In recent trends, a sizable chunk of literary authors are trying steering their craft toward sci-fi. This, as I understand it, has become known as slipstream. In fact, the back panel copy of Michael Faber’s newest novel The Book of Strange New Things (which takes place on a futuristic planet) doesn’t even say science fiction—it’s “literary.”
Faber’s work has always been quirky (see: The Fahrenheit Sisters), but like Alice Hoffman (if you’ve read her work), Faber’s stories breathe onto the surface of the supernatural, enough to make ripples as he stirs the waters with his finger but never quite jumps in.
While I think it’s a little zany to make a distinction between sci-fi and literary sci-fi (are there snobs who wouldn’t read otherwise?) I do think Faber benefits from his penchant for bouncing all around the genre landscape. One of his early novels, The Courage Consort follows an a-capella group to a Belgian retreat, but their rehearsals begin to deteriorate as one or more of the members begin sense paranormal presences. Alternatively, The Crimson Pedal and the White is squarely historical fiction. As expected from someone of Faber’s tastes, The Book of Strange New Things doesn’t traditionally adhere to the more common sci-fi conventions.
With superb world building, Faber takes us and a young minister who must leave his wife on an interstellar missionary journey to the planet of Oasis in order to share the Gospel with the natives (they refer to the Bible as “The Book of Strange New Things”). He studies the planet’s bizarre weather, drinks cantaloupe flavored water, and navigates his immense spiritual successes against his wife’s doubts and struggles from the light years separating them. It puts new meaning in the phrase “long distance relationship.”
A complex mediation of faith, love, and distance, The Book of Strange New Things earns 4 stars from this reviewer.