By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Michel Faber
Narration by: Josh Cohen
The history of religion’s evangelism is mixed. In some minds, it is precursor to civilization; to others it is a destroyer of culture. Michel Faber favors the first. He implies the second is exaggerated.
In “The Book of Strange New Things”, listeners are transported to another world. Transport is provided by a capitalist culture that foresees rapid deterioration of earth’s civilization. Faber’s book is placed in the 21st century with a mega-corporation interviewing prospective employees.
The hero of Faber’s story is a protestant evangelist who is interviewed for a mission to another planet. The evangelist is a recovering alcoholic, drug user, and homeless prodigal that has found God and re-directed his life. The beginning of his re-directed life is marriage to a nurse who completes a missing part of his consciousness. He begins his new life as a pastor who interprets “The Book of Strange New Things”; more commonly known as the “Bible”.
In a job interview, like many conducted by large corporations, this “man of God” is extensively profiled before employment. Questions asked are customized to reveal how this protestant pastor views life, how he would relate to strangers, and how he would act in a foreign culture. After a background check, corporate compatibility questions, and profiling interviews, the corporation hires and schedules the pastor for transport to an alien planet. It is an assignment one imagines given by Popes and other religious leaders in pre-modern times. The fundamental difference is that the hiring agent is a business corporation; not a religious organization.
The pastor’s wife cannot accompany him on the remote assignment; in part because she does not fit the corporation’s profile. The consequence is that a part of the pastor’s consciousness is left on earth. Separation from his wife creates a cultural blind-spot that makes the pastor’s social and psychological personality incomplete.
The pastor’s duty to the corporation is to “civilize” the natural inhabitants of the new world. He is to reinforce the cultural teachings of the old and new testaments to an alien culture. The corporation’s goal is obscure. On the one hand, Faber implies private industry will save human kind; on the other, Faber suggests corporatism is an artificial construct of an idealized society that cannot survive without religion’s influence.
Faber’s ending suggests “The Book of Strange New Things” carries only a piece of civilization’s creation and stability. The pastor fails to fulfill his corporate contract and returns to earth because the “Bible” and religion are not enough to make him whole. He questions faith in God and religion as sole progenitors of civilization. Without his wife and unborn child, God and religion are not enough to sustain his future, and by implication, the world’s future.
In listening to Faber’s book, one appreciates the difficulty of verbal communication in a foreign, let alone alien, culture. One wonders how well that difficulty can be conveyed in a written format. It is aggravatingly conveyed by Josh Cohen’s narration. At times, Cohen’s narration of the aliens’ spoken-words are difficult to understand. However, “The Book of Strange New Things” is an interesting listeners’ journey; both for believers and non-believers.