Do science fiction and faith go well together: a thought I pondered as I read Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things. Readers and believers on both sides of the divide find much to quarrel about. I had to remind myself that science fiction is not indeed science, nor is faith religion. The two can coexist, indeed have coexisted in many books and films. Science fiction abounds with religious symbolism and themes, but how often is faith the cornerstone of science fiction? Can the two work together?
The Book of Strange New Things is the story of an alien world and its native population, but it is also the story of a pastor, Peter, sent to minister to these aliens. In fact, Peter's journey of faith is the primary story here, much in the same way Job is the focus of Job (fancy that). Many parallels can be drawn between Peter and Job, as they can be drawn also to Adam, Jesus, Paul, and, yes, Peter. Hell, there are probably allusions to every biblical figure in this book and I'm just too daft to pick up on them. Needless to say, Peter (Father Peter to the native inhabitants) experiences several crises of faith that will test him.
What makes this book is the incredible worlds Faber builds, not only on the planet of Oasis, but within our protagonist. The descriptions of the Oasan's language, their appearance, and their world are as expertly crafted as the descriptions of a lonely, driven pastor from planet Earth. The Book of Strange New Things is a beautiful novel that perhaps ends a little too slowly, but remains an exploration of another world and of faith that is not easily forgotten.