The Book of Strange New Things

Because human beings suffer so much more than ducks.”
“You might not think so if you were a duck.

Being apart was wrong. Simply lying side by side did more for a relationship than words. A warm bed, a nest of animal intimacy. Words could be misunderstood, whereas loving companionship bred trust.

Can’t you see that? Everybody’s sentimental, everybody.

Clothes are nothing more than a fig leaf. And the bodies beneath are just another layer of clothing, an outfit of flesh with an impractically thin leather exterior, in various shades of pink, yellow and brown. The souls alone are real. Seen in this way, there can never be any such thing as social unease or shyness or embarrassment. All you need do is greet your fellow soul.

Forgive me, Lord, for the smallness and selfishness of my mind. Amen.

Grainger looked exasperated. “Why don’t you just come straight out and use the word aliens?
“Because we’re the aliens here.

He only wished he’d had the chance to explain more fully how prayer worked. That it wasn’t a matter of asking for things and being accepted or rejected, it was a matter of adding one’s energy—insignificant in itself—to the vastly greater energy that was God’s love. In fact, it was an affirmation of being part of God, an aspect of His spirit temporarily housed inside a body.

He thought about history, the hidden human anxieties behind momentous events. The tiny trivial things that were probably bothering Einstein or Darwin or Newton as they formulated their theories: arguments with the landlady, maybe, or concern over a blocked fireplace. The pilots who bombed Dresden, fretting over a phrase in a letter from back home: What did she mean by that? Or what about Columbus, when he was sailing toward the New Land … who knows what was on his mind? The last words spoken to him by an old friend, perhaps, a person not even remembered in history books …

How strange it was to be inside a machine again! All his life he’d been inside machines, whether he realised it or not. Modern houses were machines. Shopping centres were machines. Schools. Cars. Trains. Cities. They were all sophisticated technological constructs, wired up with lights and motors. You switched them on, and didn’t spare them a thought while they pampered you with unnatural services.

I just wish,” she said, “that this magnificent, stupendous God of yours could give a fuck.

It was such an infantile prayer, the sort of prayer a five-year-old might pray. But maybe those were the best kind.

Most true things are kind of corny, don’t you think? But we make them more sophisticated out of sheer embarrassment.

Not for the first time, Peter thought about how much of our lives we spend sequestered inside small patches of electric brightness, blind to everything beyond the reach of those fragile bulbs.

People and their dwellings were such a thin dust on the surface of the globe, like invisible specks of bacteria on an orange, and the feeble lights of kebab shops and supermarkets failed utterly to register on the infinities of space above.

Peter...” She let her head fall back against the seat and sighed. “Let’s not go there.”
“That’s what people always say about places where they already are.

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.

She talks about being a Christian as if it’s a gym membership you can sign up for.

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.

That was the sort of thing crazy people did—instinctively choosing the experiences that confirmed their own negative attitudes.

The highway looked different to him now, as they drove on. In theory it was the same stretch of tarmac, bounded by the same traffic paraphernalia and flimsy metal fences, but it had been transformed by their own intent. It was no longer a straight line to an airport, it was a mysterious hinterland of shadowy detours and hidey-holes. Proof, once again, that reality was not objective, but always waiting to be reshaped and redefined by one’s attitude. Of course, everybody on earth had the power to reshape reality. It was one of the things Peter and Beatrice talked about a lot. The challenge of getting people to grasp that life was only as grim and confining as you perceived it to be. The challenge of getting people to see that the immutable facts of existence were not so immutable after all. The challenge of finding a simpler word for immutable than immutable.

The holy book he’d spent so much of his life preaching from had one cruel flaw: it was not very good at offering encouragement or hope to those who weren’t religious.

There is so little in the New Testament about sexual love, and most of it consists of Paul heaving a deep sigh and tolerating it like a weakness.

There was a red button on the wall labelled EMERGENCY, but no button labelled BEWILDERMENT.

These days, the bigger the company, the less you can figure out what it does.

The world changes too fast. You take your eyes off something that's always been there, and the next minute it's just a memory.

We are all specialised forms of survivor. We lack what we fundamentally need and forge ahead regardless, hurriedly hiding our wounds, disguising our ineptitude, bluffing our way through our weaknesses.

Why was even the shallowest human conversation so fraught with pitfalls and tricky calibrations? Why couldn’t people just keep silent until they had something essential to say, like the Oasans?

Without you at my side, I feel as though my eyes are just a camera, like a closed-circuit camera without film in it, registering what’s out there, second by second, letting it all vanish instantly to be replaced by more images, none of them properly appreciated.

You one of those decaffeinated Christians, padre? The diabetic wafer? Doctrine-free, guilt-reduced, low in Last judgement, 100% less Second Coming, no added Armageddon? Might contain small traces of crucified Jew?

You want Paradise, you gotta build it on war, on blood, on envy and naked greed.