Ex Libris Kirkland

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First Written 2015
Genre Scifi
Origin US
Publisher Hogarth
ISBN-10 0553418866
ISBN-13 978-0553418866
My Copy library copy
First Read June 01, 2017

The Book of Strange New Things

Faber does a frustrating job of refusing to give us an encyclopedia-eye view of the alien race. We never learn if the community of beings we meet is representative, or a weird outcast corner, or what. There's no history or overview of the alien planet, just a slow progressive revelation of what the lead character experiences. It turns out that there's already a community of believers on the planet, and they are eager for more instruction. There's a dark underbelly behind this, of course, and the ominous buildup and reveal of /why/ is interesting, but not ultimately very satisfying.

Here's my personally-most frustrating point of this book, which is emblematic of the way the author never EXPLAINS enough about the aliens. Other characters make a big point of saying that there are no other animals around except the bipedal aliens. When a herd of malicious rabbit-like creatures appear, the colony staff say something like, 'Oh yeah, and those.' But from the beginning, the intelligent alien species are described as wearing leather - leather hoods, leather shoes, leather gloves. But what kind of leather, you ask? What are they skinning? There's a huge question that nobody asks (or answers). Faber foregrounds this fact again and again, including a custom pair of leather boots made for the missionary. But he never asks 'what animal did this leather come from?', and the question is so obviously avoided by the book that I assumed they were skinning their fellow aliens or something. But... in the end... nobody mentions it.

Noted on July 1, 2017

In the same vein as Case for Conscience and a Canticle for Leibowitz, this is part of the apparently-well-trod genre of Missionary to Aliens. It's satisfyingly weird, and mixes the first-person-ish narrative of a missionary to aliens with epistolary exchanges between the missionary and his wife back home on Earth. She's experiencing a Jackpot-like series of natural and economic disasters, which to me feel really unsettlingly plausible. Meanwhile, the missionary gets to know the aliens and starts building a church, and feels progressively isolated from his former life on Earth.

Noted on July 1, 2017

Peter was struck by the scar’s essential nature: it was not a disfigurement, it was a miracle. All the scars ever suffered by anyone in the whole of human history were not suffering but triumph: triumph against decay, triumph against death.

Quoted on July 1, 2017

Some people go through the heavy stuff. They fight in wars. They're in jail. They start a business and it gets shut down by gangsters. They end up hustling their ass in a foreign country. It's one long list of setbacks and humiliations. But it doesn't touch them, not really. They're having an adventure. It's like: What's next? And then there's other people who are just trying to live quietly, they stay out of trouble, they're maybe ten years old, or fourteen, and one Friday morning at 9:35 something happens to them, something private, something that breaks their heart. Forever.

Quoted on July 1, 2017

Ex Libris Kirkland is a super-self-absorbed reading journal made by Matt Kirkland. Copyright © 2001 - .
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