The Book of Strange New Things
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I feel like I must have missed something here. I mean, while there’s a ton to like here, there’s also so much bad distracting from the good, that I feel like what I see as bad, I must just be misunderstanding it somehow. Take, for example, what I see as the biggest fault: very little happens to anyone in this book and very few of the characters care much when anything does happen. Little happens that makes anyone jump, and no one ever really jumps anyway. Or look at how the main character always hints that he’s woefully unobservant, but then the check is never cashed – whatever he’s missing, if anything, we the readers are made to miss it too.

I came into this book with modest expectations, but, very early on, it drew me in and surpassed my expectations. This started off as a great book about, among many other things, a separated husband and wife, how they support each other through separation, what real and meaningful support looks like, what challenges to that support look like and are experienced as… and how ugly little apathetic aliens take to proselytization. I really enjoyed seeing inside the main character’s mind as he tries to pastor to a congregation of the first alien species we make contact with, the process he goes through to translate a strong, well-thought-out view of Christian spirituality to a species that can’t understand any of the metaphors or parables because they don’t have the context.

The book just flew along … but then cracks started to appear. The science in the science fiction is just… ridiculous. I’m sorry, but none of the anthropology, none of the geology, none of the climatology, just none of it makes any kind of sense. I’d be fine with that if the author didn’t seem so inclined to lean on it so heavily. The impossible weather and impossible atmosphere and impossible geology are huge drivers of the plot at times. Another crack was the lack of clear time mapping – I never knew how long things were taking. I felt very unanchored in the book’s chronology. I don’t know whether the events of the book took place over 2 weeks or 2 years or what. There are some other cracks, but I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

Because there’s actually a fair amount to recommend this book. It’s beautifully written at times, and I underlined a lot of passages. There’s a lot of modest, beautiful ideas, and some very clear and engaging theology. I found tenderness, pathos, and love in this story, even if I didn’t find much passion or logic. I found myself thinking about the book a lot in my free time, and, up until, say, the last 15%, I was often hurrying to get back to the story.

But that last 15% though, complete slog, I’m sorry to say. Once the author showed his hand and I could see where this was definitely all going, and that it was going where I feared all along it was headed, I just wanted to give up and call it quits. So if I were you, I would definitely read this book, just quit when the Jesus Lover Five shows up at the place, is all I’m saying. Trust me on this one.

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