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Faber, Michel

Entry updated 13 November 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1960-    ) Dutch/Australian/Scottish author, born in Holland, raised in Australia from the age of seven, resident from 1993 in Scotland, where much of his fiction is located; partner from 2016 of Louisa Young. He is best known for The Crimson Petal and the White (2002), a blockbuster novel set in a nonfantastic Victorian London but narrated as though to a time traveller from the future; a nonfantastic collection, The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories (coll 2006), is set in the same world. Much of his short fiction of genre interest – assembled in Some Rain Must Fall (coll 1998) and The Fahrenheit Twins (coll 2005; rev vt Vanilla Bright Like Eminem 2007) – is Equipoisal, hovering between a depressively deterministic realism of portrayal and horror or fantasy, though some of this work – like "The Eyes of the Soul" (in The Macallan Shorts, anth 1998, ed anon), which applies Robert Sheckley-like escape gimmickry to a deeply pessimistic vision of modern Britain – is sf. His two short novels – The Hundred and Ninety-Nine Steps (2001) and The Courage Consort (2002), both assembled with "The Fahrenheit Twins" as The Courage Consort (omni 2004), similarly permit but do not insist upon being read as ghost stories.

Faber is initially of sf interest for his first novel, Under the Skin (2000), filmed as Under the Skin (2013) directed by Jonathan Glazer, with much of the sf structure – on which the story in fact depends – left unexplained. It is set in the backwoods and roads of rural Scotland. The protagonist is a quadruped Alien female who has been surgically altered to resemble, as much as possible, an alluring human woman: she wears with acute discomfort a pair of grotesquely disproportionate breasts – just as do many human women in a sexist world (see Feminism; Gender). Thus garbed and baited, she prowls the roads in search of solitary human male hitchhikers; her descriptions of humans, here known as vodsels, evokes human descriptions of non-human primates (see Apes as Human). After drugging these males into unconsciousness as they sit in the passenger seat of her car, she delivers them to the Underground base operated by her species, where they are detongued, decorticated, castrated and systematically overfed, so that after they have been slaughtered their flesh can be rendered into a kind of immensely valuable foie gras which is exported to her home planet. The tale is told with an immaculate, implacable air of calm; over and beyond its clear feminist subtext, the implications of the story (see Colonization of Other Worlds; First Contact; Satire) sink deadly into the reader's mind. The closest tonal and thematic sf equivalent to Under the Skin may be Karen Joy Fowler's equally resonant Sarah Canary (1991), but Faber is a far more explicitly savage writer.

Much longer and exceedingly ambitious, The Book of Strange New Things (2014) conveys its Christian missionary protagonist to the planet Oasis at the insistence of its Alien civilization. The natives' literalist passion to discover in Religion not only a vade mecum, but also the kinds of revelations hinted at in the title, slowly excruciates the minister, whose relationship with his wife back on Earth – conducted via a primitive Ansible – has at the same time inevitably begun to deteriorate. The sf structure of the tale, though reticently conveyed, is as central to its execution and import as it is for the most famous previous tales of religious confrontation and incomprehension between human and alien, James Blish's A Case of Conscience (1958) and Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow (1996). The protagonist travels to Oasis in a state of Suspended Animation, in the stink of a very plausible Spaceship; the planet and its inhabitants are Xenobiologically intriguing; the Near Future catastrophes that Earth is beginning to suffer, as natural resources grow scarcer and Climate Change begins savagely to affect even England, are conveyed with a sense of sad inevitability.

Somewhere between Oulipo and Charles Dickens, whose A Tale of Two Cities (1859) is acknowledged in the title, D: A Tale of Two Worlds (2020) is a fantasy about a world where the letter D has been forbidden, a donnée evocative of James Thurber's The Wonderful O (1957 chap). The nonfiction Listen: On Music, Sound and Us (2023), like much of his work, arguably sees the world – in this case a world of Perception – as incarcerated until understood. Though he is not prolific, Faber has become a central figure in twenty-first century sf. [JC]

see also: Brian Eno.

Michel Faber

born The Hague, Netherlands: 13 April 1960




works as editor


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