Sunday, April 19, 2015

Review: "The Book of Strange New Things" by Michel Faber

If The Book of Strange New Things is Michel Faber’s last book, and I really hope it is not, he went out on top, because it is thoroughly enjoyable, eye opening, and is the best Sci-Fi/ Literary novels to come out since David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Over the course of 500 pages exactly, Faber constructs a story about faraway worlds and vastly different alien cultures, but does so with an emotional core that a lot of science fiction (at least what I have come across) sorely lacks. I’ve gone on about how sci-fi is not my favorite genre, and the reason is that the stories all try too hard to be cool and cynical, leaving very little room for character development or any kind of human vulnerability; it’s focused more on hard ideas than anything else. But I love a good sci-fi novel like this, as snobby as it may be to praise it, because the feelings this book triggers in the reader lasts much longer after you have finished, and occupies a more positive space in the readers mind. Another thing Faber succeeds at here is his treatment of religion and faith. Again, in any other tale like this, religion would be criticized at best and mocked at worst, but here, it is dissected with care, and its qualities and faults are both given equal, fair treatments with understanding and warmth. The novel tells the story of Peter, a pastor with a volatile past who is selected by a mysterious company known as the USIC to become a missionary on the planet Oasis, located light years from Earth. This would mean having to leave his loving wife Beatrice for an indeterminate amount of time. He agrees to go, seeing this as the ultimate opportunity given to him by God, and once he gets there, a strange yet not uncomfortable new environment awaits him, with a race of aliens (whose physical attributes are brilliantly left ambiguous) who are eager to learn the teachings of Jesus Christ with no resistance. He forms a possibly romantic bound with a pharmacist named Grainger and, through the Oasan’s total devotion to Peter’s preaching (shown through a heartfelt eulogy he gives for one of his fallen co-workers) really strengthens his faith as well. But back home on Earth, things begin to fall apart, abroad and with Bea and their cat Joshua. Besides highlighting the good things religion can accomplish, such as bringing people together and giving someone purpose, what really struck me was how Peter’s conflicting lives on Oasis and Earth really acts as a metaphor for the pains of change we all go through, and how it is impossible, in the end, not to hurt someone as we try to grow as people. And through the community of Oasis, Faber might have created the most positive utopian society I’ve read before: a group of people, who lack any kind of individuality or autonomy, but are helpful in ways humans can never be. This book is a real treat, filled with interesting ideas you haven’t come across, from a writer who, I hope, continues such thought provoking work.

Rating: 5/5

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