Nov 19, 2014

The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber

This is a haunting work of speculative fiction that has taken me a couple of days to digest. Peter is a pastor and lives with his wife, Bea, in England. Bea is a nurse, and saved Peter from a life as a drug addict and alcoholic when he both fell in love with her and became a Christian at her encouraging. Peter, but not Bea, is chosen by the amorphous American corporation USIC to visit the alien planet Oasis and minister to the natives. It's a dream job, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spread the news of Jesus's love, but it means months without seeing each other with the only mode of communication being something akin to e-mail. Much to his surprise, Peter finds the Oasans very eager to hear his preaching, and he quickly begins to feel at home on the balmy, stark planet. The only thing interrupting his happiness is the increasingly upsetting messages he receives from his wife - things on Earth aren't looking so great, she's having a really hard time without him, and his lackadaisical and frankly self-righteous messages back to her aren't helping.

So what is this book about? The foreign-ness of an alien world and people? The end of the world? Marriage? Normal human interaction? It's about all of these things, and each reader will perhaps zero in on the message that most speaks to them. Personally, I believe it is about the loss of faith and regaining of a different kind of self-worth, one that encompasses not just yourself but the people who are around you. Meaning can be found in a bible or in oneself or in each other; for each of us it's different, and the struggle to figure out which is most important to you is sometimes Herculean.

The writing is wonderful, saturated and descriptive despite Oasis's lack of geological interest. As a science fiction fan, I appreciate Faber's measured, intelligent Oasans, and am impressed by the comprehensive species and culture he built. There is plenty here to satisfy dedicated sci fi readers as well as more mainstream ones. And I almost never note this, but the book itself (hardcover) is just beautiful. Amazing cover and fantastic gold edges. This is a book I'll keep on my shelf and lend out often.

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