Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

El Libro de las cosas nunca vistas

Rate this book
Cuando este libro arranca, el devoto pastor cristiano Peter Leigh está a punto de soltar la mano de su mujer, Bea (que lo rescató de una existencia errática de drogas y alcohol), y embarcarse en un reto evangelizador a la altura del siglo XXI. El destino que le aguarda, Oasis, no está en esta Tierra: para llegar hasta él tiene que subirse a una nave y dar el Salto. Uno que le lleva a un lugar donde el aire se siente incluso cuando está quieto, donde todos los alimentos salen de una sola raíz y donde el día y la noche no son como los que conocemos. Un lugar que se reparten unos nativos bondadosos y henchidos de fe y unos colonizadores perfectamente entrenados que, en el ejercicio de sus labores, han aprendido a dejar todo aquello que los hace débiles –humanos– atrás.

Poco a poco, Peter aprende a comunicarse con los oasianos; les lee la Biblia (el Libro de las cosas nunca vistas) y construye una iglesia con ellos. Y, a medida que descubre que su misión es más sencilla de lo que preveía, los problemas empiezan a surgir de rincones inesperados; en la base no todo el mundo es tan impasible, y los correos de su esposa Bea hablan de una Tierra que va de mal en peor: se hunde, azotada por desastres naturales, carestía y conflictividad social, y Bea se hunde con ella. Y cuando Peter, abstraído, no logra darle el consuelo que necesita, el matrimonio tendrá que enfrentarse a una brecha que se abre hasta alcanzar años luz.

Con una ambición tan vasta como el espacio en el que ambienta su relato, Michel Faber vuelve a la larga distancia de su obra mayor Pétalo carmesí, flor blanca para enhebrar una reflexión acerca de nosotros mismos, de los demás y del modo en que nos acercamos y alejamos de ellos; de la identidad, la alteridad, la empatía y sus retos; de amor a la fe, y de fe en el amor. Sensible, adictiva y alérgica a las respuestas fáciles; intrigante, magnética y multiforme, El Libro de las cosas nunca vistas aborda con sabiduría y compasión algunas que, por verlas todos los días, nos quedan bien cerca, y así sentimos su lectura: como algo que nos atañe y nos apela, de una vibrante humanidad.

624 pages, Paperback

First published October 6, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Michel Faber

58 books1,949 followers
Michel Faber (born 13 April 1960) is a Dutch writer of English-language fiction.

Faber was born in The Hague, The Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967. He attended primary and secondary school in the Melbourne suburbs of Boronia and Bayswater, then attended the University of Melbourne, studying Dutch, philosophy, rhetoric, English language (a course involving translation and criticism of Anglo-Saxon and Middle English texts) and English literature. He graduated in 1980. He worked as a cleaner and at various other casual jobs, before training as a nurse at Marrickville and Western Suburbs hospitals in Sydney. He nursed until the mid-1990s. In 1993 he, his second wife and family emigrated to Scotland, where they still reside.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
7,285 (23%)
4 stars
11,320 (36%)
3 stars
8,063 (26%)
2 stars
3,059 (9%)
1 star
1,163 (3%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,449 reviews
Profile Image for Sam Quixote.
4,543 reviews12.9k followers
December 11, 2014
Sometime in the future, humanity has discovered they are not alone in the universe: on a distant planet named Oasis dwells a race of supremely ugly aliens (their faces are described as two foetuses fused together!) - and they LOVE Jeebus. So much so that they’re withholding food from the handful of human colonists on their planet until they get a replacement missionary.

Enter Peter Leigh, a former homeless junkie thief turned born-again Christian minister selected by the USIC Corporation to be sent to Oasis and preach from the Bible, which the Oasans refer to as The Book of Strange New Things. But why are the Oasans so enamoured with Christianity? And what happened to their last minister…?

That’s the setup for Michel Faber’s latest doorstopper-sized novel, and it’s actually quite enticing and original-seeming at first. Except that summary is misleading because this book is actually about how long distance relationships don’t work. I know – pick your jaw up off the floor because that’s revelatory information, right? But that is essentially the whole book which wouldn’t be so bad if I cared a bit about either Peter or his wife Bea but I didn’t.

Peter heads to Oasis while Bea remains on Earth. Things go well for Peter – the Oasans are receptive and he enjoys his time on the planet; things for badly for Bea as the world around her falls apart – China invades the Middle East and ends up controlling their oil supply, global supermarket chains go bankrupt, freak weather decimates countries, wars erupt, governments topple, it’s the complete and total collapse of Western civilisation.

Make no mistake though: The Book of Strange New Things is an utterly tedious read. Beyond the novelty of meeting the Oasans, there’s nothing much to them. They’re around five feet tall, they’re ugly, they’re a very simple, agrarian-based culture, and many of them believe the word of God completely. Little is added to this knowledge as the novel progresses.

The only “conflict” Peter encounters is trying to make the Bible stories work for his new flock as they have trouble pronouncing “s” and “t” in their tongue as well as understanding some of the imagery (they don’t have sheep or fish so wouldn’t know what stories involving them would mean), so he rewrites them to make it easier for them to speak and grasp. He doesn’t have to try to convert them as a large number are already devout Christians and he doesn’t encounter the ones who aren’t. Easier and easier.

He gets on with his fellow humans on the USIC base for the most part. They’re a gentle but soulless bunch consumed with work – they are the best in the professions: engineering, geology, biology, medicine, etc. A giant (read: “evil”) corporation behind this space endeavour? Never seen that in a sci-fi alien story! The only thing missing was the meat-head soldier archetype but there are no weapons or fighting in the book so they’re absent.

Wondering where the drama/story here is? There isn’t any! Maybe you’re thinking Oasis is some wonderful vista paradise like Pandora in Avatar? Think again! It’s a completely flat landscape with no discernible features. The Oasans are completely isolated besides some weird duck creatures who appear a couple times (so how did they evolve exactly?), their simple huts, and their fields of whiteflower which they grow to trade for medicine with the humans. I don’t need the landscape to be extraordinary I just wish Faber would give me something, anything, than nothing!

This is barely genre writing. Because it’s set on an alien planet doesn’t make it sci-fi, or at least it’s not a good representation of that genre’s heights (despite the way some readers look down upon sci-fi as a “lesser” genre). Good sci-fi is imaginative – The Book of Strange Things is not.

Peter’s wife Bea, though extremely whiny and annoying, tells Peter and the reader through her emails (sent via the Shoot – why did they rename a computer, a Shoot? What was wrong with “computer”?) of troubles on Earth, which I mentioned earlier. These emails are the only real conflict in the book by the way.

It seems that her story would’ve been much more interesting to read than Peter’s. Instead we’re subjected to the most monotonous non-story ever: Peter telling the Oasans some Bible stories. Peter helping them harvest the whiteflower crop. Peter trying to learn their language. Peter having trouble sleeping and looking at the stars. Peter walking across a flat landscape drinking melon-flavoured water. Peter staring blankly at nothing. This book is nearly 600 pages long!! Cut out the tedious crap and you’ll have a mediocre 100-150 page novel instead of an awful 600 page one.

And speaking of Bea’s increasingly difficult life on doomed Earth, USIC do their best to censor their off-world staff from news of Earth’s collapse by ripping out pages of magazines/newspapers arriving at the base - but they don’t censor Bea’s emails even though they have the capability to do so? Her emails contain the most damning information!

I will say that Faber’s prose is for the most part clear and accessible. He may not be able to tell a tight, fast-moving story anymore, but he can still write quite well. And I did like some scenes in the book, particularly with the former minister who went native, and Grainger, the USIC pharmacist, as she fell apart on Oasis. I had her and Peter pegged to have a rushed, embarrassing affair though Faber thankfully steered clear of that – though he did everything he could to hint at its possibility!

And I liked how many of the USIC characters were named after Marvel Comics writers from the Silver Age, in particular Jakob Kurtzberg, the missing former minister, who mirrors the real name of Jack Kirby (technically a Golden Age creator). Who was Jack Kirby, non-comics reader? Creator of much of the Marvel Universe: Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Fantastic Four and the X-Men to name a few - and a preacher of a kind himself who lived in the stars!

Faber’s look at Christianity is just not insightful. What do we learn? That Bea converted Peter when he was a troubled criminal. He bought into the religion and became a personable minister. Away from his wife, her troubles overwhelm her and she loses her faith. And?

Also, how easy is it to write a devout Christian character? “Jesus saves. God has a plan for everything. Trust in the Bible and our Lord – he shall provide” etc. This isn’t great writing or characterisation.

The Christian overtones to the story were too on the nose and weren’t enough to redeem it. The book has 28 chapters like the Gospel of Matthew (which is repeatedly referenced), Peter is bitten by an animal, seeming to die (in the eyes of the Oasans) and return a la Christ after the crucifixion (not really but to the Oasans perhaps), the walking through the wilderness with Grainger (temptation). Does Peter become like Christ to them? Is this how Christ was to us – an alien? Is this how religions start? Maybe some people will be blown away by these aspects of the book but I could not care less – I was beaten into apathy at this point by the slug-like pacing.

As there’s no real story the book doesn’t build to a big finish, or any kind of finish at all really, and simply ends. It couldn’t be more dissatisfying or anticlimactic.

Faber’s Strange New Things is a deeply unimaginative novel. The sci-fi element is poorly conceived and uninteresting – Oasis and the Oasans could not be more dull. The book drags on for hundreds of pages without a plot, with barely any character development, and with hardly a thing happening to break up the boredom. The whole “Earth’s collapse” felt forced, done because Bea’s life needed to get worse so that she and Peter could fight via email, not because it was convincing on any level. I mean, China invading the Middle East – what?!

I’ve enjoyed Faber’s work over the years from Under the Skin to The Fire Gospel to his short stories in Some Rain Must Fall, but The Book of Strange New Things is gimmicky and horribly boring. It’s far too long with much too little substance. Arguably this is his worst novel – I can see why he’s saying he’s giving up on writing any more of them seeing how uninspired this one turned out! Unlike the Oasans and the Bible, most people will have more than enough of this book long before its end. It was a real struggle to get there and not really worth it.

(Side note: there’s some question among some reviewers as to why the Oasans would so readily accept Christianity though Faber does explain this in the book. Here’s why, and it’s actually one of the few parts of the novel I liked:

Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,310 reviews120k followers
February 23, 2023
Of course, everybody on earth had the power to reshape reality. It was one of the things Peter and Beatrice talked about a lot. The challenge of getting people to grasp that life was only as grim and confining as you perceived it to be. The challenge of getting people to see that all the immutable facts of existence were not so immutable after all.
Sustaining a relationship over a long distance presents serious challenges. I tried it once or twice in my twenties. Of course that was back before the invention of the wheel, when communications technology lacked the immediacy of Facetime, Skyping, texting, instant messenger, even cell phones and e-mail. And calling long distance entailed costs far in excess of what one might incur today. Distance, it turns out, did not make the hearts involved grow fonder. Pastor Peter Leigh and his wife, Bea, face some of the challenges many of us did back in the distant past. Of course they are already married, which has to boost one’s commitment to keeping in touch. (or not, depending) But the distances involved make my New York to London, or DC, or New Hampshire connections seem paltry in comparison. Instead of hundreds or thousands of miles, try trillions. And despite the scientific advance that allows spacecraft to cover vast distances by jumping through worm-holes, the communication tech is a lot more like Pony Express than Star Trek cell phones communicators. One might think that is probably not such a big deal to Peter, as he did not possess a television and was not interested in reading magazines or newspapers, but the loss of connection to Bea is a big deal, particularly as existential concerns are a clear and present issue for both.

Michel Faber - from New Republic.com

Peter had been recruited by the mysterious USIC corporation (we never learn what the letters stand for) to minister to the locals on a planet named Oasis. They refer to the bible as The Book of Strange New Things. Although he wanted Bea to come with him, she was not given an imprimatur by the selection committee, so he is off to spread The Word, solo.

There is a trinity of material relationships involved. Peter interacts with the residents of the USIC base, some more than others. Alexandra Grainger is his handler, and some dynamic tension develops between the two. He has dealings with other USIC staff, but it is spread lightly across the group. He communicates with Bea through a poor excuse for e-mail com-tech. It is called a Shoot. But seems it might have been better called a Toss. It is limited to text-only, for one. Messages have to pass the censor before being transmitted, and there is no certainty when the message will get through. Peter’s communications with Bea consist primarily of her describing the accelerating collapse of economies, of civilization itself on Earth, spurred by large dollops of natural catastrophe. Makes one want to hurry home, no? The third interaction is Peter with the locals, or as the Terran sorts refer to them, Oasans.

The residents of the planet Oasis are humanoid, although looking not much like us, at least the us one sees without the benefit of hallucinogens. Here is a description, which is presented about one fifth the way in, but if you prefer to wait until you read the book, I am putting it under a shield. Somehow they (or at least a sizeable portion of the local populace) manifest an intense desire to better know a savior. Did they arrive at this need through some sort of divine revelation? Was it prompted by the prior cleric, say, the intriguingly named Jacob Kurtzberg? I found myself wondering about the state of his health. A quote from Desmond Tutu also ran across my mental crawl
When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.
Fittingly, I suppose, Peter does not question the origin of the locals’ interest in Jesus and the bible, opting to take the purity of their interest on faith. Much of the story is on how Peter goes about establishing his church on Oasis, how he gets to know and feel for the locals, and what he learns about the physical environment in which he is living. He is trying his best to be the rock on which this church is built. The Oasans have a culture, a community, but they are very unlike humans.
At the time I was hatching the book, I was very wearied by all the hidden agendas and neuroses of human beings. I think that one of the reasons I made up the Oasans was that it was like a fantasy of being able to hang out with people who were totally benign and totally un-ego-driven… The Oasans, on another level though they are a bit like sheep, or bees in a hive. Human beings are wonderfully various and distinctive and memorable and a lot of what makes them that way is their dysfunctions and their neuroses; you can’t have one without the other. – from Faber interview on The Awl.com
The environment that Faber concocts for Oasis is, despite a gross similarity to the planet we all know and litter on, quite different. Maybe it takes more exploration, but where are the mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans, forests? It does seem like a pretty lightly seeded rock for the most part. But it has some interesting characteristics, mostly having to do with how water cycles through, and how the local flora is transformed into edibles. There is also a lower life form that offers some surprises when it appears in numbers.

I am no particular fan of religion, but I found Peter to be a very engaging, honest, sincere sort. He is possessed of a powerful faith, which tends toward the bromitic, but he seems a pretty good guy and it is easy to get past differing belief systems to wish him well, not only in his attempts to fulfill his mission on Oasis, but in his struggle to sustain his marriage. It was Bea, after all, who had found a drunk, homeless Peter hitting bottom in the hospital in which she was working as a nurse, and resurrected his spirit with a bit of the old time religion. It is no wonder that he clings to his beliefs like his old self might have to the last available bottle.

The loneliness of the long-distance missionary was fueled, after the writing had begun, by a dire event.
I didn’t know that Eva [Faber’s wife] was going to be diagnosed with cancer, but it certainly ending up being suffused with the anticipation of loss. The book’s about many other kinds of loss as well.
It certainly seemed to me that the devastation being reported on earth might have been intended to echo damage to Peter and Bea’s marriage. And also might be a literary projection of the damage disease was wreaking on Faber's wife.

The book is hardly short at 500 pages. I found it slow going, although Faber manages to infuse enough tension and mystery into his tale to keep you turning the pages. How will Peter and Bea manage? Will Peter ever be able to go home? Why is earth going to hell? Will there be a home to go back to? What’s the deal with the Oasans, and why did they get all religious? Are they really serene or is there a dark side? Why did the Oasans pick up and leave their town when USIC arrived, setting up a greater distance away? Are they hiding something or merely trying to maintain a comfortable margin? What happened to Kurtzberg? Why does a corporation employ a missionary?

Home figures large as a theme. Some of the base employees see themselves more as French Foreign Legion types, unconnected to place, than most of us might be. Is home a location, a community, a state of mind, a relationship? Much thought goes into figuring out the right thing to do in difficult situations, which makes this tale one of moral and not merely physical survival. Biblical and religious imagery appears with some frequency. One cannot but think of Noah when Bea is reporting on incessant rain, and biblical end times certainly pop to mind as she describes the natural catastrophes that seem to be occurring on a daily basis. Peter’s time with the locals, and being out of touch with base, reminds one of earlier, lengthy sojourns in the desert. The locals have a ritual that seemed quite resonant with earthly communion.

This is not an action adventure novel, jam-packed with a new danger every chapter, car chases, gun battles. It is about survival, personal, emotional and big picture. You will get through it, but will not inhale it. There is enough to savor that taking one’s time will be rewarding.

Review first posted - 2/20/15

----------Hardcover - 10/28/2014
----------Trade paperback - 6/30/15

=============================EXTRA STUFF

The author’s FB page. His personal web site has vanished since we updated this last, and his FB connection was last updated in 2020, so take that for what it's worth. I did not find a twitter account for him.

Dutch-born Faber was inspired by the creative geniuses of Marvel Comics as a kid, and in the acknowledgments section, mentions that all the surnames used in the book are based on those of the Marvel artists. He adds that the character Jacob Kurtzberg has a lot to do with Jack Kirby.

There are several musical numbers mentioned in the book – here is a link to one, Patsy Cline singing Walking After Midnight

There is a very interesting interview with Faber in TheAwl.com

In this link to BookBrowse, there is a video of Faber talking about this book, a text interview with Zachary Wagman, Faber’s editor and a 2003 text interview with Faber

October 7, 2017 - Although it aired in March 2017, I only recently (September 2017) discovered (when subscribing to Amazon Prime) that a series had been (or was being) made of this book. The title is Oasis, which may actually be a better title than that of the book. Sadly, only a single, pilot episode has been shown. I do not know, but presume, that other episodes have been produced, but have, for whatever reason, not yet been aired. At least I hope that is the case. The pilot was quite good, capturing much of the core of the book. I very much hoped there would be further episodes ready to roll, and that a second season (if the first does not complete the story arc) would be in the works. Alas, it died on the vine, with only the single episode. Here is a wiki about the show.

Richard Madden, late of his Robb Stark role you know where, plays the lead - image from Amazon
Profile Image for Rick Riordan.
Author 258 books409k followers
November 25, 2014
An adult sci fi novel with an intriguing premise: Mankind has reached its first extraterrestrial world, Oasis, and the giant corporation USIC is working hard to build a colony there while economic and climatic conditions on earth continue to deteriorate. There's one hitch to their plans: the natives of Oasis want a preacher. They've had a limited introduction to the Christian faith, but after their first human pastor mysteriously goes missing, they refuse to provide food to the human settlers until a new preacher arrives to replace him. Peter Leigh steps up to take the job, leaving behind his wife Bea in England to become an interstellar missionary. When Peter gets to Oasis, we know something is not right. Why have two colonists disappeared? Why are the natives so intent on learning about the Christian gospel? And why is USIC censoring news and correspondence between Earth and Oasis? As Peter and Bea write back and forth to one another, sharing what is happening on the two planets, the story becomes both painful and compelling. And when you find out the answers to some of the novel's central mysteries . . . Well, I won't give anything away, but the answers pack a punch.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,639 reviews2,155 followers
March 25, 2017
This book is mesmerizing. I couldn't stop reading it. And when it was over I felt like I'd just finished something amazing, but I also felt like I wasn't sure if I understood what I experienced. (I even re-read it a couple months later and enjoyed it even more.)

I am deeply impressed by Faber's book and the fact that it centers around a man of faith. As someone who has lived with and without religion in my life, I do find it odd that it does not play a greater role in art and literature. Faber lets his protagonist have strengths and flaws, more than that, Peter has a consistent philosophy of religion and morality. The flaws are perhaps more obvious to the reader than to Peter himself (especially when it comes to his relationship with his wife) but that's part of what makes the book interesting. It's also a book with a great deal about religion that is unlikely to offend or annoy people who are religious or people who are not. It is Peter's character that is this way, not any statement the author is making pro or con.

This is also a great example of how good literary fiction can combine a variety of genres. Yes, there is a good element of science-fiction here. Peter is to be the pastor to an alien community on another planet some time in the not-too-distant future. The alien race are mysterious and fascinating, and their full nature is never completely explained. Of course not. That would be too pat for a book that concerns itself with deeper questions.

Even though there are science-fiction elements here, like the best sci-fi it is not about space travel or aliens. It is about morality, relationships, innocence, and so much more.

It's very possible that you'll finish this book feeling the same mix of confusion and wonder that I did, which had me thinking initially this would be a 4-star review. But it's not a book I'll forget any time soon and the more I thought about how the book impressed me, the more I realized it was something truly unique and worthy of a full 5 stars.
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,180 followers
January 15, 2018


We’re the aliens here.

This book can easily be (mis)taken as generic sci-fi, exploring the impact of colonialism on the existing inhabitants, as well as the newcomers: in the near future, a Christian minister leaves his beloved wife and travels through hyperspace to a human colony on another planet, where his role is to evangelise to alien beings.

That is the medium, but it’s not the message. The message isn’t even the Biblical one that saved Peter from drugs and homelessness, and led him to this mission. There is no message.

This is not a preachy book, even though it’s about a preacher. Rather than a message, it’s an open-minded, open-ended exploration of separation, dislocation, translation, miscommunication, God, faith, truth, addiction, madness, scars, healing (“the technique of Jesus”), loss, and what it means to be human. Alienation, in every sense, of every sense.

It is profound and disturbing without being horrific. It’s a slowly-told story that’s nevertheless a page-turner. Like physics, it focuses on the big (Bea’s situation on Earth) and the small (Peter’s on planet Oasis). Ultimately, there are few answers - is that like physics, too?!

There was a red button on the wall labelled EMERGENCY, but no button labelled BEWILDERMENT.

Alienation by Miscommunication

He opened his mouth to reply, but found the part of his brain where he went to fetch the answers was filled with incomprehensible babble.

Most of us take language for granted, except when we’re abroad, or if we have an impairment. But there are many ways to be misunderstood. Problems with language of all kinds are at the heart of the alienation pumped through the veins of this book. Although some of the examples seem extreme, they all have implications for ordinary lives on Earth.

Oasans have no identifiable eyes, no readable facial expressions, and no discernible variations of intonation to indicate their mood. Peter can’t tell what gender they are - or even how many genders they have. They look so similar, the only way he can distinguish them is by the unique colour of each one’s garments (hooded robe, soft boots, and gloves) - although eventually, he can recognise some by their voices. Of course, he finds this bewildering, with very little idea of how he’s being received and understood. But on the phone, online, or if talking to a woman in a burqa, we cope without facial expressions and body language.

The Oasans' language “sounded like a field of brittle reeds and rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete”. Some can speak reasonable English, though they all struggle to pronounce ‘T’ and ‘S’ sounds. They are reluctant for Peter to learn their language, let alone translate the Bible into it: “In foreign phrases, exotic power lurked”.

Thus Peter embarks on a Bible paraphrase in English that omits ‘T’ and ‘S’ sounds as much as possible, as well as eliminating things they have no experience of, such as fish, sheep, and money!

But can truth survive through multiple translations and paraphrases, conducted over millennia, through the lenses of different cultures? Peter notes that the Old Testament phrase for “of old” or “long ago” is closer to “from afar”, which is apt for an intergalactic missionary.

Distance, reliance on technology, and consequent time delays, are a huge source of alienation and misunderstanding. Much of the story is epistolary - messages between Peter and Bea - and the gradual, but seemingly inevitable increase in misunderstanding foreshadows their deepening alienation from each other.

Alienation from Others

He was not ready to face her, not even through the veil of the written word… He needed to adjust to the complicated trivia of human intercourse.

When communication is impaired, relationships change, invariably for the worse. If you’re alienated from one group, perhaps the only way is to integrate with others. What then is “otherness”? Who is the alien?

USIC, the corporation that created and runs the colony, is suitably mysterious, as is the base on planet Oasis, and its bland, unemotional staff. There is rudimentary email, but no internet or phones (not even phones within the base), photography is “not practicable”, and there are no locks on personal quarters.

The planet itself has a strange climate and beauty that only Peter appreciates, and the native inhabitants are welcoming, but mysterious, strange and new.

The result is a benign but sinister setting, veiled in secrecy and evasion, that numbs the mind.

Some aspects are gradually revealed, but much of importance is never explained. If this is sci-fi, it’s very light on the “sci”, and even on the socio-political angle. It’s the medium, not the message.

One striking feature is that Peter comments on the (presumed) race of everyone - literally everyone - he encounters. And yet he’s by far the most accepting of the Oasans. Maybe he’s excessively difference-aware, rather than anything worse, though “variations in pigment aside, humans were all part of the same species” and some dubious observations about gender and sexuality don’t really clarify matters. Maybe it’s just another aspect of his own otherness.

Alienation from Self

The pain of useless empathy.

When you’ve lost your partner, home, culture, language, food, and climate, and you’re even doubting your faith, what’s left but your sanity? And how can you keep that in the absence of the others?

Watching a disintegrating mind is probably the most painful vicarious experience, as anyone who’s had a loved one with Alzheimer’s or mental illness knows. The helplessness of the observer, and the seeming inevitability of the decline is agony. (I’m not suggesting that applies in all cases, with all conditions.)

For me, that was the most powerful aspect of the book. It is gradual, unsentimental, sympathetic, powerful. Faber wrote it while his wife was dying, but he’s not, and never has been, religious. He asks where God is when tragedy strikes, but suggests no answer.

Long-Distance Relationship via Email
• “I miss living through the visible moments of life with you.”
• “To his wife, these messages were already history. To him, they were a frozen present.”
• “His heart and mind were trapped in his body, and his body was here.”
• The rains “were indescribable… but seeing them would leave a mark on him that would not be left on her.”
Humid Climate
• “The rain wasn’t falling in straight lines, it was… dancing!... elegant arcs… a leisurely sweeping from one side of the sky to the other.”
• “He was enveloped in a moist warm breeze, a swirling balm… The air lapped against his cheeks, tickled his ears, flowed over his lips and hands.”
• “The air here was a presence, a presence so palpable that he was tempted to believe he could let himself fall and the air would simply catch him like a pillow… As it nuzzled his skin it almost promised that it would.”
• “The air currents, so similar to water currents, could not move silently, but must churn and hiss like ocean waves.”
• “The warm air embraced them with balmy enthusiasm.”
• The moist atmosphere “was enjoyable… but also an assault: the way the air immediately ran up the sleeves of his shirt, licked his eyelids and ears, dampened his chest.”
• “They truly were rains, plural… The air all around him was ecstatic with water, bursting with it. Silvery lariats of droplets lashed against the ground, lashed against him.”
• “The Oasan settlement wasn’t what you’d call a city. More like a suburb, erected in the middle of a wasteland.”
• “Where the ‘S’ should have been, there was a noise like a ripe fruit being thumbed into two halves.”
• King James “Bible verses were like a particularly mellow alcoholic drink”, whereas Peter’s paraphrases were like “local home-brew, a moonshine compromise”. So “maybe he shouldn't dilute its strangeness”.
• Trying to explain the Oasans is “like trying to explain what a smell looks like or what a sound tastes like”.
Corporate Outpost and its Personnel
• “The bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does.”
• “A curious absence of any image that evoked a specific, currently existing spot on Earth, or a passionate emotion.” That, of a corridor plastered in a wide variety of posters.
• "You cannot create a thriving community, let alone a new civilisation, by putting together a bunch of people who are no fucking trouble . . . You want to build Paradise, you gotta build it on war, on blood, on envy, on naked greed."
• “Her boringness was so perfect that it had transcended itself to become a kind of eccentricity.”
• “He did not lose his temper. He had no temper to lose. That was his tragedy, and his mark of dignity too.”
• “His calmness had impressed them… Without knowing it, he’d always been an honorary alien.”
• “The pungent odour of Tartaglione’s loneliness dispelled some of the fog in Peter’s brain.”
• Scars “were not suffering but triumph: triumph against decay, triumph against death… not a disfigurement, a miracle”.
• “Belief was a place that people didn’t leave until they absolutely must. The Oasans had been keen to follow him to the Kingdom of Heaven, but they weren’t keen to follow him into the valley of doubt.”

Easter Eggs?

The Book of Strange New Things is what the Oasans call the Bible. However, in Faber’s short story collection, Some Rain Must Fall (published in 1998 and reviewed HERE), there’s a piece called Toy Story, about God’s childhood. It includes the line "His eyes would goggle at the strange new things he found there [in the abandoned universe]... bottled gases which plumed out in the shape of a star when smashed free, huge fluffs of sliver fibre spilling out of the bins like foam... enigmatically specific crystal implements... and... broken engines of paradox."

Perhaps in a nod to Under The Skin, reviewed HERE, on the second page, Peter and Bea discuss whether to pick up a hitchhiker.

One of the characters is called Billy Graham - but not the minister. In the Acknowledgements, Faber says many of the names are from, or loosely based on, Marvel Comics, but surely Billy Graham conjures an early televangelist in most people’s minds.

I wonder if the ubiquitous and multi-purpose whiteflower is a nod to the Wompom of Flanders and Swann. Lyrics HERE and F&S singing it HERE.

For a very different take on the missionary experience, as suggested by Caroline in the comments, see Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, reviewed HERE.

Picture source for man in space suit in ruined church:
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,217 reviews9,910 followers
December 7, 2014
I made a note at the 200 page mark :

I wouldn’t say the story so far is implausible, just like the captain of the Titanic didn’t say that the thing directly ahead was a bloody gigantic iceberg. But I have so many questions about what’s going on here which Mr Faber is straight-facedly refusing to either acknowledge or answer that I may explode.

However by the end of the 584th page new, happier thoughts had formed :

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of an extremely dubious plot, I will fear no disappointment: for Michel Faber art with me; his brain and his humanity, not to mention his plain, compelling prose style, they comfort me.

And yes, my faith was justified, all my list of major complaints about the plot were met and answered and my doubts melted away.

The Book of New Strange Things appears for the first 200 pages to be like an SF story written by an earnest 19 year old in 1959 – because the premise casually brushes aside a thousand problems.

We can grant the first major plot points here – that a few decades into the future someone has invented a way of travelling to other solar systems, that a habitable planet has been found, with breathable air, and that a faceless American corporation with undisclosed motives is exploiting this new world, and that the world is already inhabited by the first alien race humans have come across. So far so standard SF.

But then the corporation selects a happy-clappy Christian minister to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the aliens. And the novel is his story. And the title is what the aliens call the Bible. So these problems present themselves:

- How come the aliens don’t already have a religion

- How come the UN or the American government or about a thousand major scientific organisations aren’t freaking out saying you can’t just send a Christian missionary to aliens & clamouring to be allowed to make anthropologically sensitive approaches to the aliens because the approach in this book by our priest is exactly the same as Victorians used in darkest Africa in the 1850s and we surely have learned a few things, no? But it seems all Earth organisations have deemed the first contact with aliens to be of minor importance, to be left to amateurs

- How come our irritating priest is given no briefings about the race, its situation, its economy, language, whether there are any diseases to catch, dangerous life forms, nothing. He hasn’t even seen a photo of them. It’s just like – the aliens are over there, we’ll drop you off & then you’re kind of on your own. You’ll be fine!

As I say, an earnest young SF wannabe writer would have written just such a story and ignored just such issues in 1959. But Michel hasn’t ignored them at all. Everything has an answer, it just takes a while to get there. The story goes at approximately 23 miles an hour. And it’s hypnotic. Once you start, when you’re not reading The Book of Strange New Things you’re all, aw, gee, why do we have to work, eat, sleep and socialise again? Can’t I skip all that for a few days?

The aliens are pretty good and pretty alien too. They do have legs and arms and a torso and a head, but their heads look like two foetuses stuck together, they have no discernible eyes, they have an orifice from which they try to speak in English but they have great trouble with consonants like t, s, sh, ch, th, so their version of the Lord’s Prayer sounds like

Give usquelch thislurp day our daily bread.
And forgive usquelch our treslurppasquelchsesquelch,
Aslurp we forgive them that tressquelchpasslurp againschlurp usquelch.

The aliens are by far the most sympathetic characters in this tale of alienation where misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are always just a few inches below the surface. Do the aliens have the first idea of what Christianity means ? (Well, are Christians agreed on what Christ meant?) And Peter, did you and Bea ever have that miraculous mutual understanding you thought you did, given how quickly things unravel when there’s a few hundred light years between you?

A satisfyingly uneasy read about love in various forms, faith in various forms, what makes life worth living, cats, rain and the coming demise of supermarkets which restored my faith in the big long novel.

Michel, I schlurp you!
Profile Image for Ron Charles.
1,050 reviews48.7k followers
December 3, 2014
At the end of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus tells his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”

For a while now, evangelicals have had to restrict their preaching to creatures on this planet, but someday, who knows? Will the heathens of Andromeda embrace the good news about a man who was nailed to a cross a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

I can remember debating that essential question late at night as an undergrad at my little Christian college in Illinois. (We were a wild bunch!) The issue of extraterrestrial proselytizing has attracted some attention from notable science fiction writers, too. Captain Kirk was more interested in spreading his seed than the Gospel, but Trekkies will remember Episode 54, when the intrepid crew of the Starship Enterprise stumbled upon Son worshipers on a distant planet. And far more powerfully, Mary Doria Russell wrote her first novel, “The Sparrow,” about a Jesuit priest who travels four light years away for the glory of God.

The latest story to boldly go into this final frontier of theological speculation comes from Michel Faber, a Dutch-born writer who lives in Scotland. Best known for “The Crimson Petal and the White” (2002), which took place in the Victorian era, Faber now launches us into the future, when interplanetary travel is almost routine.

For all its galactic wonders, “The Book of Strange New Things” is a subtle, meditative novel that winds familiar space-alien tropes around terrestrial reflections on faith and devotion. The story opens with Peter Leigh’s last night on Earth. He has already completed the difficult steps from drug addict to man of God. Now, he’s ready for one giant leap. The pastor of a small church in England, he has been chosen from thousands of applicants “to pursue the most important missionary calling since the Apostles had ventured forth to conquer Rome.” His job — classified as “urgent” — is to serve as “Minister (Christian) to Indigenous Population” of a planet called Oasis.

Faber seems largely uninterested in the technical apparatus of science fiction. The spaceship, the physics of “the Jump,” the physiology of inanimate suspension, along with the scientific breakthroughs that would be necessary to support such a voyage — he constructs all these details from an old refrigerator box with some tempera paint, like the special effects in an early episode of “Dr. Who.” But that spottiness gradually comes to reflect Peter’s own lack of attention to the fallen world. His sponsor is USIC, a shadowy multinational corporation about which Peter shows little interest. “I don’t really follow politics,” he confesses. “I don’t have access to social media.” None of those temporal distractions are relevant to his eternal vocation. “God will guide me,” he tells his nervous wife before shooting into the heavens.

Once the good pastor arrives in the new world, the novel sinks into its setting in fascinating ways, most cleverly by resisting our expectations of this impossibly alien place. Oasis appears almost without form, and void. It’s “a dark, moist tundra,” marked by searing temperatures and ferocious, magical rainstorms. The earthlings’ headquarters, too, are suspiciously bland. “There was something weird about the USIC personnel,” Peter thinks, but they treat him with cheery deference and give him a sparse room from which he can exchange e-mail (but no photos) with his wife. As she describes Earth falling into environmental and political ruin, he responds sporadically with perfunctory expressions of concern. More than a poignant demonstration of why long-distance relationships never work, their correspondence suggests the dark side of Peter’s ministry: No matter what calamities his wife outlines, the crisis that interests him is always the one in which he gets to play the savior.

Strikingly, “The Book of Strange New Things” isn’t a story of first contact. Peter’s new colleagues have been trading drugs and food with the aliens for years. Indeed, he’s the replacement for an earlier minister who went native and vanished. Yet as Peter heads off wearing his Pauline sandals and robe, he knows nothing about the creatures he’s meant to serve. “This world’s indigenous inhabitants, thriving or otherwise, were scarcely mentioned in USIC’s literature,” Faber writes, ��except for fastidious assurances that nothing was planned or implemented without their full and informed consent.”

Of course, we read that bland corporate assurance with the dismal history of exploration and Christian mission work crying in our minds: Columbus brought salvation and smallpox; the first Thanksgiving feast began with grace but eventually gave way to war and a trail of tears. Despite raising these concerns about exploitation, though, the novel remains focused on Peter’s sweet interaction with the beings of Oasis. They’re a delicate, private race, mostly humanoid, except for their faces, which look like “a pile of entrails.” They don’t like to be touched. No problem.

Faber’s most remarkable creation is not just the aliens’ physiology but their whole unearthly culture, with aspirations, concerns and customs that we can’t possibly fathom. Their murmuring voices sound like “wet bracken being crushed underfoot.” Their language, which has no consonants, is transcribed throughout the book in a kind of Cyrillic script.

Expecting skepticism and doubt, or at least “monolithic barriers of foreignness,” Peter finds instead scores of faithful Oasans eagerly waiting for him. These gentle souls can’t get enough stories about “the technique of Jesus.” They insist Peter read more from the Bible, which they call “the book of strange new things.” (The gold-edged pages of this novel are a clever sanctifying touch by the publisher.)

What could be more seductive for a minister than to be embraced by a community of such loving congregants? The Oasans’ thirst for the Word exceeds anything Peter has experienced — perhaps it even exceeds his own enthusiasm. “Peter had a good feeling about his ministry here,” Faber writes. “God was taking a special interest in the way things were panning out.”

Classic sci-fi puts us on guard in pleasant situations like this — “Soylent Green is people!” — but Faber has something more subtle and mournful in mind. It takes a while to realize that, despite its bizarre setting and all the elements of an interplanetary opera, this is a novel of profound spiritual intimacy. Peter knows the Bible well, and if you do, too, you’ll see that he experiences everything through the fabric of its metaphors and parables. He prays like someone who actually believes, which in literary fiction is far more exotic than a space alien with a hamburger face. But there’s something naive and self-centered about his devotion. The purity of the Oasans’ belief in the Gospel that he preaches will test his faith in a way he never expected.

As someone who harbors a fondness for science fiction and thirsts for more complex treatment of religion in contemporary novels, I relished every chance to cloister myself away with “The Book of Strange New Things.” If it feels more contemplative than propulsive, if Faber repeatedly thwarts his own dramatic premises, he also offers exactly what I crave: a state of mingled familiarity and alienness that leaves us with questions we can’t answer — or forget.

This review first appeared in The Washington Post:
Profile Image for Jason McKinney.
Author 1 book22 followers
October 25, 2014
Ugh...I hated this. I absolutely loved Under the Skin, but this was a huge disappointment. It was endlessly tedious, the protagonist was not very likable and the plot itself just never really came together. It's amazing because the reviews on GR have been largely glowing, but this was just a huge bust. The Book of Strange New Things? More like The (Endless) Book of Tedious Plot and Lame Characters.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews857 followers
December 23, 2022
The Book of Strange New Things, the 2014 science fiction novel by Michel Faber, is one of those books that sealed me in a barrel, rolled me down a hill, off a cliff, into rapids and over a waterfall. I feel dizzy having just been let out of the barrel by the author. Faber jettisoned me across the galaxy to an alien planet but instead of painstakingly building a new world, relocated me to one where the more things change, the more they stay the same. Instead of describing fantastic creatures, intricate politics or elaborate technology, the book is restrained, enigmatic and pure.

The story begins with a couple in their mid-thirties en route to Hethrow Airport. Peter Leigh is a pastor. His wife Beatrice is accompanying him on the beginning of a Christian mission sponsored by a corporation they refer to as USIC. Peter passes a hitchhiker and wants to give him a lift, but Beatrice implores her husband to pull off the road to make love to her in the backseat. Peter does his best to make his wife happy but begins to realize the two of them are on different pages and dwells on his sexual performance under the conditions. His mind on the journey ahead, he has no preconceived notions of what awaits him, though Beatrice shares her vision of how his mission will begin:

"I see you standing on the shore of a huge lake. It's night and the sky is full of stars. On the water, there's hundreds of small fishing boats, bobbing up and down. Each boat has at least one person in it, some have three or four, but I can't see any of them properly, it's too dark. None of the boats are going anywhere, they've all dropped anchor, because everyone is listening. The air is so calm you don't even have to shout. Your voice just carries over the water."

Peter stops in Florida and has one last conversation with Beatrice through a garbled cellular phone. The reader is given a narrow aperture by which to view the world of the future: Peter is bound for another planet to spread the gospel to the natives. USIC has purchased Cape Canaveral. The corporation subjects its job candidates to a rigorous psychological screening. Peter recalls his interview in a London hotel, where a petite American and her team of interrogators pelted him with questions. While Peter passed his interview and was awarded the mission, Beatrice, who'd hoped to join her husband, failed. She remains in England with their cat. He promises to write her every day.

Recovering from the hallucinogenic effects of the Jump, Peter tours the USIC base on a planet christened Oasis. His contact is pharmacist Alex Grainger, a woman whose arms are covered with cutting scars from her youth. He's introduced to the climate, with humidity that transforms his denim into a soggy dish rag. Peter replaces his western clothes with an Arab dishdasha. Grainger, whose tasks include deliveries of medicine to the Oasan settlement in a trade for food, is no help with questions about the people, as Peter calls them. Aliens, she calls them, adding that they enjoy their privacy. Peter learns that the previous pastor, Kurtzburg, disappeared, and a linguist named Tartaglione later followed suit, but the Oasans have insisted on a Christian pastor with some urgency.

The creature--the person--stood upright, but not tall. Five foot three, maybe five foot four. (Funny how those imperial measurements--inches, miles--stubbornly refused to be left behind.) Anyway, he, or she, was delicate. Small-boned, narrow-shouldered, an unassuming presence--not at all the fearsome figure Peter had prepared himself to confront. As foretold, a hood and monkish robes--made of a pastel-blue fabric disconcertingly like bathtowel--covered almost all of the body, its hems brushing the toes of soft leather boots. There was no swell of bosom, so Peter--unaware that this was flimsy evidence on which to base a judgment, but unwilling to clutter his brain with unwieldy repetitions of "he or she"--decided to think of the creature as male.

Initially shocked that the Oasan's face resembles two fetuses, with no eyes, nose or mouth, Peter is elated that the envoy is hungry for the New Testament, which he/she/it refers to as The Book of Strange New Things. Returning to the USIC base, Peter notes that there are no soldiers, no law enforcement, no supervisors of any kind; the technicians simply work together to get the job done. Communicating with Beatrice through interstellar email referred to as the Shoot, Peter learns that a tsunami has wiped out the Maldives Islands and killed three million, but no one on the base seems concerned. There are no news broadcasts, only golden oldie tunes by the likes of Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby.

On Grainger and Peter's next visit to the Oasan settlement, designated C-2, or referred to as "Freaktown," Grainger leaves Peter with his hosts for five days. He's greeted by seventy to eighty Oasans who serenade their new pastor with "Amazing Grace." His initial Oasan contact insists on being called "Jesus Lover One," and the rest of the flock a subsequent Jesus Lover number. Peter learns to distinguish his flock by the color of their robes; personalities or physical appearances are indistinguishable. He begins work on a translation of the New Testament which the Oasans can both recite and identify with easier. Health and diet slip his mind, as does his life on Earth.

Beatrice's messages to her husband reveal a world spinning out of control--freak weather, economic collapse, food shortages, gang violence--and she confides that she's pregnant. Peter's replies become less frequent and shorter; he badly wants to return to the field. Grainger notices similarities in Peter's insular behavior with that of Kurtzburg and Tartaglione before they vanished. She reveals that but that she passionately wants to return to be with her family. Peter is confronted with a similar choice.

I've been critical about science fiction or fantasy set on alien worlds, and with reason. I can see how this novel might not feature enough derring-do or interstellar titillation, depending on the reader's mood, but The Book of Strange New Things captivated me for several reasons:

1) Faber doesn't fall in love with his technological, cultural or political musings of the future. He doesn't detail how interstellar travel is possible. He never even mentions the year. In other words, he doesn't clutter the story with garnish. His vision of the future seems like the present in most respects. The same narrative economy holds true for Oasis. Faber doesn't spend pages describing how the planet was discovered. Aspects of the alien culture, as well as the culture of the USIC base, remain shrouded in mystery, with the right amount of information supplied at just the right time.

2) Stories about extraterrestrials tend to be gloriously dumb to me. This is okay for space opera like Star Trek, but stories reaching for plausibility fall apart once aliens start walking around and talking. This holds true for abduction reports, by the way, as well as science fiction. I can't imagine a conversation with an alien proceeding any differently than a conversation with a feral cat and most conversant ETs seem equally ridiculous. Faber gets around this by withholding information on the Oasans. The less revealed about the alien world, the less far-fetched it all seems.

3) Any novel that prompts me to stop every twenty pages to scribble down a nugget of wisdom or bit of wit is doing something right. I love books that reveal the secrets of life or make a clever observation on it and one with the title The Book of Strange New Things didn't disappoint me. Faber's handle on spirituality, matrimony and humanity are all appropriately thought provoking. His dialogue is spare but strong. His characters are enigmatic; they're souls I wanted to get to know better.

4) Atheism is a blinking red light in my life at the moment. I'm stopping and looking around. The more I hear Neil deGrasse Tyson speak, the more I want to roll past the blinking yellow light of agnosticism and ignore the religions of the world like billboards. While Faber didn't change my spiritual views, he did make me see missionaries in a new light. It occurs to me that many born again Christians--like Peter and Beatrice--were not always believers. They're not walking caricatures. These are wounded people whose recovery was made possible through indoctrination by the Gospel.

5) Another mark of a great novel: My sleep patterns were altered. Faber generates an intense amount of suspense through Beatrice's messages to her husband, which not only hint at a world falling apart, but a marriage falling apart. Again, we're only shown the tip of the iceberg. My imagination was left free to roam with what was really going on beneath the surface, and before I could allow myself to nod off, I had to know how Peter and Beatrice's story would end. This is what I want in a science fiction novel, not techno gimmicks so much, but a story.

This is a hell of a story and one of my new favorite novels.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,221 followers
August 12, 2016
No surprise this gets an endorsement from David Mitchell because it’s a fabulous feat of wiring exuberant entertainment into intelligent storytelling, a bit like the literary equivalent of Stephen Spielberg. The secret of this novel’s immense charm maybe is that appeals to the teenager inside. In fact, when, towards the end, it loses some of its charm it’s because it’s stopped appealing to the teenager inside. It’s suddenly got a bit earnestly serious on us, it’s forsaken its ironic mischief and the adult inside isn’t quite as willing to suspend disbelief and her critical faculties as the teenager. It’s hard not to feel cheated by the ending. Probably because this is a novel that doesn’t have an ending. Or at least anything resembling a satisfactory one. Just about everything is left to our imagination. It ends on the note a sequel would begin.

I’ve always struggled with SF usually because I weary of all the exposition, the attempts the writer makes to convince us his world is technologically and scientifically and culturally plausible. Here Peter goes to an airport with his wife in much the manner all of us have arrived at an airport. The fact that he’s catching an interstellar shuttle is treated almost as a commonplace event and within a few pages he’s arrived on the distant planet of Oasis but because of the easy, almost matter of fact way in which it’s written we’re able to take this colossal test on our ability to suspend disbelief in our stride with barely a raised eyebrow. Peter has been sent to Oasis to spread the word of the gospel to the aliens who inhabit the planet. His predecessor has mysteriously vanished. At the USIC base, the shadowy corporation who employs him, there’s immediately something subtly sinister afoot, a brooding Gothic atmosphere of skeletons waiting to come out of closets. Without wanting to give much away, the first meeting with the aliens is as memorable and funny a scene as you’re likely to read all year.

You could say, on the one hand, this is a novel about colonialism and the role of the missionary – there’s a lot of satire about rapacious exploitation of resources dressed up as benign altruism with the minister as the unknowing puppet. But it’s equally a novel about marriage, about the sometimes conflicting emotional spaces occupied by men and women. Peter and his wife communicate with each other via interstellar email and these missives form a large part of the novel. Life on planet earth is a growing crescendo of catastrophes, Armageddon just around the corner. Peter and his wife Bea thus find themselves in growing conflict, unable to enter into the perspective of the other, both insisting on the primary importance of their own reality. This conflict is humorously blown up into a kind of comic book absolutism – What could be more important than spreading the word of the Gospel to aliens? What could be more important than the end of the world as we know it? A lot of this novel is about failures in communication, most humorously highlighted with Peter’s attempts to rewrite Bible passages so the Oasans will be able to both understand and read them aloud (they have an insurmountable problem pronouncing s and t, both of which are replaced when they speak by hieroglyphics in the text). The Oasans also don't have recognisable faces and so, where Peter is concerned, are denied the most visual form of expression by which we communicate with each other. Peter can't even work out which sex each of them are.

It’s also worth mentioning that there’s no criticism of the Christian faith in this novel. Peter and his beliefs are treated with a generosity of spirit by Faber. It’s the politicisation of religion that comes in for both mockery and attack.
Profile Image for John Mauro.
Author 5 books517 followers
April 29, 2023
The Book of Strange New Things is literary science fiction about a Christian preacher who is selected by an American corporation, USIC, to act as missionary to an alien race on the planet Oasis. USIC is leading colonization efforts on Oasis and seeks to build a positive relationship with the Oasans. However, the previous missionary has gone missing, and the Oasans are demanding that a new missionary be sent without delay.

This book is a subtle masterpiece about contrasting theologies and the breakdown in human relationships. The author, Michel Faber, is not particularly concerned with the sci-fi aspects of the novel. So if you are looking for hard sci-fi, you'll need to look elsewhere. But if you are looking for beautifully written, thought-provoking literary fiction, please consider reading The Book of Strange New Things. It appeals equally to the mind and heart--I really loved reading it.
Profile Image for Yzabel Ginsberg.
Author 3 books105 followers
November 3, 2014
(I got a copy through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.)

At first I thought I'd rate this book higher: its beginning as well as premise were quite catchy, and I was fairly intrigued at what Peter, the main character, found on planet Oasis, as well as to what would happen with Beatrice, how they'd keep in contact, whether their relationship would hold, and so on.

There are very strong moments in it, especially when contrasting Peter's privileged experience to Bea's day-to-day life. (The fact that she lived in Great Britain, that the problems she mentioned happening there were connected to places and brands I do actually know, allowed me to connect more personally with her experience.)

However, two things turned to be a definite let-down for me. The first was insidious enough that I didn't noticed it in the beginning, but it kept creeping back: regular allusions to other people in terms of skin colour and of characteristics that smacked of a certain... narrow-mindedness, to say the least. I don't meab skin colour as simply descriptive, but as judgmental. For instance, a nurse from Guatemala is several times compared to an ape, and not in a shiny manner:

Nurse Flores spoke up again, her simian face unexpectedly illuminated with sharp intelligence.

(Other occurrences include her "monkey face" and "simian fingers".)

I also found that gem, which I don't even deem deserving any comment at this point:

She was heterosexual despite her butch appearance.

For a while, I wondered if this was part of a process regarding Peter's character, as hints of his changing, but I'm not so sure, because it clearly didn't fit with his acceptance of the Oasans, who were so much more different. Although at times he does come off as pretty judgmental—especially when women are concerned—and didn't help to make me like him:

Her face betrayed no emotion, although her lips twitched once or twice. Maybe she wasn’t a strong reader, and was tempted to mouth the words?

Clearly no one would ever mouth a word while reading for any other reason than struggling with the text. And, once again, it's about a woman.

Peter didn't strike me as particularly likeable anyway

It didn’t matter, for the moment, that she misjudged him. She was overwhelmed, she was in distress, she needed help. Rightness or wrongness was not the point.

Yes, poor little misunderstood preacher, in his paradise light-years from Earth, with his mission of evangelising people who've been welcoming him with open arms, while his distressed wife struggles with worse problems and calls him on his bullshit—sorry, "misjudges" him. Not that Bea's so much better, considering one thing she did in his back. And she has her prissy moments of I'm-so-much-better-than-you when she describes how her hospital "gets the dregs", i.e. people who don't have the means to get private health insurance.

So while I expected a story that'd show me the struggles of a couple trying to stay united despite the distance, and would focus as much on both parties, I got a bleak reminder about how human beings, even (especially?) the ones who preach love, can sometimes be the worst. Which, in itself, is actually brilliant writing. Just... not what I would've wanted to read, not now. And not with the constant lingering doubt: were those the characters' views, or the author's?

I was also not impressed with the ending: too open for such a story. Too many threads left loose. As if the author had become bored with his story, and decided to let it hang there.

Clearly there were beautiful moments in this novel, that can make you feel like you're really "with the characters", but the other problems kept distracting me so much that this read ended up being more tedious than pleasant.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,861 followers
December 11, 2014

There's this writer thing that happens on Twitter every six months or so: #PitMad, when Aspiring Novelists craft a 140-character pitch of their novel and it's read by a bunch of literary agents. If you tweet a good pitch, you might get a manuscript request or two. Totally soulless. But hey. It's the Brave New World of No Attention Span.

If I were the author of The Book of Strange New Things, my Twitter pitch might reading something like this: Ex-druggie pastor leaves pregnant wife on apocalyptic Earth to save souls on rainy Planet Oasis. Poisonwood Bible + The Sparrow #PitMad #SFF

Dude. That’s pretty damn good, if I do say so myself (and there, I’m done with the spoilers).

So, we already know that just because a book is set in space, with, ahem, “aliens” (protagonist Peter Leigh reminds us that of course it is we, the visitors, who are the aliens) and space ships and weird plant forms, doesn’t mean it isn't serious literary fiction. Ursula Le Guin thrust that bar into the stratosphere in 1969 with The Left Hand of Darkness. Mary Doria Russell elevated the missionary in intergalactic lands trope to a storytelling phenomenon with The Sparrow in 1996. David Mitchell does all this while conducting a symphony and climbing the Matterhorn, I’m sure.

In fact, I think the literary world has settled on a term for science fiction, so as not to confuse it with, you know, science fiction: Speculative fiction. There, now everyone who swears they hate science fiction and won’t read it can feel better about reading it, because it’s SPECULATIVE.

Tell you what. My Twitter pitch says you all you need to know about the plot before you start reading. And don’t you dare not read this because there are spaceships and aliens. DO read it for what it’s really about: marriage, faith, loss, and the weirdness that unfolds when strangers are brought together in trying circumstances. Read it because it’s great storytelling (for all my grousing about, I finished its 500 pages in three days), because it walks a line of tension and suspense that will push you on and on until the end, which will leave you in tears. Oh hell, I cry at everything.

This is serious stuff. It’s also beautifully rendered. And for this reader, incredibly frustrating. I had to sort through all sorts of emotional baggage that I haul around regarding evangelical Christianity. Was raised in the practice. Can.not.abide it. Makes me stabby.

The Book of Strange New Things is essentially the story of a husband and wife, Peter and Bea, whose marriage is revealed in epistolary form as Peter goes about his mission on Oasis and Bea copes alone with a world going to custard around her. I pretty much wanted to drop-kick Peter across a few galaxies and I was aching to know more of what was happening on Earth—neither desire was satisfied by the end.

To tell the truth, I’m still feeling kind of stabby about this book. But I'm also filled with a bit of awe. Speculative or not, Michel Faber's book made me look twice at the stars last night and wonder . . .

Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
June 30, 2023
Who would ever have imagined that I would be fully submerged in a scifi novel whose protagonist is a missionary transported to a planet at a distance of a trillion miles from earth! What is even more remarkable is that a pastor had been urgently requested by the native people of the planet, thus not by the scientists and engineers who are establishing a base for future human habitation. 'Native people' is, of course, a wrong denomination, we could use 'aliens', but who are the aliens in this place?
I found it a fascinating and unsettling book. Faber's story unfolds slowly. Pastor Peter is bursting with goodwill and sacrifice and does not allow himself to despair in feelings of alienation and misunderstanding. Being a converted drug addict and alcoholist, he has just the exact patient nature of the true believer that is needed here, optimistic and shortsighted, you could even say deliberate and nauseously innocent. Radical converts find that a comfortable state of mind. He wants to love his flock, even though he cannot distinguish between the Oasans individually; they all seem to be the same like in a beehive. Peter can only recognise them by the colour of their robes, so he names them by number to which he attaches the robe colour. He is at a loss where their eyes or mouths are. Their language sounds like of a 'field of brittle reeds and rain-sodden lettuces being cleared by a machete.' They cannot pronounce the T's and S's in English, but they do understand the Biblical language and love to listen to it.
The human compound is inhabited by people who are chosen by UNIC for their unemotional attitudes, even for extreme boringness. Pastor Peter is, consequently, the most emotional person around and viewed as a person who causes unnecessary upheaval. The humans accept this, as he is instrumental to their well-being vis-a-vis the Oasans.
This novel cannot be classified as a scifi book in the conventional way. It is the first one I read where a human tries to be in a close relationship with aliens. An utter failure, but touching to read. Goodwill from both sides cannot bridge the gap which is impossible to cross. The fact that Pastor Peter actually believes so intensely is more exotic to me than the behaviour of the aliens. The aliens obviously gained strength and were comforted to hear the stories from the Book of Strange New Things. That is touching, but what does it mean. There is actually no message.

Special book! A story like no other. Faber writes in a detached way, but you still get pulled in and feel attached. Loved it.
Profile Image for Samantha.
440 reviews16.7k followers
November 24, 2019
I think this Tome Topple has taught me that I don’t really care for literary fiction, except on very rare occasions. This was beautifully written but overall, sad and unsatisfying. It gets 3 stars for the writing. 2 stars if the writing wasn’t so good.
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,173 reviews8,388 followers
February 7, 2016
My thoughts about this book are complicated. With The Book of Strange New Things, Michel Faber tackles really big epistemological and existential issues through the journey of an English preacher to outer space. Peter, our protagonist, is sent by a mysterious corporation called USIC to be a pastor to the alien race on a planet trillions of lightyears away called the Oasis. It's an interesting premise and a unique blend of sci-fi and literary fiction, but I don't think it really delivers on what it has to offer.

Firstly, we don't get a lot of explanation for much of the novel's set-up. I know the book isn't focused on the sci-fi elements as much as it is on the themes of marriage, religion and humanity. But without giving us much reasoning for the space mission in the first place, I felt it hard to fully understand why the whole thing was even happening. We get some conspiracy near the end of the novel, but it didn't feel justified. And my other issue with the book is with the characters: they don't feel authentic. For me, they never went beyond cardboard cut-outs of what human beings might look like from an outsider's perspective. Even being inside Peter's head was pretty dull, and so it was hard to connect emotionally with such an emotionally-charged story.

After the 60% mark or so, I found the letters between Peter and his wife, who is left on earth as he embarks on his lackluster mission, to be repetitive. I wanted something more climactic to happen, something that was more in line with how Peter's character was progressing. And unlike most novels, this one had a more interesting middle portion, whereas the beginning and end really petered out (no pun intended). But in the end it really fizzles to a dull conclusion, and wasn't able to save me (pun intended) from giving this book more than 2 stars. Definitely a disappointment, as I had pretty high hopes for this one based on recommendations.

I will say, though, that Faber has a talent as a writer, but I don't think this was the story for me. I'm interested in checking out more of his work, perhaps the highly acclaimed historical fiction, The Crimson Petal and the White.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
811 reviews1,268 followers
July 26, 2023
Earlier I read a BBC article about a "UFO whistleblower" giving evidence today to Congress. He is an ex-intelligence officer who claims the US government has "intact and partially intact" alien vehicles and that "non-human biologics" came with some of these recoveries.

Whether or not it is true remains to be seen. I wouldn't be surprised if there is intelligent life "out there". It seems crazy to think that we are the only intelligent life in this vast, vast universe we inhabit.

One thing that's certain is that if we do meet other intelligent life and figure out a way to visit them, religions around the world will want to send missionaries to convert those aliens, while not once noticing the hubris of thinking some god that created everything and anything would send his son ONLY to Earth to save people and thus it's up to Earthlings to spread the word to the entire universe.

That's one of my issues with organized religion, the insistence that this one religion is absolutely, 100% right and every single religion and person that says anything different is wrong.

Without any proof or evidence, organized religion demands everyone accept it. Adherents are often instructed to do their damnedest to convert others, and missionaries are sent to other places to try to entice (or force) others to accept that one religion and give up any thoughts and beliefs they previously had that contradict this one religion.

Such arrogance and presumptuousness.

Of course, we all think that what we believe is correct - we wouldn't believe it otherwise - but I've never heard of an atheist knocking on someone's door to try to get them to change their mind or going to other countries to feed the starving masses not food but science books.

The very idea of missionaries pisses me off. It reeks of colonialism.

A book about a missionary traveling all the way to another planet sounds like something that would infuriate me. However, I found this novel oddly enjoyable and I found the protagonist, Pastor Peter, a rather likable sort of dude.

I didn't love this novel but I enjoyed it. Mostly I liked learning about this other intelligent life, how they differed from humans - and how they are like us.

But I also enjoyed Peter's thoughts and doubts and - bigger shocker - even the emails between Peter and his wife back on earth, as they struggled with this very long distance separation.

There are a lot of bible verses which are a bit annoying, but believable. Growing up we had to memorize entire chapters of the bible and verses popped into your head about everything. Being so immersed in one's religion does have the effect of all thoughts revolving around it so I can give a pass to Peter's constant recitation of bible verses.

I appreciated Peter's goodness in wanting to help others, and the way he accepted the differences of the "Oasans". I enjoyed the banter between Peter and the other USIC employees. I didn't even mind the feelings in the conversations between Peter and his wife.

It's a well-written novel that just sort of flows along and though I haven't been reading much lately, I always enjoyed picking this up each evening.

And I wonder what the very religious would think and do if the aliens that have supposedly visited Earth have done so with the intention of converting us to their one true religion?
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
August 20, 2016
This is a thoughtful and absorbing work of modern science fiction.

The Book of Strange New Things is the story of Peter, a missionary who is hired by the mysterious company USIC, and is sent to a distant planet to serve both the human and alien population there. Once on the planet, Peter's only connection to earth are electronic messages from his wife, who tells him about horrible events taking place around the world, including weather disasters and a global financial collapse, which causes society to break down. The longer Peter is on the alien planet, the more disconnected he feels from the reality of his wife and home. These meditations on marriage and mindfulness were my favorite parts of the book.

But back to the aliens ... thanks to a previous missionary, the aliens have heard of the Christian Bible and call it the Book of Strange New Things. They are welcoming to Peter, who goes and lives with them in their settlement. (As someone who gets twitchy about organized religion, I was relieved that this novel isn't preachy. Peter's evangelism is toned down and it isn't obnoxious.)

This is a longer summary than I intended to write, but you can see how rich and complex the story is. One of my favorite works of science fiction is The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, and in parts, Faber's book reminded me of Bradbury's stories.

I admit this book isn't perfect — I have a few minor quibbles about plot points, but to say more would spoil the conclusion — but overall this is a very good read. Faber's writing is strong, and it made me keen to read his previous novels. Highly recommended for those who like big, thoughtful stories about life on other worlds.
Profile Image for Sarah (Presto agitato).
123 reviews161 followers
September 8, 2014
“That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion.”

—R.E.M. (1991)

For Peter, it’s the chance of a lifetime. He is a Christian minister chosen to be part of a carefully selected group that has established a settlement on another planet. Peter’s role is to reach out to the native, non-human population, putting him in a position to spread the word of Jesus to a far-flung new outpost of Christendom. Unfortunately, his wife must stay behind on earth during the mission, but they both feel the opportunity is worth the sacrifice.

Peter and Bea were prepared for the physical distance between them but didn’t count on the emotional estrangement. Peter finds his new flock receptive and eager for his teaching while Bea reports an increasingly horrifying series of events from home. It’s a panoply of tragedies back on Earth, from global to personal and back again. Tidal waves, rioting, war, vandalism — the world is tuned to the Misery Channel, and the chaos seems apocalyptic. (Or maybe it’s just the world as flawed as it has always been, less appealing now that there’s an alternative.) Peter can’t or won’t relate to an Earth that seems God-forsaken, while Bea’s faith is tested.

Faber tackles a lot of heavy themes here, but he does it with deftness, letting the story unfold naturally. He addresses the loaded topics of religion and tests of faith without endorsing or condemning. More important, the characters’ beliefs are plausible, even within this rather fantastic setting.

The Oasans themselves are appropriately alien. They are not human, and differ in fundamental ways from humans physically and psychologically. These creatures are somehow still affecting in their frailties. Their struggle to communicate, a physiologic challenge, is handled well, with an inventive depiction of their language.

The Book of Strange New Things is nothing like the other book of Michel Faber’s I have read, The Crimson Petal and the White. I loved that book, a nouveau Victorian novel. This topic and setting are about as different as can be, yet Faber manages to create a story just as compelling, showing that great writing transcends genre.

A copy of this book for review was provided by Random House/NetGalley.
Profile Image for Michael Jensen.
Author 4 books140 followers
December 31, 2014
The Book of Really Dull Things Where Not Much Happens Except a Bunch of Critics Reveal Themselves to be Hacks Two and a half stars

Since I absolutely loved The Crimson Petal and the White and very much enjoyed Under the Skin, it pains me deeply to say how much I disliked Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things which seems to me be another example of the Emperor has no clothes. Much like Emma Staub's The Vacationers, Strange New Things has become a critical darling despite the fact that it is deadly dull and wouldn't have received such rapturous reviews had it not been written by Faber.

(My personal theory is that most literary critics live in deathly fear of not being part of the "cool kids club" who understand books us mere mortals are too simple to grasp. Hence a book with a complete lack of plot becomes a "slow building meditation on blah blah blah" or a book that has no ending becomes an "allegory where the reader is invited to draw their own conclusions" because the author couldn't be bothered.)

Anyway, back to Strange New Things. I'll be upfront and say that most books about Christianity and Christian characters run a high risk of boring the crap out of me. I'm a secular person and reading about people who think there is a really a god out there who can intervene in human affairs bores me to tears because that makes absolutely no sense to me. That being said, there are books about religion that I've found absolutely wonderful. Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow and Graham Greene's The End of the Affair being two examples.

Unfortunately, Strange New Things is not even close to being in the same league as those two books.

Why my intense dislike? Let's start with Peter, the book's protagonist. Unlike Father Emilio in The Sparrow, who actually struggles with big questions, Peter is a deadly dull character who just accepts the Bible unquestioningly. He's one of those creatures who came to religion after completely trashing his own life with drugs, crime, etc. He's apparently only able to be "moral" if there is a book that tells him that's what he should do. (At least he doesn't moralize about non-believers.) Consequently, his faith is unquestioning and he's as interesting as dishwater.

Peter isn't the only dull thing about the book. The plot leaves a lot to be desired as well. Oasis has to be the most uninteresting planet in the world. Ditto its inhabitants, or at least what Faber bothers to tell us about them beyond their physical description. Oh, and ditto the other humans on Oasis who have been chosen specifically because they won't rock the boat. Dull, dull, dull.

Occasionally the book stumbles onto something interesting such as when Peter returns from living with the natives only to discover he's not only having trouble connecting with his fellow humans on Oasis, but humanity in general as well as his own wife. Think The Heart of Darkness or The Mosquito Coast. Pretty interesting stuff! Alas, Faber drops those issues almost as soon as they are raised. As to the very intriguing question about why the aliens are so keen to learn about Christianity, Faber tells us ... nothing. Apparently they just are so don't bother thinking about that. Instead, let's hear more about the boring humans on Oasis.

Also left unexplored are the implications of what is really going on with Oasis and the corporation settling it, what that means to be Peter or anyone else for that matter. Instead, all we are left with is Peter maybe sort of struggling with his faith at the very end (it isn't really made clear), realizing he's a pretty sucky husband, and feeling bad about ditching his new congregation. Most of this is dealt with in only a few pages leaving not much else to hang a 500 page novel on.

Trying to figure out what Faber was trying to achieve with this book, I read some interviews. He told The Stranger that "What's fascinating about them [missionaries] is how paralyzingly boring they are," he says. "They are mind-numbingly dull." The thing they all share in common, he says, is that "you have people going to very exotic places and interacting with, to us, exotic peoples who have customs and behaviors which from an anthropological view we would adore to know about. But the missionaries have such tunnel vision that they're uninterested in who those people are and what they do. They're only interested to the extent that they get people into the church."

Hmm, if that's what Faber was trying to communicate then, man, he hit it out of the park. Peter is the epitome of dull. (I suppose to be fair, I have to acknowledge that Peter does express interest in understanding the aliens, but Faber gives us very little about that.)

Faber also told The Stranger "He says [the book] is about "imploring people to recognize the miraculousness of the human body and the way it can come back from any injury and any illness." The fact that his wife died of an incurable disease before its publication makes him "feel weird about the message of the book," he admits. "But I think overall it is still a valid message.""

That message is also something that gets pretty short shrift in the book and, frankly, doesn't seem that interesting.

If any of this strikes you as fodder for a good book, Strange New Things, this book is for you. Everyone else should go read The Sparrow instead.
Profile Image for Zachary.
308 reviews2 followers
December 1, 2014
I know that I am often swayed in my opinions by reviews. For that reason, I try to avoid them before I read something. About half way through The Book of Strange New Things I couldn't resist checking a few. I was curious, not so much about the critical opinion of the book, which I assumed was high based on the cover pull quotes and the marketing campaign, but because of the hard to miss racism and hints of homophobia. One character is literally compared to a monkey. Nearly every female character is described as "butch." What I found is almost no mention of these issues and an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the book. It's difficult to square the book I read with the reviews. The story follows a pastor sent to another planet to minister to the aliens there. The best sections of the book involve Peter, the main character, separated from his wife, and the slow unraveling of their marriage. There's a rawness to those scenes, especially the hopelessness of the minister and the anguish of the wife. But Peter has frustratingly underwritten motivations for his actions once on the planet Oasis. Faber seems to know this and plants the idea early on that the only people hired to travel to Oasis are people who can easily leave loved ones behind. Why this would be, given later revelations about the nature of the project, is hard to understand. Peter's life on Oasis is needlessly mysterious, with all of the human characters acting like they have a secret when they really don't. The aliens, the Oasans, are total cyphers. They have no personalities, no clear motivations for accepting Jesus (except a fear of death), and no social interactions outside of communicating with Peter. Worse, there's no conflict. They want to be Christians, Peter shows up and teaches them about Jesus. That's it. All of the tension in the story comes either from the vague mysteries of the earth people or from the, admittedly beautiful, husband/wife dynamic. David Mitchell called this novel a "masterpiece." Clearly, I'm missing something.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,782 reviews14.2k followers
October 30, 2014
I am not a reader who chooses science fiction, I generally don't have much interest in made-up worlds. Yet, I have to admit to liking this book quite a bit.

Peter, a minister on Earth has the opportunity to interview for a position of preaching to an alien colony on some unnamed planet. He is accepted, though his wife Bea is not. For five years they will be apart, with Peter making enough money for them to be set-up for life. Their only contact will be messages sent through a device called "The Shoot." As Peter is accepted and makes headway with the aliens, things rapidly are falling apart on Earth. Bea's messages become a cry for help." Will he stay or will he go?

I totally bought into this strange new world, came to know the people and their strange ways. Found it fascinating and very well done. Reading the letters sent between Bea and Peter, I became invested in the outcome and wondered how the author was going to resolve this dilemma. He did it in a manner that stayed true to the novel, while offering a modicum of hope.

The funny thing is with everything going on here with the weather, sickness, antibiotics not working and the general mess we have created on this planet, this novel may not be s far fetched as one would think.

ARC from publisher.

Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
February 14, 2023
A slowing moving book, much more focused on faith and evangelization and long distance relationships than on the disasters or aliens from the blurb. Not much happens to warrant the nearly 600 pages
This place is one big anticlimax

I expected something all together more propulsive and exciting from The Book of Strange New Things when starting this read. The blurb mentions tsunamis, food shortages and a world falling apart. But main character Peter is whisked away from this mayhem by a shadowy organisation called USIC, that sends him on an interstellar conversion mission.
Converting aliens to Christ, what can go wrong would you think as a seasoned science fiction reader?
I immediately thought of Pandora in Avatar (the blue people edition), but the narrative Michel Faber investigates is in as much about aliens as it is about the problems a truly long term relationship brings with it.

This mixture is further more "spiced" with Christian overtones, that make Peter his reflections (not to speak of his responses to his wife far away) rather tiring.
Practicalities are not your strong suit his wife Beatrice muses to him, and it is definitely true that Peter is rather talented in making problems, including a stubborn conviction to live with the natives, to get closer to them. Strangely learning their language is not a high priority, leading to a lot of scope for misunderstanding.

Aliens being helped by human medicines (with food versus medicine exchange relieving pressures on the supplying of the colony) is interesting, given that physiological differences should be applicable and the humans hardly know anything about them apparently.
Also the fact that the aliens farm food for humans seems a rather dangerous proposition, as we see in our current globalised world, food security is of paramount importance.

Even at 60% of the book not much in terms of actual events really happened. The theme Faber investigates are definitely fleshed out well, but any expectation of events or escalation is deftly changed to a kind of eternal now in the colony planet of Oasis. Even the staff of misfits at the base seem benign and with humanising backstories.

At home, with Tesco and Barclays going bust, events move fast, making me eager to learn more on the situation on Earth. There is a kind of breakdown of society/The Purge in real life in America, terrorist attacks, deaths, riots, volcanoes, food shortages and tsunamis. A book from the perspective of Beatrice, if more conventional, would have been more interesting if I'd need to guess.

The strangeness of the aliens is well described, if that they are conveniently friendly and susceptible to the Bible (the Book of Strange New Things from the title).
Peter going native is also well done as are the questions on what religion would mean without sin, with the aliens being so good this starts to be a real question. Even emotions and their perception of time is something that sets them apart from the humans.

Death rate at the base is rather high, but the surprise that in general things go quite well, voiced by the narrator, strikes me quite strange. I mean, people selected for a planetary mission as the elite of the elite in their field would also be selected to not fight each other? I mean scientists on Antarctica don’t bash each other heads in as well? No one is surprised about that?

In the end Peter and Beatrice their relation deteriorates from all the tensions, with the whole "emotional support across the galaxy" being rather depressing and boring, and full of misunderstandings and frustration coming out
Unhappiness was a test you had to pass, and he passed thinks Peter, but he is rather prone to obsession and we are treated to nearly 600 pages of his breakdown without a wife by his side to take care of him.
I was underwhelmed by the book overall, despite it having an artisanal quality. I was left wanting more, not just clarity but even just events, instead of reflections and overthinking: 2.5 stars rounded down.

Remade himself as a babe into the wood

His body would evict his soul

Take your cheerleader pompons off padre

He must cling to his sincerity, it was the only thing he had left

Everything is always falling apart
Profile Image for Dianne.
567 reviews934 followers
January 11, 2015
I can't recall the last time I was so utterly transported by a book - so imaginative and completely absorbing! I lived it, thought it, dreamed it.....I'm still thinking about it.

A British pastor, Peter Leigh, is chosen in a very rigorous process by a mysterious mega-corporation called USIC, to travel to another galaxy to minister to a native population he knows nothing about. To do so, he must leave his beloved wife, Beatrice, behind for a period of time. Once on the planet called Oasis, he will communicate with his wife solely via messaging on a device called The Shoot.

Peter moves in with the native population, the Oasans, to bring them the word of Jesus. To his surprise, the Oasans are already converted and hungry for more from the "Book of Strange New Things." As Peter becomes more and more absorbed by his mission and the unique circumstances of his alien ministry, his relationship with Beatrice becomes strained and begins to unravel. On Earth, all manner of calamities are happening - earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, and a breakdown in the financial and political systems. Beatrice is overwhelmed and, feeling abandoned and unsupported by Peter, begins to question her faith.

This book has it all - great writing, a plot that is very suspenseful and believable, compelling and sympathetic characters and a rich and vivid environment to let your imagination run free. When I look back at the first page of the novel, I marvel at the mastery of the author - what an incredible journey he packs into these 500 pages!

Very small quibbles - some unresolved and curious storylines with a couple of characters (Kurtzberg and Tartaglione), some extremely unlikely situations (who would go on such a mission "blind," with no information on the natives, the physical atmosphere of the planet, etc.) and so on......but this is such minor stuff.

If you enjoy science fiction, most definitely pick this one up. It's so much more than that, though - it's ultimately about relationships, faith, humanity. I couldn't put it down. A 4.5 for me.

Profile Image for Snotchocheez.
595 reviews336 followers
August 9, 2016
4.5 Stars

Never woulda thunk it.

Despite generally positive reviews from my friends of Michel Faber's Christianity in the Cosmos yarn The Book of Strange New Things, for months I could not summon the patience to check it out. I figured it was going to be either too heavily sci-fi (read: totally lacking credibility) or too proselytizing for me to derive any enjoyment from it.

It's a testament to Faber's ebullient storytelling prowess that he was able to win me over with something that I had no interest in whatsoever. The premise of Peter Leigh's missionary trip to the planet Oasis to spread the Gospel to its alien inhabitants sounded beyond ridiculous. Faber (whose breathless, unbridled style of taking the far-fetched and making it accessible reminds me a lot of Anthony Doerr's in his novel About Grace) does not cower at the possibility of his audience not buying his story. He steadfastly sticks to his core idea, and he, somewhat miraculously, won me over.

Faber does not waste much of the readers time trying to "sell" the idea of space travel; had he done so he certainly would've lost me. He takes it for granted that we are far enough in the future for private companies to engage in interplanetary shuttling, and just hopes you "go with it". It took me a good 50 pages or so to melt my cynicism enough to start enjoying the endeavor. We learn that both Peter and his wife Bea were subjected to an extensive battery of physical and psychological tests to determine their qualifications to make the trip, but only Peter was sent to Oasis, leaving Bea at their home in England as the world is beginning to be thrown into chaos by a series of cataclysmic events. Peter (a reformed once-homeless drug addict turned missionary) throws himself headlong into his task of preaching to the indigenous Oasans, trying to balance the spiritual needs of the aliens with his own need of placating his freaking-out wife back on Earth.

This novel had many opportunities to crash and burn: 500 pages of dubious space travel, of obliquely hinted-at apocalyptic destruction, the seeming ridiculousness of taking a race of another world (with a language almost entirely comprised of non-sibilant consonants) and indoctrinating its inhabitants with another world's religion. Somehow, Faber pulls this all together convincingly, with a genuine love of his main characters; a firm, unpedantic way of embracing Christianity (without, ahem, alienating non-believers); and an unwavering ability to keep the reader in his thrall.

I can see how this novel has had a very divisive response from GR readers; if you can buy into the premise (and though it took awhile, I finally did), you might just be similarly transported as I was. This was an unexpected gem.
Profile Image for Helene Jeppesen.
688 reviews3,625 followers
July 13, 2015
It took me half a year to pick up this book and that was definitely a mistake. What made me hesitate was the premise: This was a sic-fi book set on another planet, where the main character, Peter, was a pastor preaching for aliens? It didn't sound like anything for me at all.
However, with time more and more people read it and praised it and I got more and more curious. Eventually, I decided to pick it up from the library, and once I started reading, I knew that I was in love!
This book is so fantastic because it is unique and different from what I normally read. It doesn't read like a sci-fi that is hardly understandable and imaginable, even though it does take place on another planet. I was fascinated with the way Michel Faber described everything and made it understandable to a common reader like me. He even made me adore the aliens, and the chapters about those ended up becoming my favourite chapters.
I think the thing I was the most skeptical about was the religious aspects of this book, and while we do have a lot of religious passages and sermons I didn't mind at all. I actually felt like the sermons were beautiful and I wanted for there to be more. I couldn't ignore the underlying frustrated feeling I get when it comes to religion that Peter, the main character, was trying too hard to converse people who didn't want to be conversed, but all in all I did enjoy the religious aspects for what they were. They made the book come together, and they made me appreciate it even more.
This book is about commitment, open-mindedness and love. It is also about struggle and maintaining your identity when you're in a completely different setting from what you're used to. I loved everything about it and I now know that I need to get me a physical copy for myself someday so that I can reread it.
Profile Image for Joy D.
2,069 reviews241 followers
August 10, 2020
Peter is selected by an American corporation to serve as one of the first Christian missionaries to native inhabitants of the planet Oasis. He leaves his wife at home in London. A previous minister had disappeared, along with a linguist that taught English to the Oasans. He finds the Oasans receptive to the “Book of Strange New Things,” their name for the Bible. He works with them in their settlement to build a church, returning periodically to the USIC base to communicate with his wife on earth. She tells him of many catastrophes that have befallen the earth, but it is difficult for him to fully understand and focus on what is happening so far away. Peter eventually learns an excruciating lesson based on his interactions with the Oasans.

This is a complex story that works on multiple levels. One level revolves around testing a marriage to its limits, where distance takes a toll. Another level looks at how religious instruction is received by a population that has no concept of earth. It examines a new form of colonialism – USIC has setup a base but is still dependent upon the Oasans for food. It portrays how faith is tested. It examines addiction and how one can be substituted for another. It depicts the mental stress and alienation that can occur from isolation. It is a combination of literary fiction and science fiction, commenting on the nature of humanity through looking at their interactions with intelligent non-humans.

I listened to the audiobook, wonderfully performed by Josh Cohen. It is an ideal vehicle for audio. Cohen does an amazing job of voicing accents from a variety of countries. He also creates a unique voice for the Oasans. I found the entire experience of this book engrossing.

After finishing, I found it profoundly unsettling and it took a while for my thoughts to gel. It is an example of how good intentions go awry. It shows how rifts can form between people who love each other deeply. It is an examination of empathy across cultures. I am fascinated by the premise of this story and found it both creative and insightful.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,671 reviews2,667 followers
January 7, 2016
(4.5) As beautiful as it is unsettling, this is a novel that will remain with you. Certainly there are aliens, but by no means can this book be relegated to the realms of sci-fi pulp. It is a very this-worldly story, blending a believable dystopian vision of Earth, commentary on cultural and religious imperialism, and a poignant portrait of a marriage under impossible strain.

Suburban London vicar Peter Leigh won the appointment of a lifetime: he will travel light years away to minister to the natives of Oasis, a planet colonized by a shady American corporation. Meanwhile, on a mid-apocalyptic Earth plagued with natural disasters, his wife Bea is growing desperate. Peter’s religious platitudes are increasingly useless as the distance between them becomes emotional as well as physical. (The novel was written over the course of Faber’s wife’s final illness; she died in 2014. Knowing this adds an extra layer of ache to a tender scenario.)

2014 was a big year for dystopian novels – J by Howard Jacobson, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, California by Edan Lepucki, even Tigerman by Nick Harkaway) – but Faber’s has a very different aim (luckily, as I tend to rate pure dystopians quite low). Like Margaret Atwood, Faber is working to bring literary respectability to speculative fiction.

(Full review in February 2015 issue of Third Way magazine.)
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,999 followers
August 16, 2015
What the heck did I just read? As I write this review I still do not know how to answer that question. The plot of The Book of Strange New Things centers on Peter Leigh, a man of faith who embarks on a mission to evangelize a group of aliens he calls the Oasans. Meanwhile, his wife on earth, Beatrice, suffers as their home planet collapses due to natural disasters. Peter drifts farther away from Bea the closer he gets to the Oasans. He soon must decide who or what matters most to him: his wife or his mission.

The lack of conflict throughout this novel acts as its first and foremost weakness. For the first 60% of the book, Peter travels to space, meets his fellow adventurers, thinks about religion, and embraces an amiable group of aliens. Michael Faber institutes no impetus for further reading, unless someone by chance enjoys Peter's lukewarm introspection and too-tame journey. Even at the 60% mark the clash between Peter and Bea about their relationship feels forced, in that the epistolary format of Bea's communication detracts from the immediacy of her situation. I struggle to write about what else happens in The Book of Strange New Things, because even though the plot does develop and novel events do occur, every detail felt so non-urgent and inessential that I ended up finishing the book just for the sake of finishing it.

The lack of character development also weakened this book's appeal. Peter tells us that he has a difficult life before he discovered faith and that Bea grew up in an abusive household. However, none of this past struggle contributes to these characters' developmental arcs throughout the story and they thus read as rather simple folk. The static nature of the Oasans also felt like a missed opportunity. Faber does not at all give depth to the science-fiction facets of this story, nor does he make anything about the Oasans remarkable other than their ugly appearances. The dearth of interesting events and intriguing characters contributes to my overall lack of connection with this story and any of its inherent meaning.

The Goodreads blurb for this book states that Peter and Bea's struggle "lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us." I would argue that while Michael Faber includes all of these topics in his story, the book's glaring flaws obscure any "profound meditation." The only aspect of the book I found compelling centered on Peter's use of religion as a coping mechanism ad the way he deludes himself and loses his grasp of humankind because of the Oasans. Perhaps I just missed the point of the book because of its suffocating focus on religion that still did not provide any thought-provoking questions or insights. I would only recommend this book to those who feel extremely, intensely drawn in by its synopsis.
Profile Image for Faith.
1,900 reviews534 followers
July 29, 2021
This book is not easy to classify, but I think it leans more toward literary fiction than it does to science fiction. Peter, an English minister who is married to Bea, a nurse, has been chosen by a mysterious corporation called USIC for a mission to Oasis. Oasis is a planet in another solar system trillions of miles from Earth. Peter's title is Minister (Christian) to Indigenous Population.

While Peter deals with his new congregation, Bea must deal with a proliferation of increasingly ominous disasters on Earth, from food shortages to floods. As they each go through their own profound, but unshared, experiences it becomes harder for them to communicate. They no longer share the same language. More literal language issues exist with the Oasans who cannot pronounce certain letters like "s" and "t". In the beginning, I found the substitution of symbols to replace these letters to be distracting, but it was also sort of brilliant because it gave the reader just a small sample of the disorientation and miscommunication inherent when two cultures with no common language meet.

I found the storytelling to be hypnotic. It is a story of faith, love, loyalty and responsibility. There is a lot about the place of religion in people's lives, without being at all preachy. The Oasans are a simple, devout and kind group of people. They need the word of God for a very specific reason and are hungry for it. A minister never had a more receptive congregation. The book doesn't go in obvious or cliched directions. USIC is not an exploiter, although they do have a secret reason for coming to Oasis. The USIC personnel, for the most part, are preternaturally even keeled. The natives and the colonizers get along just fine. I've seen the book compared to "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell, but the only real similarity is that they are both about a cleric in outer space. And they are both really good books.

The world building was very imaginative, if a little bare-boned. There is no mention of life on the planet outside of the immediate vicinity of the USIC settlement. I'd love to know what was happening on the rest of the planet, as well as what happens next, but I don't expect a sequel. That would be too conventional and this book is certainly not conventional. I liked it very much.

I received a free digital copy of the uncorrected proof of this book from the publisher.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,449 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.