The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis (Italian edition)

The novel “The Man Who Fell to Earth” by Walter Tevis was published for the first time in 1963.

A native of the planet Anthea lands near a small town in the USA. He looks similar to humans and is equipped with everything he needs to disguise himself to avoid being discovered. After selling some gold rings to get money, he turns to attorney Oliver Farnsworth to deal with patents on technologies unknown on Earth that can make him a lot of money.

Using the fictional name Thomas Jerome Newton, the extraterrestrial becomes very rich. Professor Nathan Bryce examined the film produced using one of the alien technologies and remains intrigued by the remarkable progress over previously known products. He ends up working for Newton, who slowly seems to take on human attitudes.

The theme of the alien arriving on Earth is a great classic of science fiction and yet Walter Tevis develops it in a unique way in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. The alien known only by the fictional name he uses on Earth, Thomas Jerome Newton, isn’t the vanguard of an invasion but is on a mission to save the last members of his species, which is near extinction.

The planet Anthea is indicated only by the name used by the natives but the clues in the novel lead to think that it’s Mars. In Walter Tevis’ interpretation, it’s a dying world whose inhabitants have one last hope of survival by sending one of their own to Earth. The details of the mission are slowly revealed by the protagonist himself, who trained hard to survive a gravity far greater than his planet’s.

The psychological element is absolutely predominant in “The Man Who Fell to Earth”, in which Walter Tevis shows us the protagonist’s fragility, not only physical. His mission is painful not only because of Earth’s gravity but also because he’s literally in the midst of aliens, very far from his family. He had studied human beings using the radio and television transmissions that had reached Anthea but physically living among them is very difficult and over time this has serious consequences for him and his mission.

For most of the novel, little or nothing happens, so action seekers should avoid “The Man Who Fell to Earth”. This is a novel full of often bitter and sad reflections on humanity. Newton tries to save his people, and this would also lead to the salvation of humanity by exploiting various technological advances possible by combining the antheans’ knowledge and the resources still available on Earth. However, the protagonist starts wondering not only if it’s really possible to save humanity but also if humanity deserves to be saved.

Walter Tevis could use his own experience to describe Newton’s story because he was still a child when he was separated from his family for a long time during a one-year convalescence that followed serious health problems. During his lifetime, the author had serious problems with alcoholism, another element that became part of what can be called Newton’s corruption on Earth.

The result is a protagonist who is supposed to be an external observer of the human condition who ends up becoming in some way a part of humanity. Newton’s experience led to various interpretations, even going so far as to consider him a messianic figure even though he never seeks disciples and over time he’s the one who falls instead of helping humans rise from their condition.

“The Man Who Fell to Earth” has become a cult novel also thanks to the movie adaptation with David Bowie as the protagonist. It was also adapted for a television movie in 1987 and for a recent TV show. The reflections it offers are sometimes brutal but for this very reason, I think it’s a must-read novel without thinking about genre labels.

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