N.B. This is not a book review.
Recommended For: Sci-Fi fans looking for a profoundly human story with a literary sensibility.
If you’re like me you can fall in love with a book solely on its cover. On one of my recent bi-weekly Waterstones trips*, I was stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of the new paperback cover design for this book. In this case, however, I had already read the book in question—The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber. It’s a stunning book and I’m so in love with its cover that I can’t tell if my renewed love for the book itself is in biased in any way. Despite this potential bias, I do heartily recommend this book.
I read The Book of Strange New Things on loan from the library when I was travelling in Italy last April. Normally when travelling, I choose books that have some connection to the place where I am visiting so that I can feel more fully steeped in the new culture. The Book of Strange New Things is literally a galaxy away from Italy, and yet it was still the perfect book. As I was reading a story of a dying Earth and a new civilisation being formed on a distant planet, I could look up and see some of the best examples of the greatness and beauty of human civilisation. It was a stark contrast.
The Book of Strange New Things is a story of a mysterious new world and of one man’s journey of faith. The Earth is dying and Peter Leigh, an English pastor, has left his Beatrice behind to face the challenges alone as he takes on the task of bringing the Christian faith to the new planet's natives. The story is based on immense questions about humanity and faith. And yet it is also a very personal story of one man’s faith and his love story as he’s separated from the woman he loves. The book is obviously based on sci-fi themes, but it doesn’t focus on the exciting strangeness of space travel and exploration. In fact, the story felt very earthly—Peter could have been a missionary to the New World in the sixteenth-century, his story familiar in many ways as a man far from home and grappling with questions of faith. Even the struggles of the Oasis natives felt very precisely human, searching for ways to compensate for the frailty of the body and the impermanence of corporeal life in the knowledge of impending death. And yet at the same time the story was one of, yes I’ll say it, strangeness and newness.
If you’re a fan of sci-fi, I highly recommend this book. It strips away the elements of adventure and action that often characterise science fiction and exposes the human dilemmas underneath.
*I don’t buy books so often, but every few days I somehow find myself in Waterstones (or if I’m in London it’s Hatchards or Foyles). It’s a compulsion. If I’m feeling stressed or a bit out of sorts, my first stop is a bookshop.