no ray guns are fired or space battles waged in this poignant novel. there is a spaceship yes, but it is incapacitated after it deposits its passenger on earth. the passenger is an alien from a dying planet named anthea and he's looking for an escape - a place for the remnants of his people. his name on earth will be t.j. newton (sometimes called tommy) and this novel is his story, of how our world affects him, physically and emotionally, as he tries to achieve his mission.
there's not much more of a plot. this is a quiet novel, engaged with the dissolution of a human being not of earth by its influence, by his alienation. he is entirely outside and his loneliness and despair at the earth and the oblivion of its people is deeply felt. despite the fact that the novel is in some ways dated, it is also a wise indictment, a rumination on the world that we live in, how we choose to live in it, and the people that take it for granted. it seems only to get smaller and quieter toward the end... and then it winks out.
sad. it made me cry. and it was and made me really thoughtful. and apparently tevis said, it's fairly autobiographical.
i felt your pain, newton/tevis. i hope it made it easier to share the load.
* i have never seen the film. i can see why bowie was chosen to portray newton. i read that there's more sex in the film and it veers slightly away from the book in that regard. i can't imagine the film would be able to replicate the immersion in the disoriented and sad psyche of newton as he starts to realize he's not equipped to deal with being on earth; of being with him as he starts to crumble.
** i'd wanted to see the film before i realized there was a book because of its influence on the philip k. dick novel, VALIS. in fact there is a film based on the man who fell to earth in that book. i can perfectly understand how a film with such a premise would impress upon the mind of pkd -- its themes refract back from his own work. he was clearly taken by bowie in the role but a quick internet search doesn't show me any evidence that he actually ever picked up tevis' book in consequence of seeing the film but i can only think he would have approved of it.