'The Book Of Strange New Things' Treads Familiar Territory Michel Faber's best-seller, The Crimson Petal and the White, captured the feel of Victorian London. His latest is a literary science-fiction tale that might disappoint hard core sci-fi fans.
NPR logo

'The Book Of Strange New Things' Treads Familiar Territory

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/360140053/360179377" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
'The Book Of Strange New Things' Treads Familiar Territory

Review

Book Reviews

'The Book Of Strange New Things' Treads Familiar Territory

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/360140053/360179377" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The author Michel Faber wrote the best-selling novel "The Crimson Petal And The White." In that book, he took readers into a richly detailed Victorian London. In his latest, the world he describes is even less familiar. Jason Sheehan has this review of Faber's science fiction novel.

JASON SHEEHAN, BYLINE: It's the story of Peter, a former drunk and petty thief who finds Jesus one night, thanks to two broken ankles and a pretty nurse named Bea. He goes on to become a small-time Christian minister in England. And as the story opens, Peter is a missionary about to leave for a distant planet called Oasis to bring the word of God to the aliens. Actually, we find him literally on the road to the airport with Bea, who's now his wife and partner in Christ. They're awkwardly trying to say goodbye one last time before Peter leaves. It's as clumsy as those things always are, as thrilling and intimate and disappointing, as human as those things always are. And this is Faber's great strength, this ability to write believable, lovely, flawed and inept characters and to make us want to follow along as they traipse across the pages, the miles and the light years.

Peter gets on a spaceship. Peter is flung across the galaxy. Peter, in a stew of hyperspace jetlag, barfs a lot and staggers around with his head on crooked. He adjusts to the alien environment of Oasis and the almost equally alien environment of the base built by the humans living there. And this, for me was where "The Book Of Strange New Things" started to wear a little thin because here, it becomes a missionary-to-the-aliens story, which is a pretty well-trodden literary path. And Faber doesn't bring much that's new or original to the form except a masterful skill for slowly building up dread and mistrust in the hearts of his characters.

Here's the funny thing though. If you're not a fan of science fiction, if you can't stand the thought of spaceships and aliens and inhuman creatures, then "The Book Of Strange New Things" might be perfect for you. It is, after all, science fiction which seemed deliberately stripped of all wonder and amazement, of all strangeness. But in its place, Faber tells a beautifully human a story of love, loss, faith and the sometimes un-crossable distances between people. In the end, the novel feels more than anything like an achingly gentle, 500-page first chapter to an apocalypse story yet to come.

BLOCK: That's Jason Sheehan reviewing the novel called, "The Book Of Strange New Things," by Michel Faber.

Copyright © 2014 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.