The last book of Michel Faber’s that I read was his Victorian-era novel that people either enjoyed or wanted to kill with fire. I fell into the “enjoyed” category, so I was surprised and delighted to discover that late last year Faber released an actual science-fiction novel. Although since we’re talking about a Michel Faber novel here, the science-fiction genre is just the jumping off point to something a lot more complicated.
You wouldn’t think that a multinational company would spend a lot of money to send a priest to another planet, but that’s exactly what USCI did when they hired Peter Leigh to be a missionary to the natives of Oasis, a planet several galaxies away from Earth.
Expecting to run into all kinds of problems while trying to spread the Word of God to another species, Peter instead finds friendly natives who have demanded a Christian priest, who have all re-named themselves as “Jesus Lovers” (Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Five, Jesus Lover Seventy-two), and who’s only desire is to have Peter teach them all about the Bible, or as they refer to it, “The Book of Strange New Things”. No missionary has ever had an easier time evangelizing to a new race, much less a whole new species, and Peter would be a lot more comfortable if he could stop wondering about USCI’s motivations, or about his oddly placid coworkers, or why no one seems to know what happened to the Oasan’s previous priest.
Meanwhile, the letters from Peter’s wife grow more and more desperate as the Earth is suddenly hit with floods, erupting volcanoes, massive storms, and what looks like the collapse of civilization as the human race slowly loses its mind. And Peter is helpless to do anything about it other than to offer Christian words of wisdom as Bea’s life turns into a literal hell.
The Book of Strange New Things is about as different as you can get from his previous book, The Crimson Petal and the White. And unfortunately I think it’s going to tick people off for the exact same reasons.