Margot (midnight_birth) wrote in margot_quotes,

The Humans by Matt Haig.


Title: The Humans.
Author: Matt Haig.
Genre: Fiction, fantasy, science fiction, alien fiction, mathematics, dark humour.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 2013.
Summary: When an extraterrestrial visitor arrives on Earth, his first impressions of the human species are less than positive. Taking the form of Professor Andrew Martin, a prominent mathematician at Cambridge University, the visitor is eager to complete the gruesome task assigned him and hurry back home to the utopian world of his own planet, where everyone enjoys immortality and infinite knowledge. He is disgusted by the way humans look, what they eat, and their capacity for murder and war, and he is equally baffled by the concepts of love and family. But as time goes on, he starts to realize there may be more to this weird species than he has been led to believe. Disguised as Martin, he drinks wine, reads poetry, and develops an ear for rock music and a taste for peanut butter. Slowly, unexpectedly, he forges bonds with Marin's family, and in picking up the pieces of the professor's shattered personal life, he begins to see hope and beauty in the humans' imperfections and to question the mission that brought him there.

My rating: 7/10.
My review:

♥ Oh, and let's not forget The Things They Do To Make Themselves Happy That Actually Make Them Miserable. This is an infinite list. It includes - shopping, watching TV, taking the better job, getting the bigger house, writing a semi-autobiographical novel, educating their young, making their skin look mildly less old, and harbouring a vague desire to believe there might be a meaning to it all.

♥ Then I consumed something else. A foodstuff wrapped in synthetic packaging. This was, I would later realise, a planet of things wrapped inside things. Food inside wrappers. Bodies inside clothes. Contempt inside smiles. Everything was hidden away.

♥ Also: orgasms, I realised, were an incredibly big deal. It seemed orgasms were the central tenet of life here. Maybe this was the only meaning they had on this planet. Their purpose was simply to pursue the enlightenment of orgasm. A few seconds of relief from the surrounding dark.

♥ This was a strange world. Of course, when viewed afresh there were only strange worlds but this one must have been strangest of all. I tried to see the similarity. I told myself that here all things were still made of atoms, and that those atoms would work precisely as atoms always do. They would move towards each other if there was distance between them. If there was no distance between them, they would repel each other. That was the most basic law of the universe, and it applied to all things, even here. There was comfort in that. The knowledge that wherever you were in the universe, the small things were always exactly the same. Attracting and repelling. It was only by not looking closely enough that you saw difference.

♥ I was reminded that humans have to read books. They actually need to sit down and look at each word consecutively. And that takes time. Lots of time. A human can't just swallow every book going, can't chew different tomes simultaneously, or gulp down near-infinite knowledge in a matter of seconds. They can't just pop a word-capsule in their mouth like we can. Imagine! Being not only mortal but also forced to take some of that precious and limited time and read. No wonder they were a species of primitives. By the time they had read enough books to actually reach a state of knowledge where they can do anything with it they are dead.

♥ Is it a book about mathematics or - like everything else in the universe - simply because of it?

♥ It reminded me that this was a place of death. Things deteriorated, degenerated, and died here. The life of a human was surrounded on all sides by darkness. How on Earth did they cope?

Idiocy, from slow reading. It could only be idiocy.

♥ They all seemed so sinister, in a pack, with their odd-looking clothed forms. They were aliens to me. That was the obvious part. What was less obvious was the way I seemed like an alien to them. After all, I looked like them. Maybe this was another human trait. Their ability to turn on themselves, to ostracise their own kind.

Do not panic. Professor Andrew Martin is not among them now. You are. There will be time. They die, and so they have impatience. Their lives are short. Yours is not. Do not become like them. Use your gifts wisely.

I will. But I am scared.

You have every right to be. You are among the humans.

♥ They placed me inside a small room that was, in perfect accord with all human rooms, a shrine to the rectangle. The funny thing was that although this room looked precisely no better or worse than anything else in that police station, or indeed that planet, the officers seemed to think it was a particular punishment to be placed in this place - a "cell" - more than any other room. They are in a body that dies, I chuckled to myself, and they worry more about being locked in a room!

♥ Humans, I was discovering, belived they were in control of their own lives, and so they were in awe of questions and tests, as these made them feel like they had a certain mastery over other people, who had failed in their choices, and who had not worked hard enough on the right answers. And by the end of the last failed test many were sat, as I was soon sat, in a mental hospital, swallowing a mind-blanking pill called diazepam, and placed in another empty room full of right angles.

♥ But what I didn't realise was that when it came to that sneaking, camouflaged, untouchable giant known as the Future, I was as vulnerable as anyone.

♥ Humans, as a rule, don't like mad people unless they are good at painting, and only then once they are dead. But the definition of mad, on Earth, seems to be very unclear and inconsistent. What is perfectly sane in one era turns out to be insane in another. The earliest humans walked around naked with no problem. Certain humans, in humid rainforests mainly, still do so. So, we must conclude that madness is sometimes a question of time, and sometimes of postcode.

Basically, the key rule is, if you want to appear sane on Earth you have to be in the right place, wearing the right clothes, saying the right things, and only stepping on the right kind of grass.

♥ It was, of course, another test. Everything in human life was a test. That was why they all looked so stressed out.

♥ A cow is an Earth-dwelling animal, a domesticated and multi-purpose ungulate, which humans treat as a one-stop shop for food, liquid refreshment, fertiliser and designer footwear. The humans farm it and cut its throat and then cut it up and package it and refrigerate it and sell it and cook it. By doing this, apparently they have earned the right to change its name to beef, which is the monosyllable furthest away from cow, because the last thing a human wants to think about when eating cow is an actual cow.

♥ The humans were as weird as I had been told, and as in love with violence. "So love is about finding the right person to hurt you?"

"Pretty much."

♥ Laughter, like madness, seemed to be the only way out, the emergency exit for humans.

♥ So, I thought to myself as I walked away, this is what happens when you live on Earth. You crack. You hold reality in your hands until it burns and then you have to drop the plate. (Someone somewhere else in the room, just as I was thinking this, actually did drop a plate.) Yes, I could see it now - being a human sent you insane.

♥ To hypnotise a human was easy because, out of any species in the universe, they seemed the one most desperate to believe.

♥ (On Earth, incidentally, civilisation is the result of a group of humans coming together and suppressing their instincts.)

♥ And they didn't care at all about what was happening beyond their solar system, and very little about what was happening inside it, except with what was happening right here on Earth. (Admittedly, not a great deal was happening inside it, which might have gone some way to explain where human arrogance came from. A lack of competition.) Mostly, humans just wanted to know about what was going on within their country, preferably within that bit of the country which was their bit, the more local the better. Given this view, the absolutely ideal human news programme would once concern what was going on inside the house where the human watching it actually lived.

♥ "Why did you make me this?" I asked.

"I'm looking after you," she said.

A moment's confusion. It was slow to compute. But then I realised, where we were used to service technology humans had each other.

♥ The computer was primitive. It had the words "MacBook Pro" on it, and a keypad full of letters and numbers, and a lot of arrows pointing in every possible direction. It seemed like a metaphor for human existence.

♥ People joke, in our field, about Pythagoras and his religious cult based on perfect geometry and other abstract mathematical forms, but if we are going to have religion at all then a religion of mathematics seems ideal, because if God exists then what is He but a mathematician?

And so today we may be able to say, we have risen a little closer towards our deity. Indeed, potentially we have a chance to turn back the clock and rebuild that ancient library so we can stand on the shoulders of giants that never were.

♥ He was fifteen years old. This meant he belonged to a special sub-category of human called a "teenager", the chief characteristics of which were a weakened resistance to gravity, a vocabulary of grunts, a lack of spatial awareness, copious amounts of masturbation, and an unending appetite for cereal.

♥ As well as religion, human history is full of depressing things like colonisation, disease, racism, sexism, homophobia, class snobbery, environmental destruction, slavery, totalitarianism, military dictatorships, inventions of things which they have no idea how to handle (the atomic bomb, the Internet, the semi-colon), the victimisation of clever people, the worshipping of idiotic people, boredom, despair, periodic collapses, and catastrophes within the psychic landscape. And through it all there has always been some truly awful food.

I found a book called The Great American Poets.

"I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars," wrote someone called Walt Whitman. It was an obvious point, but something about it was quite beautiful.

♥ To be a human is to state the obvious. Repeatedly, over and over, until the end of time.

♥ As I did so, I thought of the startling capacity for belief inherent in this species. Even before I had fully discovered the concepts of astrology, homeopathy, organised religion and probiotic yogurts I was able to work out that what humans may have lacked in physical attractiveness, they made up for in gullibility. You could tell them anything in a convincing enough voice and they would believe it. Anything, of course, except the truth.

♥ His eyes clenched shut now, the pain too much.

"Stay with me, stay with me, I can't live all alone..."

His head was on her knee. She kept caressing his face. So this was love. Two life forms in mutual reliance. I was meant to be thinking I was watching weakness, something to scorn, but I wasn't thinking that at all.

♥ And I knew there was one rule that held fast across the universe: if you wanted to get someone on your side what you really had to do was relieve their pain.

♥ This was jazz music. It was full of the complexity and contradictions that I would soon learn made humans human.

♥ I was intrigued to discover the sounds that could make it on to music - the strange talking radio voice on "I Am the Walrus" by the Beatles, the cough at the beginning of Prince's Raspberry Beret" and at the end of Tom Waits songs. Maybe that is what beauty was, for humans. Accidents, imperfections, placed inside a pretty pattern. Asymmetry. The defiance of mathematics.

♥ That was the remarkable thing about humans - their ability to shape the path of other species, to change their fundamental nature. Maybe it could happen to me, maybe I could be changed, maybe I already was being changed? Who knew? I hoped not. I hoped I was staying as pure as I had been told, as strong and isolated as a prime, as a ninety-seven.

♥ (Dog words weren't really words. They were more like melodies. Silent melodies sometimes, but melodies all the same.)

♥ You see, the Language of Words was only one of the human languages. There were many others, as I have pointed out. The Language of Sighs, the Language of Silent Moments and, most significantly, the Language of Frowns.

♥ Human life, I realised, got progressively worse as you got older, by the sound of things. You arrived, with baby feet and hands and infinite happiness, and then the happiness slowly evaporated as your feet and hands grew bigger. And then, from the teenage years onwards, happiness was something you could lose your grip of, and once it started to slip it gained mass. It was as if the knowledge that it could slip it gained mass. It was as if the knowledge that it could slip was the thing that made it more difficult to hold, no matter how big your feet and hands were.

♥ He hadn't pulled the window blind down, so I looked out at the night. There was no moon from this angle, but I could see a few stars. Suns lighting dead solar systems elsewhere in the galaxy. Everywhere you can see in their sky, or almost everywhere, is lifeless. That must affect them. That must give them ideas about their station. That must send them insane.

♥ I felt the infinite expanse of the universe behind me, a vast if neutral force. The neutrality of time, of space, of mathematics, of logic, of survival.

♥ I wasn't Andrew. I knew I wasn't Andrew. But equally, I was losing myself. I was a wasn't, that was the problem. I was lying in bed with a human woman I could now almost appreciate as beautiful, wilfully still feeling the sting of antiseptic in my wounds, and thinking of her strange but fascinating skin, and the way she had cared for me. No one in the universe cared for me. (You didn't did you?) We had technology to care for us now, and we didn't need emotions. We were alone. We worked together for our preservation but emotionally we needed no one. We just needed the purity of mathematical truth. And yet, I was scared of falling asleep, because the moment I feel asleep my wounds would heal and right then I didn't want that to happen. Right then, I found a strange but real comfort in the pain.

..The trouble was, I still wasn't used to the night. It may not have been as dark as I first thought it to be. There was moonlight, starlight, airglow, streetlamps, and sunlight backscattered by interplanetary dust, but the humans still spent half their time in deep shadow. This, I was sure, was one of the chief reasons for personal and sexual relationships here. The need to find comfort in the dark. And it was a comfort, being next to her. So I just stayed there, hearing her breath move in and out, sounding like the tide of some exotic sea. At some point my little finger touched hers, in the double-night beneath the duvet, and this time I kept it there and imagined I was really what she thought I was. And that we were connected. Two humans, primitive enough to truly care about each other. It was a comforting thought, and the one which kept me down those ever-darkening stairs of the mind towards sleep.

♥ What I am saying is that it takes time to understand humans because they don't understand themselves. They have been wearing clothes for so long. Metaphorical clothes. That is what I am talking about. That was the price of human civilisation - to create it they had to close the door on their true selves. And so they are lost, that is how I understand it. And that is why they invented art: books, music, films, plays, painting, sculpture. They invented them as bridges back to themselves, back to who they are. But however close they get they are for ever removed.

♥ I was still "recovering", you see. Recover. The most human of words, the implication being that healthy normal life is covering something - the violence that is there underneath, the violence I had seen in Gulliver the night before. To be healthy meant to be covered. Clothed. Literally and metaphorically.

♥ Now, consider this.

A human life is on average 80 Earth years or around 30,000 Earth days. Which means they are born, they make some friends, eat a few meals, they get married, or they don't get married, have a child or two, or not, drink a few thousand glasses of wine, have sexual intercourse a few times, discover a lump somewhere, feel a bit of regret, wonder where all the time went, know they should have done it differently, realise they would have done it the same, and then they die. Into the great black nothing. Out of space. Out of time. The most trivial of trivial zeroes. And that's it, the full caboodle. All confined to the same mediocre planet.

But at ground level the humans don't appear to spend their entire lives in a catatonic state.

No. They do other things. Things like:

- washing
- listening
- gardening
- eating
- driving
- working
- yearning
- earning
- staring
- drinking
- sighing
- reading
- gaming
- sunbathing
- complaining
- jogging
- quibbling
- caring
- mingling
- fantasising
- googling
- parenting
- renovating
- loving
- dancing
- fucking
- regretting
- failing
- striving
- hoping
- sleeping

Oh, and sport.

♥ The truth is, you see, however much they would beg to disagree, humans don't actually like to win. Or rather, they like winning for ten seconds but if they keep on winning they end up actually having to think about other things, like life and death. The only thing humans like less than winning is losing, but at least something can be done about that. With absolute winning, there is nothing to be done. They just have to deal with it.

♥ I sensed, again, I was getting the context wrong. Everything here was about context. There was nothing that was right for every occasion. I didn't get it. The air always had hydrogen in it wherever you were. But that was pretty much the only consistent thing.

♥ The formula written on it was something called Drake's equation. It was an equation devised to calculate the likelihood of advanced civilisations in Earth's galaxy, or what the humans called the Milky Way galaxy. (That is how humans came to terms with the vast expanse of space. By saying it looks like a splatter of spilt milk. Something dropped out of the fridge that could be wiped away in a second.)

So, the equation:

N = R x fp x ne x fl x fi x fc x L

N was the number of advanced civilisations in the galaxy with whom communication might be possible. R was the average annual rate at which stars were formed. The fp was the fraction of those stars with planets. The ne was the average number of those planets that have the right eco-systems for life. The fl was the fraction of those plants where life would actually develop. The fi was the fraction of the above planets that could develop intelligence. The fc was the faction of those where a communicative technologically advanced civilisation could develop. And L was the lifetime of the communicative phase.

Various astrophysicists had looked at all the data and decided that there must, in fact, be millions of planets in the galaxy containing life, and even more in the universe at large. And some of these were bound to have advanced life with very good technology. This of course was true. But the humans didn't just stop there. They came up with a paradox. They said, "Hold on, this can't be right. If there are this many extraterrestrial civilisations with the ability to contact us then we would know about it because they would have contacted us."

"Well, that's true, isn't it?" said the male whose T-shirt started this tetour.

"No," I said. "No, it's not. Because the equation should have some other fractions in there. For instance, it should have—"

I turned and wrote on the board behind me:


"Fraction who could give a shit about visiting or communicating with Earth."

And then:


"Fraction who did so but the humans didn't realise."

♥ That's what starts to happen, when you know it is possible for you to feel pain you have no control over. You become vulnerable. Because the possibility of pain is where love stems from. And that, for me, was very bad news indeed.

♥ I thought of binary stars. A red giant and a white dwarf, side by side, the life force of one being sucked into that of the other.

His death was a fact I was convinced I could disprove, or dissuade.

But death wasn't a white dwarf. It was a good bit beyond that. It was a black hole. And once you stepped pas that event horizon, you were in very difficult territory.

You are not dead. Gulliver, you are not dead.

I kept at it, because I knew what life was, I understood its nature, its character, its stubborn insistence.

Life, especially human life, was an act of defiance. It was never meant to be, and yet it existed in an incredible number of places across a near-infinite amount of solar systems.

There was no such thing as impossible. I knew that, because I also knew that everything was impossible, and so the only possibilities in life were impossibilities.

A chair could stop being a chair at any moment. That was quantum physics. And you could manipulate atoms if you knew how to talk to them.

♥ (I have to admit that humans waste a lot of their time - almost all of it - with hypothetical stuff. I could be rich. I could be famous. I could have been hit by that bus. I could have been born with fewer moles and bigger breasts. I could have spent more of my youth learning foreign languages. They must exercise the conditional tense nore than any other known life form.)

♥ On Earth, social networking generally involved sitting down at a non-sentient computer and typing words about needing a coffee and reading about other people need a coffee, while forgetting to actually make a coffee. It was the news show they had been waiting for. It was the show where the news could be all about them.

♥ Parks were the most common destination on dog walks. A piece of nature - grass, flowers, trees - that was not quite allowed to be truly natural. Just as dogs were thwarted wolves, parks were thwarted forests. Humans loved both, possibly because humans were, well, thwarted. The flowers were beautiful. Flowers, after love, must have been the best advert planet Earth had going for it.

♥ The two girls were chewing something they didn't plan to swallow, and were giggling excitedly.

♥ Some humans not only liked violence, but craved it, I realised. Not because they wanted pain, but because they already had pain and wanted to be distracted away form that kind of pain with a lesser kind.

♥ "How are you feeling?"

"I hurt him."

"Yes. How does that make you feel? Was it cathartic?"

He shrugged. The trace of a smile hid somewhere inside his lips. It frightened me, how close violence is to the civilised surface of a human being. It wasn't the violence itself that was the worry, it was the amount of effort they'd gone to to conceal it. A homo sapiens was a primitive hunter who had woken each day with the knowledge he could kill. And now, the equivalent knowledge was only that he would wake up each day and buy something.

♥ I couldn't tell her, so I kissed her instead. Kissing is what humans do when words have reached a place they can't escape from. It is a switch to another language. The kiss was an act of defiance, maybe of war. You can't touch us, is what the kiss said.

♥ "I love you, I love you, I love you."

And after that, after the awkward shuffling away of that last thin layer of clothes, words retreated to the sounds they once were. We had sex. A happy entanglement of warm limbs and warmer love. A physical and psychological merging that conjured a kind of inner light, a bio-emotional phosphorescence, that was overwhelming in its gorgeousness. I wondered why they weren't prouder of it. Of this magic. I wondered why, if they had to have flags, why they didn't just opt for one with a picture of sex.

♥ Love is what the humans are all about but they don't understand it. If they understood it, then it would disappear.

All I know is that it's a frightening thing. And humans are very frightened of it, which is why they have quiz shows. To take their mind off it and think of something else.

Love is scary because it pulls you in with an intense force, a supermassive black hole which looks like nothing from the outside but from the inside challenges every reasonable thing you know. You lose yourself, like I lost myself, in the warmest of annihilations.

It makes you do stupid things - things that defy all logic. The opting for anguish over calm, for mortality over eternity, and for Earth over home.

♥ A human, typically, has to do the following things. He or she will get out of bed, sigh, stretch, go to the toilet, shower, shampoo their hair, condition their hair, wash their face, shave, deodorise, brush their teeth (with fluoride!), dry their hair, brush their hair, put on face cream, apply make-up, check everything in the mirror, choose clothes based on the weather and the situation, put on those clothes, check everything again in the mirror - and that's just what happens before breakfast. It's a wonder they ever get out of bed at all. But they do, repeatedly, thousands of times each. And not only that - they do it by themselves, with no technology to help them. Maybe a little electrical activity in their toothbrushes and hairdryers, but nothing more than that. And all to reduce body odour, and hairs, and halitosis, and shame.

♥ I hadn't tried wine before so I said yes, as it really did seem to be a very revered substance. It was a mild night so Isobel poured me a glass and we sat outside in the garden. Newton decided to stay indoors. I looked at the transparent yellow liquid in the glass. I tasted it and tasted fermentation. In other words I tasted life on Earth. For everything that lives here ferments, ages, becomes diseased. But as things made their decline from ripeness they could taste wonderful, I realised.

Then I considered the glass. The glass had been distilled from rock and so it knew things. It knew the age of the universe because it was the universe.

♥ She put her arm around me. I did not know the etiquette. Was this the moment I was meant to recite poetry written by dead people or was I meant to massage her anatomy? I did nothing.

♥ (The best way to think of the ageing process in relation to a human face is to imagine a map of an area of innocent land which slowly becomes a city with many long and winding routes.)

♥ The Earth's moon was a dead place, with no atmosphere.

It had no way of healing its scars. Not like Earth, or its inhabitants. I was amazed, the way time mended things so quickly on this planet.

I looked at Isobel and I saw a miracle. It was ridiculous, I know. But a human, in its own small way, was a kind of miraculous achievement, in mathematical terms.

For a start, it wasn't very likely that Isobel's mother and father would have met. And even if they had met the chances of their having a baby would have been pretty slim, given the numerous agonies surrounding the human dating process.

Her mother would have had about a hundred thousand eggs ovulating inside her, and her father would had five trillion sperm during that same length of time. But even then, even that one in five hundred million million million chance of existing was a terrible understatement, and nowhere near did the coincidence of a human life justice.

You see, when you looked at a human's face, you had to comprehend the luck that brought that person there. Isobel Martin had a total of 150,000 generations before her, and that only included the humans. That was 150,000 increasingly unlikely copulations resulting in increasingly unlikely children. That was a one in quadrillion chance multiplied by another quadrillion for every generation.

Or around twenty thousand times more than the number of the atoms in the universe. But even that was only the start of it, because human had only been around for three million Earth years, certainly a very short time compared to the three and a half billion years since life first appeared on this planet.

Therefore, mathematically, rounding things up, there was no chance at all that Isobel Martin could have existed. A zero in ten-to-the-power-of-forever chance. And yet there she was, in front of me, and I was quite taken aback by it all; I really was. Suddenly it made me realise why religion was such a big thing around here. Because, yes, sure, God could not exist. But then neither could humans. So, if they believed in themselves - the logic must go - why not believe in something that was only a fraction more unlikely?

♥ And I felt an incredibly excitement at being able to witness the love re-emerge inside her, because it was a total, prime-of-life love. The kind that could only be possible in someone who was going to die at some point in the future, and also someone who had lived enough to know that loving and being loved back was hard thing to get right, but when you managed it you could see forever.

Two mirrors, opposite and facing each other at perfectly parallel angles, viewing themselves through the other, the view as deep as infinity.

Yes, that was what love was for. (I may not have understood marriage, but I understood love, I was sure of it.)

♥ She held my head in her hands, as if it were another delicate thing she wanted to preserve. She was a human. She knew one day her husband would die and yet she still dared to love him. That was an amazing thing.

♥ Catholicism, I discovered, was a type of Christianity for humans who like gold leaf, Latin and guilt.

♥ "I love you," she said.

And I knew the point of love right then.

The point of love was to help you survive.

The point was also to forget meaning. To stop looking and start living. The meaning was to hold the hand of someone you cared about and to live inside the present. Past and future were myths. The past was just the present that had died and the future would never exist anyway, because by the time we got to it the future would have turned into the present. The present was all there was. The ever-moving, every-changing present. And the present was fickle. It could only be caught by letting go.

So I let go.

I let go of everything in the universe.

Everything, except her hand.

♥ So I was alone, with my pain, feeling how truly helpless it was to be a human. And I stayed awake in the dark, urging the Earth to rotate faster and faster so that it could be facing the sun again. For the tragedy of night to become the comedy of day. I wasn't used to night. Of course, I had experienced it on other planets but Earth had the darkest nights I had ever experienced. Not the longest, but the deepest, the loneliest, the most tragically beautiful.

♥ He was annoying me now. He was still a good man, but good men could be annoying, I realised.

♥ The "pub" was an invention of humans living in England, designed as compensation for the fact that they were humans living in England.

♥ There were lots of corners, as there always seemed to be in human-made environments. Earth dwellers still seemed to be a long way off from understanding the link between straight lines and acute forms of psychosis, which might explain why puns seemed to be full of aggressive people. There were straight lines running into each other all over the place. Every table, every chair, at the bar, at the "fruit machine". (I enquired about these machines. Apparently they were aimed at men whose fascination with flashing squares of light was coupled with a poor grasp of probability theory.)

♥ She said being human is being a young child on Christmas Day who receives an absolutely magnificent castle. And there is a perfect photograph of this castle on the box and you want more than anything to play with the castle and the knights and the princesses because it looks like such a perfectly human world, but the only problem is that the castle isn't built. It's in tiny intricate pieces, and although there's a book of instructions you don't understand it. And nor can your parents or Aunt Sylvie. So you are just left, crying at the ideal castle on the box which no one would ever be able to build.

♥ Laughter, I realised, was the reverberating sound of a truth hitting a lie. Humans existed inside their own delusions and laughing was a way out - the only possible bridge they had between each other. That, and love.

♥ I was reluctant to speak. Speaking to a human you cared about, I realised, was so fraught with hidden danger that it was a wonder people bother speaking at all.

♥ "Stay," I said.

And then it happened. Her arm swung at me with ferocious force, her clenched hand an asteroid speeding towards the planet of my face. Not a slap or a scratch this time but a smack. Was this where love ended? With an injury on top of an injury on top of an injury?

♥ Humans were always doing things they didn't like doing. In fact, to my best estimate, at any one time only point three per cent of humans were actively doing something they liked doing, and even when they did so, they felt an intense amount of guilt about it and were fervently promising themselves they'd be back doing something horrendously unpleasant very shortly.

♥ "I have lived with a human for only a few days but I have seen the violence and hypocrisy that runs through this species."

"Yes, but there is good in them. A lot of good."

"No. I don't see it. They can sit and watch dead human bodies on TV screens and feel nothing at all."

"That's how I saw it at first, but—"

"They can drive a car thirty miles every day and feel good about themselves for recycling a couple of empty jam jars. They can talk about peace being a good thing yet glorify war. They can despise the man who kills his wife in rage but worship the indifferent soldier who drops a bomb killing a hundred children."

"Yes, there is a bad logic here, I agree with you, yet I truly believe—"

He wasn't listening. He stood up now, stared at me with determined eyes as he paced the room and delivered his speech. "They believe God is always on their side, even if their side is at odds with the rest of their species. They have no way of coming to terms with what are, biologically, the two most important events that happen to them - procreation and death. They pretend to know that money can't buy them happiness, yet they would choose money every time. They celebrate mediocrity at every available opportunity and love to see others' misfortune. They have lived on this planet for over a hundred thousand generations and yet they still have no idea about who they really are or how they should really live. In fact, they know less now than they once did."

"You're right but don't you think there is something beautiful in these contradictions, something mysterious?"

"No. No, I do not. What I think is that their violent will has helped them dominate the world, and "civilise" it, but now there is nowhere left for them to go, and so the human world has turned in on itself. It is a monster that feasts on its own hands. And still they do not see the monster, or if they do they do not see that they are inside it, molecules within the beast."

I looked at the bookshelves. "Have you read human poetry? Humans understand these failings."

He still wasn't listening.

"They have lost themselves but not their ambitions. Do not think that they would not leave this place if they had the chance. They're beginning to realise life is out there, that we or beings like us, are out there, and they won't just stop at that. They will want to explore, and as their mathematical understand expands, then they will eventually be able to do so. They will find us, eventually, and when they do, they will not want to be friends, even if they think - as they always do - that their own ends are perfectly benevolent. They will find a reason to destroy or subjugate other life forms."

A girl in a school uniform walked past the house. Pretty soon, Gulliver would be coming home.

"But there is no connection between killing these people and stopping progress, I promise you. No connection."

He stopped packing the room and came over to me, leant into my face. "Connections? I will tell you about connections... An amateur German physicist works in a patent office in Bern in Switzerland. He comes up with a theory that, half a century later, will leas to whole Japanese cities being destroyed, along with much of their population. Husbands, wives, sons, daughters. He does not want that connection to form, but that does not stop it forming."

"You're talking about something very different."

"No. No, I am not. This is a planet where a daydream can end in death, and where mathematicians can cause an apocalypse. That is my view of the humans. Is it any different from yours?"

"Humans learn the errors of their way though," I said, "and they care more for each other than you think."

"No. I know they care for each other when the other in question is like them, or lives under their roof, but any difference is a step further away from their empathy. They find it preposterously easy to fall out among themselves. Imagine what they would do to is, if they could."

♥ "The boy must be killed, even if the woman can be saved. The boy knows. You told us yourself."

"You are making a little mistake."

"What is my mistake?"

"You cannot kill a mother's son without killing the mother."

♥ But once humans really study things in depth - whether in the artificially divided fields of quantum physics or biology or neuroscience or mathematics or love - they come closer and closer to nonsense, irrationality and anarchy. Everything they know is disproved, over and over again. The Earth is not flat; leeches have no medicinal value; there is no God; progress is a myth; the present is all they have.

And this doesn't just happen on the big scale. It happens to each individual human too.

In every life there is a moment. A crisis. One that says: what I believe is wrong. It happens to everyone, the only difference is how that knowledge changes them. In most cases, it is simply a case of burying that knowledge and pretending it isn't there. That is how humans grow old. That is ultimately what creases their faces and curves their backs and shrinks their mouths and ambitions. The weight of that denial. The stress of it. This is not unique to humans. The single biggest act of bravery or madness anyone can do is the act of change.

I was something. And now I am something else.

I was a monster and now I am a different type of monster. One that will die, and feel pain, but one that will also live, and maybe even find happiness one day. Because happiness is possible for me now. It exists on the other side of the hurt.

♥ Was that true? I didn't know. That was part of being human, I discovered. It was about knowing which lies to tell, and when to tell them. To love someone is to lie to them.

♥ After all, humans - especially adult ones - want to believe the most mundane truths possible. They need to, in order to stop their world-views, and their sanity, from capsizing and plunging them into the vast ocean of the incomprehensible.

♥ Lies were everywhere on this planet, but true love had its name for a reason. And if a narrator tells you it was all just a dream you want to tell him he has simply passed from one delusion into another one, and he could wake from this new reality at any time. You had to stay consistent to life's delusions. All you had was your perspective, so objective truth was meaningless. You had to choose a dream and stick with it. Everything else was a con. And once you had tasted truth and love in the same potent cocktail there had to be no more tricks. But while I knew I couldn't correct this version of things with any integrity, living with it was hard.

♥ "It's just so fucked up. I feel totally alone."

Sun suddenly shone through the window, oblivious to our mood.

"Loneliness, Gulliver, is a fact as universal as hydrogen."

♥ "Well, just existing is different. No one dies. There's no pain. Everything is beautiful. The only religion is mathematics. There are no families. There are the hosts - they give instructions - and there is everyone else. The advancement of mathematics and the security of the universe are the two concerns. There is no hatred. There are no fathers and sons. There is no clear line between biology and technology. And everything is violet."

"It sounds awesome."

"It's dull. It's the dullest life you can imagine. Here, you have pain, and loss, that's the price. But the rewards can be wonderful Gulliver."

Advice for a human

3. Be nice to other people. At the universal level, they are you.

4. Technology won't save humankind. Humans will.

9. Sometimes, to be yourself you will have to forget yourself and become something else. Your character is not a fixed thing. You will sometimes have to move to keep up with it.

10. History is a branch of mathematics. So is literature. Economics is a branch of religion.

13. You shouldn't have been born. Your existence is as close to impossible as can be. To dismiss the impossible is to dismiss yourself.

16. Tragedy is just comedy that hasn't come to fruition. One day we will laugh at this. We will laugh at everything.

19. Read poetry. Especially poetry by Emily Dickinson. It might save you. Anne Sexton knows the mind, Walt Whitman knows grass, but Emily Dickinson knows everything.

22. Don't worry about being angry. Worry when being angry becomes impossible. Because then you have been consumed.

24. New technology, on Earth, just means something you will laugh at in five years. Value the stuff you won't laugh at in five years. Like love. Or a good poem. Or a song. Or the sky.

25. There is only one genre in fiction. The genre is called "book".

29. If there is a sunset, stop and look at it. Knowledge is finite. Wonder is infinite.

31. Failure is a trick of the light.

33. You are not the most intelligent creature in the universe. You are not even the most intelligent creature on your planet. The tonal language in the song of a humpback whale displays more complexity than the entire works of Shakespeare. It is not a competition. Well, it is. But don't worry about it.

37. Don't always try to be cool. The whole universe is cool. It's the warm bits that matter.

38. Walt Whitman was right about at least one thing. You will contradict yourself. You are large. You contain multitudes.

40. Everyone is a comedy. If people are laughing at you they just don't quite understand the joke that is themselves.

44. You have the power to stop time. You do it by kissing. Or listening to music. Music, by the way, is how you see things you can't otherwise see. It is the most advanced thing you have. It is a superpower. Keep up with the bass guitar. You are good at it. Join a band.

48. No two moralities match. Accept different shapes, so long as they aren't sharp enough to hurt.

52. If you are laughing, check that you don't really want to cry. And vice versa.

60. Obey your head. Obey your heart. Obey your gut. In fact, obey everything except commands.

61. One day, if you get into a position of power, tell people this: just because you can, it doesn't mean you should. There is a power and a beauty in unproved conjectures, unkissed lips and unpicked flowers.

63. It's not the technique, it's the method. It's not the words, it's the melody.

65. Don't think you know. Know you think.

66. As a black hole forms it creates an immense gamma-ray burst, blinding whole galaxies with light and destroying millions of worlds. You could disappear at any second. This one. Or this one. Or this one. Make sure, as often as possible, you are doing something you'd be happy to die doing.

67. War is the answer. To the wrong question.

73. No one will understand you. It is not, ultimately, that important. What is important is that you understand you.

75. Politeness is often fear. Kindness is always courage. But caring is what makes you human. Care more, become more human.

77. When you watch the news and see members of your species in turmoil, do not think there is nothing you can do. But know it is not done by watching news.

78. You get up. You put on your clothes. And then you put on your personality. Choose wisely.

79. Leonardo da Vinci was not one of you. He was one of us.

82. If you think something is ugly, look harder. Ugliness is just a failure of seeing.

86. To like something is to insult it. Love it or hate it. Be passionate. As civilisation advances, so does indifference. It is a disease. Immunise yourself with art. And love.

88. Which is to say: don't kill yourself. Even when the darkness is total. Always know that life is not still. Time is space. You are moving through that galaxy. Wait for the stars.

90. But know this. Men are not from Mars. Women are not from Venus. Do not fall for categories. Everyone is everything. Every ingredient inside a star is inside you, and every personality that ever existed competes in the theatre of your mind for the main role.

♥ "Goodbye," I said.

And I walked across the gravel, towards the road and somewhere in the universe of my soul a fiery, life-giving star collapsed, and a very black hole began to form.

♥ I went to Paris, Boston, Rome, São Paulo, Berlin, Madrid, Tokyo. I wanted to fill my mind with human faces, in order to forget Isobel's. But it had the opposite effect. By studying the entire human species, I felt more towards her specifically. But thinking of the cloud, I thirsted for the raindrop.

♥ I would sit on the beach, as waves crashed and retreated over the sparkling sand like lost dreams. All those oblivious molecules, joining together, creating something of improbable wonder.

Often such sights were blurred by tears. I felt the beautiful melancholy of being human, captured perfectly in the setting of a sun. Because, as with a sunset, to be human was to be in-between things; a day, bursting with desperate colour as it headed irreversibly towards night.

♥ This was, I realised, a beautiful planet. Maybe it was the most beautiful of all. But beauty creates its own troubles. You look at a waterfall or an ocean or a sunset and you find yourself wanting to share it with someone.

"Beauty—be not caused—." said Emily Dickinson. "It is."

In one way she was wrong. The scattering of light over a long distance creates a sunset. The crashing of ocean waves on a beach is created by tides which are themselves the result of gravitational forces exerted by the sun and the moon and the rotation of the Earth. Those are causes.

The mystery lies in how those things become beautiful.

And they wouldn't have been beautiful once, at least not to my eyes. To experience beauty on Earth you needed to experience pain and to know mortality. That is why so much that is beautiful on this planet has to do with time passing and the Earth turning. Which might also explain why to look at such natural beauty was to also feel sadness and a craving for a life unlived.

♥ I didn't go too far before I saw her. She was walking on the other side of the street and she didn't see me. It was strange, the significance of that moment for me and the insignificance of it for her. But then I reminded myself that when galaxies collide they pass right through.

♥ "You're a star, fella."

"Well, maybe we all are," I said, looking skyward.

♥ Sentimentality is another human flaw. A distortion. Another twisted by-product of love, serving no rational purpose. And yet, there was a force behind it as authentic as any other.

♥ I watched him leave. The joke of the universe. A noble human, with thousands of days to live. It made no logical sense that I had developed into someone who wanted those days to be as happy and secure for him as they could possibly be, but if you came to Earth looking for logical sense you were missing the point. You were missing lots of things.

I sat back and absorbed the sky and tried not to understand anything at all.
Tags: 1st-person narrative, 2010s, 21st century - fiction, alien fiction, british - fiction, fantasy, fiction, humour (fiction), mathematics (fiction), parenthood (fiction), philosophical fiction, science fiction

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