Monday, December 22, 2014

Review: The Book of Strange New Things

Book of Strange New Things
From The Book of Strange New Things, by Michel Faber:
Open quote 

He closed the book. His hands were trembling. He knew that there was quite a decent chance that he would die in the next thirty days, or that, even if he survived the journey, he would never return. This was his Gethsemane moment. He clenched his eyes shut and prayed to God to tell him what He wanted him to do."

After the jump, my review.

Grade: C-

The man enduring his Gethsemane moment is Peter Leigh, a thirty-something Christian minister, about to travel across the galaxy to take up a mission to the natives of the planet Oasis, who are eager for Bible lessons. Yep, this is a Christian sci-fi novel.

The symbolism is obvious: The name of the missionary? Peter, of course. Peter Leigh. Peterly. Like Peter.

The religion is heavy-handed. "A murmur of approval -- satisfaction, even -- emanated from the brightly dressed creatures sitting before him. The Bible verses were like a particularly mellow alcoholic drink that had been passed around. This was King James liquor -- the real stuff."

The science is absent or anachronistic. The setting is some far future colony on the other side of the galaxy, but the public cafeteria there is like some kind of twentieth century dentist's office, stocked with magazines and playing Sinatra on a public address system. Communication with Earth is via some kind of text-only computer monitor and keyboard. No one seems particularly interested in the plant and animal life on this planet, what little there appears to be of it, except to provide the intelligent creatures (they reminded me of Ewoks) with miscellaneous antibiotics and a Christian missionary, the only things they seem to want, both for unsatisfactorily explained reasons. Faber himself doesn't seem to be much interested in the science, the engineering, or the economics of a space colony, and it takes him forever to become interested in the impact of events on the psychology of Peter, ultimately the only thing worthwhile in the novel.

I'm not in the habit of quitting books halfway through, but this one tempted me. In the end, it was worth sticking it out. Things eventually get complicated, and therefore interesting, both on Oasis and back on Earth, and in the relationship between Peter and his wife, another equally earnest Christian, whom he had to leave back on Earth. The resolution of the novel finally gives the reader something to ponder. Ultimately, and it took way to long to get to it, The Book of Strange New Things is an exploration whether faith and love can survive separation, loneliness, and desperate times.

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