Friday, March 11, 2016

The Book of Strange New Things

By Michael Haber

This IS a book of strange new things—mostly due to its odd brew of components. On one hand it’s a sci-fi space travel book. On another it’s a tale of religious mission, with a Heart of Darkness type of set-up. And then it’s a quirky love tale, of a relationship fighting for survival. Can you envision a book that merges these elements? I certainly couldn’t—not before I read it.

 And long into the book I was still shaking my head and wondering where it was taking me. But then, as it progressed, I gave up thinking and just inhabited the story, completely transported to the world it built. And what a cool and magnificent world! And what a beautiful story.
cover: book of strange new things

 Set an unspecified number of years in the future, somewhere between fifty and a hundred, The Book of Strange New Things tells the tale of bringing the Christian Bible to the Oasans, the native people of a far-off planet newly discovered by USIC—a global corporation so big that no one can say what it sells. Peter Leigh, the missionary sent to treat with the natives, is a former addict with a long criminal history who’s recreated himself as a minister. This rare opportunity is, for Peter, the apex of all he’s struggled to achieve. Yet he’s also torn between the mission and his wife Bea, left behind on Earth.
 I won’t say anything more of the story for fear of spoilers, but instead say how—against all my expectations—I SO enjoyed this book. How refreshing to be along for a journey that defied prediction at every juncture. I kept thinking I knew where it was going, and then bam, it all turned on its head.

 Which isn’t to say the whole book was perfect, for there were a few parts in the middle that sagged, but it was one of the books where the ending is so perfect that you quickly forgive everything else. And I love a story where you don’t know what to make of it until it’s over. Where it’s not until you read the end that you can go back to make new sense of the pieces.

And then—this is the best thing— all at once it adds up to something bigger than the sum of the parts. Which in this case is a deeply complex human bond. A relationship so nuanced it could easily be our own. Where the failings and achievements of each partner add layer over layer to our sympathies.

Until, whatever little we might hold in common, we are friends, confidantes. People who know one another. People who worry one another's worries. Which is love, I suppose. If we can love characters, we love Peter and Bea.          
My congratulations to Mr. Haber for quite an achievement. To my own friends, I hope some of you have a chance to read and enjoy this book as much as I did