The Book of Strange New Things
Author: Michel Faber
Publisher: Crown Publishing Group
Date of Publication: October 28, 2014
Pages: 500 (Hardcover Edition)
This book is itself somewhat of a strange new thing. The main character, Peter Leigh, is an Englishman, a recovered alcoholic, drug addict and petty criminal. He reinvented himself as a Christian minister after being befriended by a nurse during a convalescence. This nurse becomes his wife and partner in his ministry until he is selected to go alone to another planet to spread the Word of Jesus to aliens on a recently colonized planet called Oasis. The colonization project is run by a nebulous company identified only as USIC
It takes a while for Peter to become acclimated to his new planet and even longer to meet and begin his work with his new parishioners. The author does a masterful job of describing this new world, including details of agriculture, climate, topography and the native inhabitants, called "Oasans" by Peter. Peter is able to communicate with his wife, Bea, via an inter-stellar e-mail. Just as Peter's ministry begins to flourish, troubles at home strain his relationship with Bea. As he desperately tries to reconcile his missionary success with his personal failures, suspicion regarding the motives of USIC muddy the waters.
One can't help but be reminded of Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow. In The Sparrow the missionary is a Jesuit priest and the theology espoused is most definitely Ignatian. In The Books of Strange New Things Peter's denomination is never characterized other than "Christian" and the religious concerns bounce around from issues of faith, suffering, redemption and salvation and even predestination. There is not a particular theology presented, although the Bible is thoroughly explored as Peter translates Jesus' parables and teachings (Oasans prefer the New Testament).
The Book of Strange New Things is a marvelous exploration into faith and sharing. It raises serious issues of being so concerned with others that you lose track of what's going on to those right next to you and trying to find that balance of saving the world but being true to your own relationships.