book of strange new thingsPeter is a former addict turned pastor who has been chosen in a highly selective process to serve as pastor to the natives of the planet Oasis. The mission is funded by USIC, a corporation that has built and staffed a compound of highly skilled scientists and engineers on the planet. Peter leaves behind his beloved wife, the devout Bea, who encourages Peter’s mission to spread the Gospel. Peter and Bea are able to communicate daily via a trans-space communication device located on the USIC compound. When he is in the field, however, in the Oasan community, the conditions are primitive, and as he becomes more involved with the Oasans, he becomes more detached from Bea and his former life. Meanwhile, Bea’s messages express dire conditions on planet Earth and heartbreak in her personal life. Author Michel Faber does an exceptional job of creating place in the alien world of Oasis and the complex where the USIC corporation operates. The reader can fairly feel the atmosphere of the planet creeping underneath her clothing and iridescent insects lighting on an arm. Faber also skillfully creates a sympathetic cast of misfits who populate the outpost and a believable alien race. Many of the Oasans are already Jesus lovers resulting from their introduction to Christianity and the Bible (which they know as The Book of Strange New Things) by the former, currently missing pastor.  The Oasans provide food for the outpost, creating many tasty variations of the locally grown whiteflower. In exchange for the food, the Oasans are given medicines that they are eager for, although their illnesses are as mysterious to the USIC workers as are the whereabouts of the former pastor and linguist. I thought this was going to be another provocative missionary-gone-wrong story like Mary Doria Russell’s, The Sparrow or Barbara Kinsolver’s, The Poisonwood Bible, but it’s more about the tenuous bonds of faith and humanity and their slow unraveling.

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