I heard Michel Faber talk at Adelaide Writers Week 2015, and was very impressed. There was some discussion about this book, which encouraged me to obtain and read it.
The book had the potential to be really irritating for an atheist like me, almost to the point of giving up after a few dozen pages. It tells the story of a reformed alcoholic / drug addict, Peter, who has become a full-on evangelical Christian preacher. He wins a job with a huge corporation called USIC to be minister to a race of aliens on a distant planet. Now my logical mind was able to believe in the existence of such a planet and such an alien population. But I found it hard to believe that Peter would never find out what USIC stood for, or why they were engaged in this distant project, or what exactly happened to his predecessor.
Still, I was mostly hooked by the story, despite spells of irritation. The irritation mostly revolved around Peter’s total naivety and impracticality, which contrasted starkly with his wife left behind on earth to face an imploding western civilisation. I also found it hard to believe in the coldness and passivity of the USIC staff at the interplanetary base. Some of the technical aspects were also a touch hard to swallow. And for an atheist, reading a book where many of the characters are called “Jesus Lover”, is also a challenge.
Despite these reservations, I mostly enjoyed the book. It’s an interesting and original premise, the pacing is good, and it holds the reader’s interest right through.