Professor Andrew Martin must die. At least, that’s what a race of aliens on the other side of the galaxy believe. This unnamed race worry deeply about the safety of the universe, so they intervene, limiting the development of interstellar civilisations. Solving the Riemann Equation puts humans one step closer to interstellar travel, and thus Andrew Martin must die and all his research be destroyed to prevent it.
A lone alien is sent to Earth to carry out the murder. Not only must Martin be bumped off, so must anyone with whom he discussed his work. Our alien protagonist is therefore inserted inside Martin’s mind and body, and he takes him over, becoming Andrew Martin, yet still thoroughly alien. He’s uncomprehending of human ways, and must learn how to navigate the strange human world he’s now stranded on.
Andrew Martin was a bit of a git before he was inhabited. Distant from his wife and son and wedded instead to his mathematical work, it becomes clear that he had few redeeming qualities. But as the alien inside him begins to understand humans better, he begins to feel, something expressly forbidden on his home-world. He experiences joy and happiness, pain and despair, and slowly comes to understand that humans have a lot going for them after all.
Of course, this change is not welcomed by the bosses back home. They make it very clear that if he doesn’t finish the job, they’ll strand him on Earth and send someone else to do it instead. Our alien is having none of that though, and before the book is done, he’s changed his mind about many things, and become a better man than Andrew Martin ever was.
A comic and tragic sci-fi, it’s at times poetic, funny, philosophical and downright sad, yet above all it’s an honest look at the absolutely barmy creature we call human. Within the space of a page you can be laughing at a strange human convention our alien just experienced, and then crying at the absolute anguish he’s going through as he learns about human relationships.
Top marks to Matt Haig for giving us an alien who’s more human than we could ever imagine.