Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New Things

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The Book of Strange New Things Summary

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The Book of Strange New Things by Dutch-born, English-speaking author Michel Faber is a science fiction novel about an English pastor, Peter Leigh, who is hired by American corporation USIC to teach the native population on a faraway planet called Oasis the principles of Christianity. The book explores Peter’s time on Oasis and his connections both to these strange new people, whom he comes to love, and his alienation from his own species and his family back on Earth. There is an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and suspense that comes both from the mysteries of life on Oasis and from the travesties on Earth due to climate change and political upheaval. The result is a meditation on faith, love, connection, and the brevity of human existence, though many of the characters are not, in fact, human.

The story begins with Peter Leigh’s departure from England to America. Initially it is unclear where he is going, only that he is leaving his wife to become a missionary in a far-off place. Leigh flies to Orlando, where he is taken to Cape Canaveral by a chaffeur from the mysterious company organizing his mission, USIC. He is given an injection and loses consciousness, and wakes 30 days later on a ship in outerspace, where he is about to land on the planet Oasis. While on the ship, Peter writes his first letter to his wife, describing his journey.

Once on Oasis, Peter begins to explore the planet, and his new living quarters. He wanders away from the mess hall and out into the wilderness, and becomes lost. He is rescued by the Oasis pharmacist, Grainger. Peter’s body has a hard time healing from his long period of unconsciousness and travel through space, which the people onboard the ship refer to as a “Jump.” As such, he passes out in the mess hall, and is carried back to his room. He receives a letter shortly after from his wife, who is happy he arrived safely.

Finally healed, Peter takes a trip with Grainger to see the native Oasans. Grainger claims not to know much about the species, and says they keep to themselves. Once he arrives for his first visit to the Oasan settlement C-2, Peter is disgusted by the Oasan’s faces but amazed at their love for Jesus and Christian teachings. The Oasans even refer to themselves as Jesus Lover One, Two, Three, and so on.

Peter settles into life among the Oasans, and works on building them a church. He makes short trips back to the base camp where he can send messages to Bea, but as the book continues Bea’s messages become less loving and more frantic as she describes natural disasters caused by climate change that are leading to famine and chaos. Months later, she tells Peter that she is pregnant with his child, which they conceived the day he left. Peter feels distant from life on Earth and Bea’s struggles, and is focused primarily on integrating himself into life with the Oasans.

While helping the Oasans with the harvest, which they trade with the humans at base camp for medical supplies, Peter is bitten by a poisonous animal. The Oasans are terrified. Peter goes back to base camp and is treated for his injuries, but is worried he will die on Oasis. He tries to return to C-2 to die with the Oasans, whom he loves, but instead stumbles upon the site of the old Oasan camp, where he meets a linguist who had disappeared long ago who tells him the disturbing news that USIC is meant to be a place for people to live after the Earth dies.

Shocked, Peter wakes up in base camp feeling better but dehydrated. He talks to Grainger, who tells him he probably hallucinated the incident with the linguist. He also learns that he was brought to USIC to keep the Oasans happy, because they are the only ones who know how to grow food on this planet. Jesus Lover Five, one of Peter’s favorite natives, arrives at the infirmary soon after. She is dying from a minor injury to her hand. He learns then that the Oasan’s can’t heal, and that is why they love Jesus – they think the stories from the gospel are true.

Peter feels upset about misleading the Oasans, and confused about what to do. He wants to return home, but Bea tells him that Earth is in shambles. Near the end of the novel, Peter has a heartwarming moment in his church, which he finds full of Oasans upon his return. They sing “Amazing Grace” together in the native language of the Oasans, and he feels redeemed. Ultimately, Peter makes the decision to return home to be with his unborn child, despite the impending death of the world.

Faber’s book received praise from most reviewers, who admire his ability to reinvent science fiction and move it in a literary direction toward genuine themes of humanity, compassion, and faith. Faber has written novels and short stories in many genres, including his most famous work The Crimson Petal and the White, a reinvented Victorian novel which was adapted into a mini-series by the BBC.