Peter, a British minister, has the opportunity of a lifetime by becoming a missionary. Not here on Earth, but on the planet Oasis only reachable through the technology of a company called USIC. Peter leaves his wife and their beloved cat behind to minister the native inhabitants, Oasians, of this planet. These beings are all about Jesus. They call themselves Jesus Lovers: Jesus Lover One, Jesus Lover Two, etc. They want to hear more about their friend Jesus and his miraculous adventures by having Peter read to them from The Book of Strange New Things (The Bible).
Peter’s wife Bea can only communicate with him through a device called The Shoot. It’s a magic typewriter of sorts. Peter is enjoying his time with the Jesus Lovers, but back on Earth things are quickly going to shit. Bea sends him increasingly disturbing messages about natural disasters and economic upheaval. Bea is not in great shape herself. Her apartment is coming apart, the cat is stressed, and her job as a nurse is the last job anyone would want during the end of the world.
Peter seems to believe Bea is exaggerating, or being hormonal, or possibly drunk. None of the human inhabitants on Oasis, the USIC workers, are too upset about the happenings on Earth, or about anything for that matter. The only exception is a pharmacist named Granger. She’s in charge of supplying the Jesus Lovers with medication, which is exchanged for food. She’s sceptical of everything, including Peter’s role as minister.
With the Earth so far away and life on Oasis so peaceful, Peter has a difficult time imagining what Bea is going through. It’s not until Peter is jolted into reality that he begins to question not only what is really happening on Oasis but his own faith.
The Book of Strange New Things is a difficult book to categorize and I struggled with where it was going. Is it a commentary on colonialism? Not really. The Oasians, even the Jesus Lovers, are getting along fine with the humans and aren’t changed by their presence. Other than trading with them, they have little contact. Is it science fiction? Not really. There’s a sort of ordinariness about the situation despite the setting. Human beings living away from their families on a project in an isolated land isn’t a foreign idea to me. So what is it all about? Mostly it’s about Peter and his journey of faith. And this was a bit of a problem for me.
Peter got in my nerves, which is the intention, I think. Peter is unknowingly a jerk to his wife. He’s somewhat preachy, even when he’s trying not to be. He struggles with being a good shepherd to his flock, and I sympathized with him, but ultimately I didn’t care about him. I cared more about Bea and Joshua the cat. I cared about Jesus Lover Five way more than I cared about Peter and his journey.
There were some great moments in The Book of Strange New Things. Moments, as I was listening to the audiobook at work, I needed to keep myself together. “Don’t you cry, dammit!” I told myself. There was a part that made me want to BURN EVERYTHING!
In the end, I was disappointed by the answers to the questions I had. There were things I just didn’t buy. Although so many people are loving The Book of Strange New Things, I thought it was only okay. It left me wanting more but not in a good way.
About the audio: The Book of Strange New Things is narrated by Josh Cohen. One of the weirdest experiences listening to this book is the voices of the Oasians. I can’t even explain it. At first, it was annoying, but eventually I got used to it. There is a long speech at the end of the novel that is in their language and it wasn’t translated so who knows what was going on there. It was an interesting experience anyway!
Thanks to Random House Audio for the review copy. All opinions are my own.