I heard about this book a couple of weeks ago while listening to an episode of A Good Read on BBC Radio 4 when it was the pick of one of the guests, Dr Kevin Fong.
Professor Andrew Martin is a very highly regarded mathematician, but is a bit rubbish at being a husband to Isobel and father to Gulliver. One day, he comes to the moment he has worked towards and sacrificed for throughout his career. He has solved the Riemann hypothesis. Unbeknownst to the brilliant mathematician, there are beings from a galaxy far, far away who do not want mere human earthlings to have this knowledge, so Professor Martin is replaced. His replacement looks like him and attempts to assume his identity in order to carry out the tasks for which he was sent. Everything is foreign to him and he has to learn fast. To say much more would be to take away some of the fun of reading the book and experiencing his confusion and insights into human experience as he goes along, so I will just say that it is not all comedic and he does come to some understandings about the human condition along the way. In the acknowledgements, the author said the idea of the story came to him during a time of severe anxiety in his life when he was having panic attacks every time he left his house.
The book takes the form of a narrative meant to be read by the people the alien being has left behind and at the very start he tells them that, 'For those that don't know, a human is a bipedal life form of mid-range intelligence, living a largely deluded existence on a small waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe.' (p.ix)
Later he is typing some words of advice into the computer of someone he cares about. He has 97 bits of advice in all. Number 24 says, '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.' (p271) Good advice, indeed!
I am very glad someone picked this book as their good read for the show, happy the library had it, and very pleased to have read it.