The concept of The Book of Strange New Things is so simple that it really did not catch my attention when I first heard about it. But it was recommended several times by different people and when it was on sale for $1.99
(and it still is right now), I decided to pick it up. (Vikki Huisman reviewed it for Bookwi.se when it first came out.)
The story is simple, Peter, pastor with a history of drug abuse and alcoholism prior to becoming a Christian is hired to go to the planet Oasis to minister to the aliens there. A lot has been made of this being a genre defying novel, but I did not think that it was widely outside of either Literary Fiction or Science Fiction and fans of both should consider it part of the genre they prefer most.
The main story of the book is really about the marriage of Peter on Oasis and his wife, Bea, back in England. They can communicate, but only via email like plain text. And then, only when he is at the main human complex and not when he is living with the aliens. The physical distance matters. But the experiential difference matters more. For Peter, he is absorbed in his work and the transition from the alien settlement to the human settlement is always a cultural shock. Add to that the increasing desperation of Bea, and Peter emotionally hides.
The book drags a little bit in the middle. The cultural learning that Peter needs to do learn about the aliens, and about the humans that are willing to go to an alien world, matters to the story, but there is a lot of explanation and internal dialogue. This is primarily an internal book. There are a few segments of action, but the main story is about people and culture and marriage and faith. I generally like internal books and I certainly like this one. But there is a bit of drag to the middle and the end will not please many.
The author is not a Christian, but gets so much right about Christianity in the book. World Magazine named it their fiction book of the year in 2015. I saw one person compared The Book of Strange New Things to The Poisonwood Bible, which other than the fact they are both about missionaries seems like an odd comparison. Both the missionary characters want to share their faith, but there is a real difference in method. Peter truly loves the aliens, while the father in Poisonwood Bible seems oblivious to the humanness of the Africans that he is ministering to. In both books there is an all consuming focus which leaves the needs of the families far behind the needs of the work.
In the end I think the exploration of ideas about marriage and distance and the exploration of faith and calling makes this well worth reading, even it is a little long and meandering at times.
It is certainly worth the $1.99 that it is on sale for right now. I ended up purchasing the audiobook so I could listen to it on a very long solo drive. The audiobook was very well done.