This evening we watched Nicolas Roeg’s 1976 film The Man Who Fell to Earth, starring David Bowie (‘as himself’, as the joke had it), Candy Clark and Rip Torn). This is one of those films that is as good as, though different from, the novel of the same name (by the American author Walter Tevis, who has the distinction of having had three of his six novels turned into films, the other two being The Hustler and The Colour of Money, and who surely deserves to be better known). Like much of the best SF, the book and the film use ‘the other’ to comment on ourselves – and who better to play an androgynous alien than Bowie? James Sallis described the book as follows: “Just beneath the surface it might be read as a parable of the Fifties and of the Cold War. Beneath that as an evocation of existential loneliness, a Christian fable, a parable of the artist. Above all, perhaps, as the wisest, truest representation of alcoholism ever written.” It is surely also a dig at Howard Hughes and the way he was treated. Both book and film are convincingly strong in their portrayals of the way people can get deflected from their initial noble purpose and, dispirited, sag back into displacement activity and ennui. They also give convincing accounts of the dispair of permanent exile. For Major Tom, aka Thomas Jerome Newton, knows he will never return home and that his family will die without ever learning his fate. Nowadays, you can book your place in space with Virgin Galactic, but I wonder what the CIA and the FBI would make of a reclusive billionaire who suddenly decided to build an intergalactic space rocket in his backyard. There must surely be a law against it.