Have you ever dreamt of being missionary to another species? To aliens living in a settlement, half the universe away? If so, then this is a novel engage your fantasy, and if not, you should still read it anyway.
It is set in an indefinite time in the future; all the notable landmarks of our time period are still there, such as Heathrow airport, but there is a menacing undertone behind the news. In the opening scene, Peter discusses with his wife the monumental collapse of businesses and how many transport systems have simply slipped out of reality. But Peter doesn’t have to worry about that: there’s also a space travel at this point, too, and he is about to be transported to another galaxy, to a growing settlement called the Oasis, which run by an elusive corporation called USIC. Half the universe away. With his co-workers being mechanical engineers and elite geologists, he is surprised at having landed a role so out of this world. Peter is not a scientist, a genius whose name is framed by the list of letters succeeding it. His main function will be to satiate the native beings’ desire for Christianity. He is a priest, and his ‘people’ will be the Oasans. Oasans, with faces Faber insisted on continually describing as like “two foetuses”.
On that note, the writing in general was elegant; like a minimalistic house gracing an interior design magazines- there were hints of simplicity, but that added to the beauty of his writing. However, as with all magazines, you are bound to find repeats, and Faber would often use the same word to describe the same object at various points in the novel. This is a large book- nearly 600 pages and by the fifth time he describes the air as swirling you’re bored.
The idea fuelling the novel itself was intriguing, and was embedded in the classic science fiction duvet of; “Let’s put a major concept out of context and see how it floats”. The concept in question here was religion, specifically Christianity, and thanks to Faber’s portrayal of Peter, the novel is not only engaging to those who do, or don’t share the faith, but it is also not offensive without Faber being overly cautious in with his language. This is largely due to Peter’s characterisation, I believe, because although the novel oversees his tantalising mental transformation, in essence he is a mild mannered man with firm morales. (Do not conceive him to be merely a meek man though…he has a startling history, which is agonisingly drip fed to you throughout the novel.)
Faber’s strengths were shown when he wrote about Peter’s time with the Oasans. Firstly, his style came across as more fresh there, and it was interesting to read as it contrasted starkly with Peter’s time spent back at the USIC base with humans, which frankly was largely mundane: there were chapters of him merely wandering around the corridors, uncertain of what to do with himself and where to find something to eat. Relatable, perhaps, to ravenous nights at a hotel, but not as engaging as reading about alien races with bizarre rituals and delightful dressing habits.
A notable proportions of the book was also written in letter form: Peter can only maintain contact with Bea, his wife, through this way, and the insights Bea gave into the world collapsing around her, whilst Peter was working, isolated from the news, in another galaxy, was insightful. These letters were not only fascinating in themselves, illustrating the changing dynamics in the pair’s relationship as their separation became prolonged, but it also offered variation. There was a balance between the prose and letters which was struck sublimely.
Whilst I would recommend this novel to anymore who is attracted to science-fiction novels, I would also say that those fantasy readers with an inter-galactic taste would enjoy it too. The pace is erring on the sluggish side though, and is more contemplative than action-filled. The Book of Strange New Things offered me an insight into the world of science-fiction, which I am tentatively exploring, and generally, it has done a brilliant job in doing so.