isolation. He lives alone among man in fear of discovery and even worse, failing. But his time on Earth results in more than he anticipates as he begins to assess his own feelings and the life surrounding him. He quickly sees the suffering and self-destructive behavior of mankind.
This is a slow, saddening excursion into the depths of humanity and existence that remains very relative to this day. The Man Who Fell To Earth, while short in length delivers a surprisingly impactful story full of underlying depth and significance.
My hope is to follow-up with a small review/comparison of the film starring David Bowie in the near future. Imagining Bowie as Tommy was an effortless process as the descriptions fit so fell. I immediately found myself ordering a collector’s edition that has been released just this year. Here is a look at the trailer for the remastered film from last year for those who might be curious.
As this review is about a week late, I now find I can’t help but recommend The Man Who Fell To Earth to all. It still lingers with me as I continue to attempt to fully interpret and dissect all that has been beautifully packed into this classic and deceptively simplistic story. This would be a wonderful selection for a discussion or group reading.