Title: The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
Release Date: October 28, 2014
Genre: Science Fiction, Literary Fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5
Peter has just been given the chance of a lifetime—preaching to the Oasans, an alien race on the planet Oasis, where the company USIC has set up a base. Earth is devolving into chaos, and Peter must leave his beloved wife Bea behind him, but he can’t pass up the opportunity to bring this alien race closer to Christ. But Peter isn’t prepared for what awaits him on Oasis, nor how his experiences will change him completely.
Faber has written a gorgeous novel in The Book of Strange New Things, full of intriguing characters and questions of faith, set on a distant world where nothing is as transparent as it seems.
The Book of Strange New Things is a strange and wondrous science fiction story that reads almost like a history. Peter is a missionary going to a strange new world, eager to spread his Christian religion to the native Oasans. However, this isn’t a Christian novel by any stretch of the imagination. Peter fervently believes in his religion, but this is a character-driven story first and foremost. It’s about Peter’s journey with the Oasans and how he’s irrevocably changed by his experiences on Oasis. While it will certainly appeal to devout Christians, the story isn’t preachy and those who don’t follow the religion, such as myself, will not feel put off by it.
Faber’s descriptions in The Book of Strange New Things are vivid and evocative. Oasis isn’t a beautiful planet upon first glance, but Peter come to appreciate its uniqueness; the Oasans are much the same. These aren’t the human-looking aliens that are usually depicted in science fiction. They are almost grotesque in their appearance, but underneath that shell are gentle souls. It’s so interesting to watch the Oasans become people in Peter’s eyes, as he struggles to get to know them, versus the way they are spoken of by the people on the USIC base. Peter really comes to know and appreciate the Oasans, their culture, and the way they accept him into their community.
Though Peter is a religious leader in The Book of Strange New Things, he experiences his own crises of faith, especially through his letters with Bea, Peter’s wife, who grows increasingly frantic as the world as she knows it crumbles around her. Peter becomes distant, unable to relate to the woman he left behind, as it feels as though her troubles are far removed from what he is experiencing with the Oasans. It’s interesting to see how she pulls on him from home, and how her letters affect Peter. What happens when, because of your work and what you see as your calling, you can’t emotionally support or help the people most important to you? It’s certainly a fascinating conflict.
It’s difficult to really express why The Book of Strange New Things is so good. It would be easy to try to categorize it as science fiction or a religious novel, but it transcends any genre classification. What it is is a character driven story set on a distant planet, with a culture that is different from anything the reader has experienced. Peter must grapple with the difference between the Oasan settlement and the base, the different people and problems he encounters on that base, his own personal crises, and maintaining his relationship with his wife, who is having difficulties dealing with Earth’s breakdown on her own. It’s a well-balanced novel with many different aspects, and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s one of the best novels I’ve read this year.