Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, March 30, 2012


The Man Who Fell to Earth (1963) by Walter S. Tevis

So, Stephen King has a new book coming out, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a stand-alone, if you wil,l to his massive Dark Tower series, -- which has absolutely nothing to do with the book we are condering here.  But, since I have King's newest book on order, I felt it behooved me to finish the original series before tackling TWTTK.  I had stopped reading the original series with Book Three, where Blaine the Mono was about to crash everybody to hell and gone.  Over the last year or so I got back to the series and read Books Four, Five, and Six -- which only left Book Seven, the doorstopper The Dark Tower, which I read last week.

     Anyway, after slowly reading that detailed eight-hundred pound gorilla, I needed something much, much smaller to cleanse my reading palate.  Now we come to the book in question.  A hundred sixty pager I had been meaning to read for a lo-o-o-ong time.  Not only have I not read this before, but I have never seen the David Bowie movie.  I was coming into this fresh.

     The Man Who Fell to Earth is Thomas Jerome Newton, one of the few surviving natives of the planet Anthea.  Where once his planet hosted three intelligent species, only 300 of his own people survive; Anthea has become a barren, used-up world, with little energy sources and little water.  The planet had enough resources left to power a small craft and bring Newton to Earth, where Newton could used Earth's resources and Anthea's technology to built a rescue ship which could bring his remaining people to Earth.

     Although humanoid, Newton's physiognomy differs greatly from humanklind, as does his level of intelligence.  Landing in Kentucky, he follows a secret plan to get money to finance the building of the transport ship.  With the help of a savvy Southern lawyer, Newton quickly builds a financial empire based on marketing his native technology.   He soon develops his only two human friendships:  first with Betty Jo, a kind-hearted and unschooled alcoholic, then with Nathan Bryce, a fuel engineer who suspects something unearthly about Newton.

     Because of planetary alignments, Newton has only five years from landing on Earth to complete and launch his spaceship.  But even a few years on Earth can take a toll.  Newton develops a drinking problem.  His purpose wavers.  He knows enough about human nature and about destructive technologies to be he is positive the human race will destroy itself without Anthean intervention.

     Things come to a head when Newton is detained by the CIA, who have discovered that he is an alien.  Bureaucratic incompetence and national jealousies lead to Newton's inadvertent torture and the detention of Betty Jo and Nathan.  Newton has a choice to make that will determine the fate of both his race and that of Earth.

     The Man Who Fell to Earth is a quick, smooth read and a damned good one.  Written in 1963, it's as relevent today as when it was published.  Despite the premise, all the characters come off as real; their faults and their good points make for sympathetic reading.

     Tevis is also well-known for two other novels that were made into movie, The Hustler and The Color of Money.

     This one is a keeper.  Recommended.


  1. I read this one many years back, about the time the movie came out.

    On the DARK TOWER series, I was disappointed in the last three novels, written in a rush after his near brush with death. Considering King's recent record I expect the new one to be very good.

  2. I've read The Man Who Fell to Earth only once - back when I was thirteen - but I do remember liking it a great deal. This was in anticipation of the the Nicholas Roeg adaptation starring David Bowie. If fading memory is reliable, the film is also worth the time. Very different, more haunting.

  3. David Bowie made a great alien in that movie. And Candy Clark (wish she had a longer, more varied career) was superb. Have to track down the book one of these days. Had no idea this was written by the same guy who created Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats. Learn something new every day...

  4. After having read "The Dark Tower" the original juvenilia short story, as published finally in the F&SF I review today, which I hated on first read, and trying one or two of the other DT stories F&SF ran after, I've never given any of the books a tumble.

    But Walter Tevis is an altogether differently-colored horse. I think someone (Randy? Bill?) did FAR FROM HOME, his brilliant collection of short fiction for FFB some time back, but I might just have to do a return engagement. And even though almost everyone finds Tevis's MOCKINGBIRD disappointing, I'll have to read it sometime.

  5. Sorry, of course I meant "The Gunslinger" above.