The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

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The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

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Category: Science Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Christian pastor Peter Leigh is sent to a distant planet to bring the word of God to the indigenous people. Can he succeed in his mission? Can his relationship with his loved ones at home survive? Michel Faber asks big questions about love, relationships, faith and belief in this unusual and often moving book.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 592 Date: October 2014
Publisher: Canongate
ISBN:

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In Under the Skin, Michel Faber fused ordinary, contemporary surroundings with an element of science fiction to spectacular success. He's repeated the trick in The Book of Strange New Things which once again matches an unlikely sci-fi conceit with the crushingly familiar to impressive effect.

As missionary projects go, they don't come much more extreme than being sent to a faraway planet where the locals have a desperate hunger to hear the teachings of the Bible, or as they know it, The Book of Strange New Things. That is the task given to thirtysomething Peter Leigh. After passing a battery of suitability tests, the former thief and drunk turned missionary is hired by the mysterious USIC corporation and sent to the planet C2, also known as Oasis (thankfully not some Gallagher brother tribute world).

Away from his loving wife Bea and the secure surroundings of his church and congregation, Peter embarks on trying to teach the word of God to a people who barely speak his language. Communicating with the locals isn't Peter's only difficulty as he tries to connect with his human colleagues working on the base as well as his increasingly distant wife.

Working millions of miles from home, not only is Peter's faith tested but also his relationships with the people closest to him, especially those stranded in a near-future Britain showing signs of falling into political and economic chaos.

Though not a traditional mystery story, there's plenty of tension to keep the reader guessing. What happened to Peter's predecessor, the former pastor to the indigenous people, who has mysteriously disappeared? Just what are USIC hoping to get from their new colony so far from home? Will Peter's relationship with Bea survive?

It's this last question that often proves the most interesting. Faber matches the fantastical intergalactic setting with the mundanity on offer in an increasingly crumbling England. With communication only possible via the Shoot, a limited, email style format, the slightest misunderstanding can easily be magnified into something more serious and sinister.

There may be a lack of metaphorical bells and whistles in the sci-fi element of the story but in its place is a deeply affecting personal story about love, relationships, faith and belief.

Hidden amongst the distant setting is a traditional and very well told take on human nature. The characters are sympathetic and completely believable, as are the tensions that surround them. Their weaknesses and vulnerabilities are expertly revealed in authentic, if unlikely surroundings.

Science fiction fans may be disappointed by the slow early pace and the lack of big set piece action, but for someone looking to take a first tentative step into unfamiliar sci-fi waters, this is a pretty safe place to start.

If this book appeals to you then we can recommend The Algebraist by Iain M Banks.

Buy The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber at Amazon.co.uk


Buy The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber at Amazon.com.

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