The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

ah. so sad. both the book, and me.

i can’t say how much i loved The Crimson Petal and the White and Under the Skin. like, really, i can’t say. if prodded to comment on these books, i will yammer until long past the cows, the prostitutes, and the aliens have all gone home. so of course it was with great anticipation that i awaited The Book of Strange New Things, especially as i’d heard rumors it contained aliens.

The Book of Strange New Things does indeed contain aliens and is also the story of a deeply stressed marriage, both of which i am totally copacetic with. alas, it also contains a mountain of God, with which i am not so copacetic. i’ve mentioned before that God stuff leaves me quite cold–i’m not anti-religion, just sort of constitutionally uninterested in the Big Guy in the Sky, in whom i don’t believe.

so that doesn’t make this book bad, it just makes me the wrong audience.

and there’s a lot about a cat, too. i believe in cats, but i don’t like them.

in this book, a minister is chosen to go to Oasis, a recently-discovered planet amenable to human life. and intelligent alien life, as there are humanoid beings there who apparently crave some preachin’. he unfortunately has to leave his wife behind–she’s not permitted on the voyage.

and so off he goes to minister to these funny-looking other children of god.

there are so many interesting avenues one could pursue with a setup like this–why is this corporation spending so many bazillions of dollars to put a tiny colony on this planet? who were the original discoverers, and what were their interactions with the aliens? why did they pick such an enervated lot of techs to get the venture started? and these are just the human questions.

the aliens, who should be a lot more interesting, are actually a rather dull lot as well. they’ve learned enough English to communicate with the minister by the time he’s arrived, and have already been converted to christianity. there’s zero discussion among the aliens, apparently, about whether this is a good thing (cause let’s face it, christianity has some major downsides). they’re just all “Amazing Grace” from the git-go.

so the meat of the story then really has to lie with the minister and his relationship with his wife, and so it does. they communicate via some super-tech version of email. as things go wrong and then desperately wrong on earth, the minister’s reactions and his words to his wife make up the backbone of the story.

and those parts are great. the minister’s emotions are so clear in his words (not always a good thing).

but there are a lot of parts in which they are incommunicado, and the minister is out with his flock, and we’re back to god stuff…. and i get sad.

i’m not so totally averse to god stuff that i can’t appreciate the idea of god coming into the lives of aliens–i think it’s an interesting idea, and i still love The Sparrow for doing it so exceedingly well. eh, maybe it’s me… but i kind of napped through some of the god stuff in this book.

i read in the NYT that Faber is planning not to ever write another book, and that would be a damned shame, if you ask me. even tho i find this book uneven and a little off-putting in the god stuff, the man simply can’t write an ugly sentence, even in an alien gargly language that i can’t understand. he can get into heads in a way few contemporary writers can, especially women’s heads. i do hope he writes another. and then another. and then another.