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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
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The Sparrow (1996)

by Mary Doria Russell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Sparrow (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
4,834258957 (4.2)1 / 661
  1. 120
    Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (mrstreme)
  2. 102
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (prezzey)
    prezzey: Both are good solid science fiction novels featuring Roman Catholic monks.
  3. 61
    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.
  4. 41
    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sturlington)
    sturlington: Also about first contact with an alien civilization that humans cannot understand.
  5. 21
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  6. 10
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  7. 10
    Daniel Stein, Interpreter: A Novel in Documents by Ljudmila Ulitskaya (spiphany)
    spiphany: A central theme of both books is the examination of faith, both within and outside of organized religion
  8. 21
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  9. 10
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  10. 10
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  11. 10
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  12. 21
    The Dazzle of Day by Molly Gloss (Rivercrest)
    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)
  13. 00
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
  14. 00
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  15. 00
    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.
  16. 01
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both juxtapose religion and science fiction. Hyperion is also [IMHO] a significantly better book.
  17. 01
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
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English (255)  German (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (258)
Showing 1-5 of 255 (next | show all)
Good read, but certainly NOT a feel good book. Neat ideas, good writing. ( )
  Mrdrewk | Dec 2, 2014 |
A good read, and one I'd recommend, the novel is about a Jesuit expedition to a nearby star-system, and a first-contact that ends badly.

Russell is a fine writer, and blends a few separate threads and themes wonderfully well. The core action of the book could have come straight out of a golden-age SF tale, like something by [a:Ray Bradbury|1630|Ray Bradbury|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1361491094p2/1630.jpg] or [a:Philip K. Dick|4764|Philip K. Dick|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1264613853p2/4764.jpg]--excited explorers, a twist provided by failing to see that the new planet doesn't work by the same rules as earth. However, Russell writes character and dialogue very well, creating a small, well-realized, and lovable cast in long sections quite separate from the voyage-to-aliens plot; the complicated sexual & Platonic connections between individuals is hands-down the best part of the novel.

The book is dark, and comic, but never the two shall meet: the narrative is braided between two timelines, with chapters alternating between Father Sandoz's recovery and interrogation on Earth after the voyage, and a chronological description of the backstory and eventual actuality of the trip, which covers quite a few years. The “present day” chapters, with an emotionally and physically mutilated Sandoz, clearly foreshadow that the travel to find “the Singers” does not end well, yet the chapters following the explorers are relatively non-tragic, focused on the characters' individual lives and personalities, and feature frequent dinner parties and witty banter. The result is somewhat unsettling, because it's an incredibly long tension between the darkness you know you're going to get to, and the really enchanting characters you're getting to know.

The book was recommended to me under the synopsis “Catholics in space; God hates you”, which is a bit of a gloss but still sums it up nicely. While I'm not in the least interested in theological science fiction (one shudders), Russell suckered me in by making it so personal, with various and very different interpretations of what's happening in the story. The presence of multiple and clearly different characters who are all Jesuit priests is an unusually deft touch; all too often “priest” is a class, a stock character, with certain tropes and topoi but no depth. Here we get a number of characters with different ideas about what God & religion mean, how to handle sexuality, etc.

If I had to point to a flaw, I would firmly extend my index finger towards a few points that were hard to suspend disbelief over: the composition of the expedition (brought together maybe by God, but basically a group of friends with a few relevant skills, but not astronauts/scientists/diplomats/people you would actually use as the entirety of a first contact mission), for one. The mechanics of traveling 4.3 lightyears in a reasonable amount of time could easily have been made plausible, or even just kind of shoved off-screen, but weren't: we get a kind of half-description that doesn't begin to let me believe they can accelerate their asteroid-ship to relativistic speeds. The critical anagnorisis at the end is only possible if every character is unbelievably stupid and trusting of the alien world and cultures they've found themselves in—perhaps meant to echo the various tragedies of historical hapless missionary/explorers mentioned throughout, but it relies so heavily on the idiocy and lack of imagination of characters we've come to see as very well-realized (and who include a good handful of geniuses and smart folks with practical wisdom as well) that it cheapened the end for me.

Finally, and this may be an accident of pacing, but the physical abuse of Sandoz seems to overshadow the theological struggle, which I don't think Russell intended—especially since his ordeal (trying to avoid spoilers here, as the book does), while horrible, is no worse than atrocities already explored, or suffered by other characters.

Still, a very enjoyable and indeed gripping read, a study in character that one rarely gets in science fiction. The overall feel of the novel--melancholy, thoughtful, tragicomic, concerned with God & fate but ultimately very humanistic-- brought to mind [a:John Calvin Batchelor|438574|John Calvin Batchelor|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/m_50x66-e89fc14c32a41c0eb4298dfafe929b65.png]'s [b:The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica: A Novel|845616|The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica A Novel|John Calvin Batchelor|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1387714130s/845616.jpg|831142] as well as work by [a:James Morrow|8001439|James Morrow|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/u_50x66-d9f6a4a5badfda0f69e70cc94d962125.png] and [a:Kurt Vonnegut|2778055|Kurt Vonnegut|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1357661500p2/2778055.jpg]. The whole time reading it, I was plagued by the desire to put it alongside [a:James Blish|43625|James Blish|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1227585761p2/43625.jpg]'s [b:A Case of Conscience|1003138|A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge, #4)|James Blish|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/book/50x75-6121bf4c1f669098041843ec9650ca19.png|743090], a classic and (for me) very troubling novel about Jesuit first contact with an alien race that pose an existential/religious crisis for humanity. "The Sparrow" is much more deeply nuanced in its plot, characters, and portrayals of the priesthood, and I'm curious to return to Blish and see how much this novel is a response. ( )
  jakecasella | Nov 7, 2014 |
My blog post about this book is at this link ( )
  SuziQoregon | Oct 28, 2014 |
The Sparrow has long been on my top 10 favorite books of all time list. When I recommend it to friends, I tell them not to be afraid that it's technically science fiction. This is sci fi for those who don't like sci fi. That's because the sci fi is not the important thing; it's just the setting in which these unforgettable characters intersect and interact. They could have met in the Amazon jungle just as easily. The characters are complex and some of the most richly drawn and intelligent characters I've ever encountered in fiction. I've read this book several times over the years and always find myself yearning to revisit the characters and the messages of this book. If you enjoy having your notions of God, society, love, and friendship challenged, this book will do it. ( )
  LaineyMac | Oct 19, 2014 |
*No Spoilers*

The Short of It:

This is one of those stories that innocently skips along and then delivers such a powerful punch to the gut, that you’ll want to forget what you’ve read as soon as you’ve read it.

The Rest of It:

I am not even going to attempt to describe the story to you in detail because that is half the adventure and this is definitely a novel you will want to experience on your own. I will say, that it’s about a newly discovered planet and the group sent to investigate it.

As you can imagine with a book like this, part of the suspense comes from WHAT is on the planet and how our group which includes Jesuit priests, a doctor, an engineer, an astronomer and an indentured computer specialist deals with what is thrown at them. And there is a lot thrown at them. Figuring out food and cultivating plants that they recognize is one challenge, determining the effects that the climate and environment have on their bodies is another challenge and really, just learning how to adapt to what they have in front of them is what keeps them busy much of the time.

What makes this an entertaining read is the group itself. Many were friendly back on Earth before their mission, so there is a lot of humor and well-placed sarcasm as everyone gets used to spending so much time together. They all fit, if that makes any sense even though many of them come from very different backgrounds.

But something terrible happens.

The story jumps around a bit between the before, during and after parts of the mission so very early on, you know that something horrible has happened and so this cake walk of visiting an unknown planet and the funny parts interspersed between the more serious issues, felt like I was being led along a very long plank and that any moment I would be plunged into the icy depths below. And that is EXACTLY what happens!

Everyone who reads this book says stuff like, “I feel totally wrung out”, “This book destroyed me” or “I cannot un-see what I’ve seen in my head.” I agree with these statements but what’s totally weird is that I saw it all coming and NONE if it really shocked me and yet, because I was strung along for so long, it hit me HARD. I read this for the #sparrowRAL (read along) and I finished it when others were still reading so when the air was sucked out of me, I had no one to turn to! I finished it at work too which added to my overall anxiety over the ending.

As far as science fiction goes, it felt very current to me even though much of it takes place in 2060. There is a sequel, Children of God, which I did not know about until after I finished The Sparrow but I feel absolutely no need to read the second book.

Things you should know:

Contains heavy religious themes but mostly deals with the question of whether or not God exists.

Packs a punch and you will be a little ill after reading it. Make sure you have someone to discuss it with or you will lose your mind.

It takes a long time to get into the story (IMO). Lots of set-up and back and forth.

The idea of interacting with an alien race and how it’s handled here will fascinate you.

If you are at all interested in societal structure, you will have loads to consider.

After finishing the book, I suggest you gaze at pictures of cute puppies and kittens for a day or two because the images that Russell paints will be stuck in your mind for a very long time.

I can’t say that it’s a favorite of mine but it is a book that will stay with me forever and I am glad that I finally read it. Thanks Trish for hosting the read along. I probably would not have picked it up had you not chosen it.

For more reviews, visit my blog: Book Chatter. ( )
  tibobi | Sep 23, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 255 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
diBondone,GiottoCover artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dedication
For Maura E. Kirby
and
Mary L. Dewing

quarum sine auspicio hic
liber in lucem non esset
editas
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.
Quotations
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."
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Wikipedia in English (3)

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.
Haiku summary

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:30 -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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