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Atonement
Ian McEwan
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Margaret Atwood

The Book of Strange New Things

The Book of Strange New Things - Michel Faber Peter is a man reformed - he battled his demons, he found a wife, he found God, and he found peace. He's someone who loves people. As The Book of Strange New Things opens, Peter prepares to embark on a journey to a planet galaxies away. Once there he will act as a missionary - learning about, living with, understanding, and preaching to the native inhabitants of Oasis. Peter's mission gets off to a surprisingly good start, but this relief is quickly countered by messages from home, where civilization is quickly disintegrating amid natural disasters and governmental collapse.

Full disclosure: I'm not a person of faith but I do find it fascinating and enjoy reading about it...when done in an interesting way. Unfortunately, this didn't do it for me. Also full disclosure: This is hardcore science fiction but rather speculative fiction. If sci-fi isn't your thing, don't discount this book because of that - it's been mislabeled and you might actually enjoy it.

I was a bit hesitant to pick this up, but after hearing all the hype decided to give it a go. I'm always down for some good sci-fi, I'm not so down for proselytizing. But I actually found very little of both in this book, which was surprising, given it's about a pastor who talks Jesus with some aliens. I wasn't bombarded with theology, nor was I blown away by a meticulously created fictitious world. I was left feeling pretty luke warm and removed.

At one point, it's said of Oasis that, "this place is one big anti-climax" and there's perhaps no better description of this novel. I don't think you could dream up a more boring planet. Faber raises tons of fascinating questions yet answers (or even attempts to answer) none. There is very little conflict and the conflict that IS included is either quickly dismissed or ignored. The complete meltdown of civilization on Earth is hinted at, though never fully felt by Peter nor, by proxy, the reader (or at least this reader). The characters are pretty flat, aliens and sinister USIC included, and Peter doesn't truly grapple with much so I don't feel confident in calling this introspective. It refuses to engage on so many levels that I'm wondering if that was the point, but if so I can't figure out to what purpose.

Overall, a story that should be full of pain and joy and discovery and loss and soul searching is just...lacking. I keep seeing words like "mesmirizing," and "meditative" used to describe this book and I just don't get it. Nothing happens and there's barely any serious intellectual engagement on religion, humanity, love (divine or otherwise), or how realistic Faber's apocalyptic Earth might be. Where's the challenge to Peter's faith in God or humanity? I didn't feel it. And I didn't feel his conviction either, just a bunch of wishy washy bible quoting and a few moments of light doubt that were quickly swept under the rug. The same goes for just about every other hardship he faced - they were all half baked, never fully realized. Maybe I'm missing the point. Maybe the dullness is the point - like super austere religions that require worship without adornment or pretense - but if that's the case, successful though it may be, it's just not what I was hoping for.

But that cover art tho...