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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow (1996)

by Mary Doria Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Sparrow (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,627311759 (4.2)1 / 807
  1. 140
    Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (mrstreme)
  2. 122
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (prezzey)
    prezzey: Both are good solid science fiction novels featuring Roman Catholic monks.
  3. 61
    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sturlington)
    sturlington: Also about first contact with an alien civilization that humans cannot understand.
  4. 72
    A Case of Conscience by James Blish (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both of these books deal with the combined issues of first contact with aliens and religion, through the involvement of priests. Both leave open questions, and both are well-written.
  5. 30
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  6. 20
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith, vwinsloe)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
    vwinsloe: Religion/first contact
  7. 10
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  8. 10
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  9. 10
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  10. 21
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  11. 21
    The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Rivercrest, vwinsloe)
    Rivercrest: Dazzle of Day explores the trials of community living and community choices in the same context as Sparrow; space flight, alien landscapes and religous exploration. It also has the same deft use of language, visual descriptions and charecter development. And though I love Sparrow and go back to it time and again, I like how the author ends Dazzle of Day better. Enjoy.… (more)
  12. 10
    Anathem by Neal Stephenson (quartzite)
    quartzite: Both books deal with key groups of people preparing to meet alien cultures with a bit of theology and philosophy thrown in.
  13. 00
    Black Robe: A Novel by Brian Moore (amanda4242)
  14. 11
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Tanya-dogearedcopy)
    Tanya-dogearedcopy: First Contact sections of both novels are remarkably similar
  15. 11
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  16. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  17. 00
    Daniel Stein, Interpreter: A Novel by Ludmila Ulitskaya (spiphany)
    spiphany: A central theme of both books is the examination of faith, both within and outside of organized religion
  18. 11
    Archangel (Samaria, Book 1) by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  19. 12
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both juxtapose religion and science fiction. Hyperion is also [IMHO] a significantly better book.
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English (307)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All (311)
Showing 1-5 of 307 (next | show all)
This review and others posted over at my blog.

The less you know about the plot of this book going in, the better. I don’t think there’s any way my review will do this beautiful book justice, but I’ll give it a whirl.

I will admit that I was wary about this whole Jesuit priest thing. Nothing against anyone’s faith – I just don’t tend to read many books where religion is prevalent. I was worried it would feel preachy or that I would feel isolated for not having the same views as the characters (why I thought this, I don’t know; it’s not like I’d feel isolated if reading about a barbarian because I have a non-barbaric lifestyle, I’m just silly like that.) That was certainly not the case. This was an exploration of one man’s faith and how the events of this mission affected his views on God.

This is a haunting and poignant book and the end had me crying like a baby. The set up to this interplanetary mission is a slow one, I’ll warn you. The party doesn’t arrive on the planet until just about halfway through the book. However, I found it was worth the wait. The first half of the book builds up the characters, so when the plot picks up and things start happening, you care about these people.

My only real issues with this book were how much it made my hands hurt (no, not from the weight of the book, but due to a certain scene which I think you’ll understand if you read it) and how willingly Emilio’s peers in Rome were willing to demonize him without really knowing what happened on the mission. I would think that having known him, they would have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt – as a reader, once I was given some of his backstory, I was certainly willing to hear his side of the story before passing judgment. It was puzzling, but really, not a big issue.

I can’t wait to read the sequel! If you’re looking for a character-driven sci-fi that explores faith and raises interesting social questions about what could occur if humans did make contact with other life forms, and you’re ready for some feels, then I highly, highly recommend this. ( )
  MillieHennessy | Aug 7, 2017 |
I loved this book. The two page prologue sets the stage very well. It tells us that Earth learned of an alien planet and, for reasons only hinted at in the prologue, a Jesuit delegation is the first to travel to that planet. The end of the prologue says, “They meant no harm.” Which of course tells the reader that things don’t go well! And at that point I was hooked.

In the first chapter, our main character Emilio Sandoz has returned from the mission to the alien planet alone. He’s broken physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We alternate between that time period and the past, beginning just before the characters learned about the alien world. We know from the beginning that awful things have happened, and we slowly zero in on those events from both ends of the timeline until finally, by the end, we have all the answers. Non-linear story formats often work well for me, and this one particularly kept me hanging on every word. I enjoyed both timelines equally.

It’s good that I didn’t know anything at all about this before I started reading it, or I might have been more reluctant to try it and I might have missed out. Our main character is a Jesuit priest, so religion is a big part of this book. Religion evokes strong opinions, whether in favor of it or against it, and authors often can’t resist trying to sway people to their own views. When that happens, the book feels preachy and trite and is often full of tiresome “debates” between characters. Even books that align with my own views are annoying to me if the author is too repetitive or obvious about it.

This book wasn’t like that, though; it was done really well. The characters are who they are, and they believe what they believe. I never felt like the author was trying to convince me of any particular viewpoint. I didn’t have to agree with the characters’ interpretation of events in order for the story to feel meaningful and believable. I could be an outside observer, invested in and sympathetic with the characters, but considering things from many perspectives without feeling like the author wanted me to settle on one particular perspective. I was very invested in both the characters and the story.

There is quite a bit of humor in this book, particularly in the “past” portions. I don’t know if I’d call this a dark or depressing book exactly, but it does go to some dark places, and you know from the very beginning that things aren’t going to end well. I knew the best I could hope for was a bittersweet and hopeful ending. I think if I hadn’t been prepared, if I’d been blindsided by how everything turned out with the mission, I would have rated this book lower. Instead, the book became more about figuring out how things went wrong, and what exactly happened, and learning how this vibrant character we saw in the chapters from the past came to be in the wrecked state we saw in the chapters from the future.

I wasn’t completely without complaint. There were some things that seemed a bit logically flawed to me, and one character (Anne) who occasionally rang false for me, but I enjoyed the general story so much that I was able to overlook any niggling annoyances. There’s no question that I’ll be jumping straight into the sequel, although not without some fear. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Aug 6, 2017 |
One of my favorite books of all time. Emilio will be in my heart for the rest of my life. ( )
  Gretchening | Jul 20, 2017 |
This two book series is for a mature audience--both mentally and religiously!
This is a disturbing and morally demanding first book in a two-book series, telling the story of a Jesuit mission to an alien race on Alpha Centauri. Misunderstanding the alien culture results in heinous abuse and death of the missionaries. Mary Doria Russell has given us the best qualities of speculative fiction mixed with deep spiritual, moral, and ethical insights. She has elevated the missiological problems touched on in Michener's Hawaii to the future with modern-day moral dilemmas.
This book is not easy to read as its moral and ethical complexities are painful to digest. But it is well worth the effort! ( )
  AmishTechie | Jun 28, 2017 |
Volum recompensat cu premiile Arthur C. Clarke, James Tiptree Jr., Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis şi British Science Fiction Association

În anul 2019, programul SETI recepţionează transmisiuni muzicale din vecinătatea lui Alfa Centauri. Prima expediţie spre planeta-sursă a radiotransmisiilor este organizată de Ordinul Iezuit fără știrea și aprobarea ONU, iar contactul cu ea este pierdut. După 40 de ani, a doua expediţie îl readuce pe Pământ pe unicul supravieţuitor, iezuitul lingvist Emilio Sandoz, care relatează povestea funestă a contactului cu altă civilizaţie.
  thebblack | Jun 23, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 307 (next | show all)
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Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionscalculated
diBondone,GiottoCover artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Maura E. Kirby
Mary L. Dewing

quarum sine auspicio hic
liber in lucem non esset
First words
On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5 Borgo Santo Spirito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from the Vatican.
I don't understand, but I can learn if you will teach me.
"There are no beggars on Rakhat. There is no unemployment. There is no overcrowding. No starvation. No environmental degradation. There is no genetic disease. The elderly do not suffer decline. Those with terminal illness do not linger. They pay a terrible price for this system, but we too pay, Felipe, and the coin we use is the suffering of children. How many kids starved to death this afternoon, while we sat here? Just because their corpses aren't eaten doesn't make our species any more moral!"
"...Because if I was led by God to love God, step by step, as it seemed, if I accept that the beauty and the rapture were real and true, then the rest of it was God's will too, and that, gentlemen, is cause for bitterness. But if I am simply a deluded ape who took a lot of old folktales far too seriously, then I brought all this on myself and my companions and the whole business becomes farcical, doesn't it. The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances," he continued with academic exactitude, each word etched on the air with acid, "is that I have no one to despise but myself. If however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God."
"'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.'" "But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said.
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Book description
A novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience--the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life--begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0449912558, Paperback)

In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human." When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong... Words like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Combining elements of science fiction and spiritual philosophy, this novel is a tale of the devastating consequences of a scientific mission to make contact with an extraterrestrial culture.

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