Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (2014)

A strange, new book - which I liked immensely.  Ponderous,  but Faber draws you in.  Part dystopian novel, part science fiction, part love story, part philosophical beast.  Faber uses spare language and hints to draw pictures of his characters; the full characters come to light only slowly. Really, this is all character; the plot is there, but it's all about Peter and his reactions to it.  Character-wise, as Faber casts light upon the shadows, Peter becomes less and less likable; his flaws being to show.  (I felt that Bea's flaws were there from the beginning; I never liked her).   I thought Faber did an excellent job capturing what it's like to be a pastor though; the personality that's both giving and wants the limelight, rude yet caring.

I was reminded at the beginning of the Alien movies, but it's most definitely not that kind of book - if you are expecting blood and gore, you've opened the wrong book.  I was more reminded of what it must have been like for early missionaries several hundred years ago, in a time when communication between cities was slow (let alone continents or far flung worlds), faced with strange people with different customs and languages.

I've read several reviews that described this as "literary science fiction" and I wonder what the distinction is?  What makes something "literary" verses whatever the opposite of "literary" is?

This didn't change my life.  But it was strong and good.

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A strange, new book that is ponderously written - well, that isn't probably the right word to describe Faber's plotting and writing style -- slowly solemn, stately are perhaps better adjectives.  The first few chapters have shades of Aliens, but if you're expecting blood and gore and monsters emerging from guts, you've probably opened the wrong book.  Hard science isn't a thing here either (which, frankly,  for me makes the book more enjoyable; I can see the need and beauty and point of hard SF without appreciating it).  Rather, Faber's novel is about the human condition (trite, I know, but that's what it is), about life and love, about religion, about the future of earth and humanity. And it's about characters, rich, real characters with depth who Faber births in the shadows and slowly shines light upon, revealing flaws and backstory and tics and traits until you get their whole picture.  This gradual illumination is tricky though; no one is quite what you think they are (although that's true about everyone).  The aliens are truly alien as well, and gave the book verisimilitude. They frustratingly don't make sense; I imagine the Spanish felt that way about the Aztecs five hundred or so years ago (and vice versa).  Whatever the hell "literary Science fiction," is, I think I like it.

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