It's probably unfair to compare this book to The Sparrow, one of my all-time favorites, but given the subject matter, comparison is inevitable. The BoIt's probably unfair to compare this book to The Sparrow, one of my all-time favorites, but given the subject matter, comparison is inevitable. The Book of Strange New Things is the story of a Christian missionary sent to evangelize an alien population, but it's really the story of a marriage. Peter, a reformed drug addict turned even-keeled Protestant minister, is selected to serve as a missionary to the newly colonized planet Oasis. Peter's wife Bea is not permitted to make the journey with him. As Peter makes strides in his ministry to the native Oasans, Bea faces incredibly difficult circumstances back on Earth, and is beginning to buckle under the strain. When Peter discovers disturbing new information about ISIC, the multi-national corporation responsible for the colonization of Oasis, he has to re-evaluate his priorities and decide what really matters.
As I said earlier, this is really the story of Peter and Bea's marriage. Their relationship is the emotional core of the story, and their correspondence through "the shoot" (an interplanetary version of e-mail) reveals how far their paths have diverged. This is both the best and the worst thing about the book-- the best because it shows so much insight into their personalities, and the worst because it comes at the expense of other, more interesting aspects of the story. In The Sparrow, the protagonist is a Roman Catholic priest who doesn't have anything like a marriage keeping him emotionally tethered to Earth, and that gives the author more freedom to talk about his experiences on an alien planet. Not so in The Book of Strange New Things-- I found it frustrating when Faber cut away from a really interesting situation with the Oasans so Peter could wonder about how Bea's day was going. I've read critiques of this book that say it is sci-fi in name only, and I completely get that-- the story would work almost as well if Peter served as a missionary to a distant country instead of another planet. I personally would have loved to read more about the Oasans and ISIC and every other science fiction-y aspect of the story, and the details we DID get were great, but I respect that the author chose to focus on the relationship instead. If you pick up this book with the understanding that it's a love story first and a space missionary story second, you'll be fine. The Book of Strange New Things might not have been the exact story I wanted the author to tell in this setting, but it was still a very good story. 3.5 stars.
Things I Loved:
- An 11 year old girl won a contest to name the "new" planet, and she chose the name Oasis... which is unpronounceable in the native Oasan language. I could absolutely see this happening in real life. - Grainger was just a great character. - There were lots of fun Easter eggs hidden in this story for comic book fans, which was completely unexpected and very welcome. - It's always nice to see a Christian minister/missionary depicted as a decent human being with normal human desires and failings instead of a crazed zealot or a hypocrite in popular fiction.
Things I Didn't Love:
- There were some really unpleasant racist and homophobic undertones in some of Peter's descriptions of his ISIC colleagues. I sincerely hope that the character Peter's views are not actually the author's views... - Some of Peter and Bea's early correspondence seemed a bit stilted and unrealistic. I don't think anyone actually talks like that. - Try as I might, I can't picture what the Oasans actually look like. "Their heads look like two fetuses smashed together" is not particularly helpful. - Poor (view spoiler)[Joshua (hide spoiler)]. I can't even with that entire story. - I really need to know more about ISIC. I feel like the author dropped a bomb about their actual motives for colonizing Oasis toward the end and then didn't say anything else about it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
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