Only Human (Themis Files #3) by Sylvain Neuvel

I really loved Sleeping Giants and Walking Gods from the Themis Files trilogy by Sylvain Neuvel. Neuvel was asked during an interview where his ideas of mecha robots came from and he mentioned it originated from a series of questions his son started asking when he was offered a robot as a toy.

What kind of robot? What does it do? Does it have lasers? Does it fly? Who built it? I started thinking about a backstory for a toy, and that’s how Sleeping Giants was born.

I eventually built the toy. The concept was cool: It came in pieces all together with magnets. You could take the pieces off and put it together like they do in the book. The finished product was find for about a day, and the magnets started breaking off. That was more of a statue than anything, but my kid still likes it.

Only Human was released in May 1st 2018, and it brings up the Themis files to a very satisfying end. We have even more aliens, more robots and more betrayals. I cried about three times throughout – once when I thought that Mr. Burns died along with his family, once when I thought Vincent died and once more when I thought both Vincent and Eva died. Mr. Neuvel – don’t play these games with me! I was shocked enough during book 2!


The themes from the first two book continue in the third as Vincent, Rose, Eva and the General are teleported with Themis on the alien’s planet of origin. What they find there is an advanced civilization with a complex democratic system and a new language and new objects and new foods. It covers everything you would expect from a visitor’s guide to an alien planet.

I loved how they handled the difference in language, how Vincent learned words and taught them English in order to communicate and different approaches of different age groups to the same experience. Eva, only 10 at the time of teleportation – finds out she’s no longer a freak among these people and makes friends quite easily.

Vincent takes time to learn about their culture and works as a teacher – with only one goal in mind: go back to earth so that his daughter can have a proper life. Rose gets involved in their scientific community and finds out that even though they had a cure for most diseases, their non-implication rule meant that they let entire worlds die of preventable diseases so that the circle of life could continue and bring forth better adapted beings or other life forms (balance in nature).

The General is still filled with hate towards the alien species that killed millions on earth in an attempt to eradicate alien genes and refuses to even have peaceful talks with them. When he dies, he asks not to be buried, his ashes not to be spread on this God-forsaken planet but to be taken home if possible and on

The story starts with Vincent, Rose and Eva commandeering Themis from one imperial soldier and beaming back to Earth. Eva’s protesting about leaving the planet and her friends, Vincent is adamant, the imperial soldier scared. They arrive back on Earth close to 10 years after they have left and they are shocked about what has happened to the people and the countries since their departure.

I think this is where the book’s title “Only Human” comes in. It covers the fear of the unknown, the panic decisions that have created world wars and the desire to shun whatever is that does not fit our pre-conceptions about life. The remaining Earth survivors have created concentration camps for those humans known to have Alien DNA – they started a “gene pollution” scale where people were an A1 if they were pure humans, A5 if their gene pool contained large percentages of alien DNA. Rose was A1, Eva was an A5 because both her parents were A3-4.
People were discriminated against based on their genes. This sounds like a Black Mirror episode and one of the biggest fears in science when they are dealing with mapping the human genome. I heard a TED Talk last year saying that it might be possible in the future that we have the genome for every human on the planet. The downside of this advancement is that people won’t get a job because they might have alcoholism genes or be known to be susceptible to cancer or other high risk terminal diseases (or be denied health insurance for the same reasons).

Rose and Vincent are appalled. (Eva doesn’t care that much at this point as she’s still blinded with hate for her father)

“We’re talking about human beings making a conscious effort…to be ignorant. Willfully stupid. They’re proud of it. They take pride in idiocy. There’s not even an attempt to rationalize things anymore….Our entire race is trying to lobotomize itself.”

That’s not all – the remaining robot that Rose had disabled at the end of book 2 has been re-enabled by scientists and was used as a tool of oppression and dominance by the States. In an attempt to defend itself, Russia had become a federation again and had annexed all the surrounding countries. USA is now from Alaska all the way down to South America having conquered Canada and Mexico and many others with the aid of their robot, Lapidus.

“There’s this tendency for people to see any fight against the system as a fight for progress. As if the people before them couldn’t possibly have gotten anything right. If you’re using bombs instead of words, that means you’re banking on people giving you what you want out of fear instead of reason. That’s never a good sign.”

Only Human is packed full of goods. It’s fast-paced action, thematically dark and sad, but with plenty of darkly comic parts and lots of Vincent being a lovable goofball. Race and racism are explored, as is Islamophobia. I also really enjoyed the discussions on patriotism and nationalism, especially how “love” for one’s country is challenged. Is it love? Neuvel ponders. Or is it pride?

I thoroughly recommend the audiobook for this again. The voice actors are amazing and even after having a look through the book I couldn’t get the same emotion and sense of “happening” that I did with the audio.

PS: Mr. Burns tells a few stories again and they are filled with morals and ethics:

“The moral of the story is…Jeff is a moron. A baby axolotl can’t fight a fish! You can’t expect babies to do the things adults do. You can’t expect anyone to do things they can’t do. If you ask me to lift five hundred pounds, I can’t. It doesn’t matter how much I want to, how much conviction I put into it. It’s just not something I can do. Maybe if I’d been training all my life, but not now, not tomorrow.”

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