Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Man Who Fell to Earth, by Walter Tevis

Today I'm looking at another Walter Tevis novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth. This novel centers around T. J. Newton, an alien from another planet who has come to earth for mysterious reasons. Newton utilizes the advanced technology of his homeworld to establish a corporate juggernaut and pour the money into a special, highly secret research project. Newton's inventions draw the attention of Professor Bryce, a chemical engineer who realizes the technologies Newton's World Enterprises are introducing could not have come from an earthly laboratory because they are centuries ahead of anything current science could create, leading him to investigate.

I think the biggest problem I had with this book is that it tends to meander along, rather than having decent pacing. Granted, there are books that can slowly build and develop, but coming in at less than two hundred pages, I feel like that is a luxury Tevis couldn't have indulged in and this book would have benefited from being more on-point. The characters spend quite a lot of time being drunk and thinking along the lines of ''woe is me'' which just...doesn't make for terribly exciting reading. Maybe there's some sort of niche market for that, I don't know. It honestly feels kind of like one of those ''literary'' novels where everyone sits around and complains about how pointless and meaningless life is, but it's an alien who's doing it instead of regular people.

I also don't really like how Betty Jo is portrayed as a character in this book. I do recognize that this book was written in the sixties so people had very different opinions about class and gender back then, but it hasn't aged well at all in this novel. Betty Jo is a Kentucky resident that Newton meets when he gets injured in an elevator (long story), and is every bad stereotype of a welfare queen. She doesn't work, just collects checks from a variety of government agencies and uses quite a bit of it to buy gin, which she drinks in copious amounts. And how Tevis uses her in the book...I can't really place my finger on it but there's something that just doesn't seem right about it. Maybe someone more articulate than I can express it better but just how he portrays Betty Jo and her relations with the other characters make me feel weirdly uncomfortable for some reason.

And then the book kind of...ends. Literally the government comes in, smashes some things up, and the book just sort of ends. Aside from some technology having been introduced to earth that didn't exist before, nothing's really changed. We just have a bunch of characters who aren't thrilled with life and drink to medicate their problems away.

Maybe there are people who like this sort of book, but I think I'm just not one of them. It feels like an extended session of people being sad drunks and I've never enjoyed that in real life, nevermind fiction. There may be some greater message to the story beyond a general embrace of nihilism but I'm clearly not getting it.

- Kalpar

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