The Book of Strange New Things
Arthur C. Clarke nominee
Do you ever get to the end of a book and feel…dazed? Not because the book ends in some kind of hard or painful way, but because you feel suddenly bereft of a companion you’ve had for so long and you want to continue to stay in touch with them and suddenly it’s goodbye.
That’s how I felt at the end of The Book of Strange New Things.
The story followed Peter and Bea, a married couple. Technically, the book is entirely from Peter’s perspective, but his wife’s absence is palpable once he’s been sent off to be a missionary to the native creatures of Oasis, where the mysterious corporation USIC has a base. Peter assumes the “US” in “USIC” stands for United States, but the truth is, no one seems to know. Or care.
What USIC is up to on Oasis is central to the general unease of this book. I hesitate to say “plot” because the real conflict of this novel, its driving force, is the relationship between Peter and Bea. Bea’s world almost instantly begins to crumble. Things are not good on Earth. There’s one natural disaster after another, and Bea tries to reach out to Peter via the Shoot – a future version of e-mail capable of transmitting across the galaxies faster than light. (The tech is never explained, but one assumes it’s similar to the wormhole/jumpgate tech that gets Peter to Oasis.)
Part of the gulf that begins to separate them has a lot to do with the fact that it turns out the Oasians, as Peter calls them, are hungry for the Gospel. They really want Peter to read to them from the Bible, which they call “The Book of Strange New Things.”
Peter’s Christianity is central to this book in a way that made me surprised it wasn’t on the radar of the Sad Puppies. Perhaps it’s because Peter’s exact brand of Christianity is never expressly stated. He’s not a big believer in Revelation/Rapture, but he’s very sincere and honest and, frankly, immensely…decent. He’s a Pope Francis kind of Christian, if you know what I’m saying. He’s a people person who genuinely cares for people…even Oasian people who have faces that look more like entrails than anything else.
I’m not Christian—I was not raised it, nor currently practice any form of it. However, the Christianity in this book was so sincere, so gentle, that I found its constant-ness weirdly unobtrusive. Peter is a good guy and I rooted for him (and by extension Bea) throughout this whole book. And when it ended I felt almost lost; I’d been so deeply into it. I wanted to shake the book and see if an extra chapter might fall out.
Besides the gentle Christianity, the book is just good science fiction. The aliens are perfectly alien and the people who populate the USIC base could be the crew of the Nostromo, Ripley’s ship from Alien. As with Alien, I kind of hope there will be a sequel.