The Book of Strange New Things

By Michel Faber

The_Book_of_StrangeWhew, this book. I’ve been reading The Book of Strange New Things off and on now for the past two months. The very basic, ridiculous-sounding premise is that a minister is sent to a newly established human colony on Mars in order to bring Christianity to the native martians. I had thought that this interesting combination of science fiction and religion might be a good Christmas present for my dad, who is interested in both, but I also thought that I better read it myself first since I’ve had bad luck in the past giving unread books to people.

I went back and forth several times on whether to save this as a gift. One the one hand, it really is an interesting look at the role religion plays in people and their relationships and how that translates to a literally alien setting. (For instance, how do you explain both The Good Shepherd and The Lamb of God to beings that have no concept of sheep, or even any grazing animal?) On the other hand:

  • Women in general don’t come off great, though that is something that almost every reader of science fiction has to build a tolerance for. (By the end, though, the men weren’t coming off all that great, either, and I was struggling to find a sympathetic character at all.)
  • There were multiple descriptions of non-Christians and people of color that made me uncomfortable, while not being overtly racist.
  • In the end, there were just way too many random and gratuitous mentions of male genitalia than I felt comfortable giving to my dad. (Clearly, he is an adult and would be fine reading it, but maybe just not coming from me.)

After trying to weigh the balance between a really thoughtful overarching premise and problematic details, I finally just decided that any book that takes me two months (with frequent breaks) to get through is not a strong recommendation.

—Anna

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