The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

20697435People and their dwellings were such a thin dust on the surface of the globe, like invisible specks of bacteria on an orange, and the feeble lights of kebab shops and supermarkets failed utterly to register on the infinities of space above.

What it’s about: A Christian preacher travels to another planet, Oasis, to minister to the alien natives and finds himself becoming more distant from his wife, left behind on Earth where society seems to be collapsing.

Why I liked it: This was an absorbing, thought-provoking read, not so much science fiction as a novel that employs science fictional elements to explore human needs for love, faith and something to believe in. In that way, it joins a long tradition of science fiction books that use first contact with an alien species as a way to look at our own complicated relationship with God and religion. This novel adds an apocalyptic/dystopian element to the equation, raising the questions of whether our civilization can survive and how we might undertake to build a new civilization completely from scratch. It’s very interesting to explore that question from the point of view of a faceless mega-corporation employing calculated, ultra-rational techniques such as might have been developed by the HR department to populate that new civilization. But the heart of this story is a marriage–can marriage survive when partners are separated by great distances and are having radically different experiences? There is so much going on in this novel that it provides endless food for thought.

Who might like it: Readers who enjoy literary speculative fiction, such as the novels of David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro; readers of science fiction that explores religious issues, such as The Sparrow or Eifelheim.

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