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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
6,5113481,031 (4.19)1 / 927
The Sparrow is 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.… (more)
Recently added byHu-llibrary, NathanielStoll, qwaal, Oakfairy, MaximusStripus, private library, doecq, edh, Gremdel, AldusManutius
Legacy LibrariesTim Spalding
  1. 130
    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. 71
    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
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith, vwinsloe)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
    vwinsloe: Religion/first contact
  6. 30
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  7. 21
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Tanya-dogearedcopy)
    Tanya-dogearedcopy: First Contact sections of both novels are remarkably similar
  8. 21
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  9. 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.
  10. 11
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  11. 11
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  12. 33
    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)
  13. 22
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  14. 01
    The Faded Sun Trilogy by C. J. Cherryh (kaydern)
    kaydern: A book equally interested alien anthropology, but with more emphasis on military and sociology of alien-human interaction.
  15. 01
    Black Robe: A Novel by Brian Moore (amanda4242)
  16. 12
    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
  18. 01
    Daniel Stein, Interpreter by Ludmila Ulitskaya (spiphany)
    spiphany: A central theme of both books is the examination of faith, both within and outside of organized religion
  19. 01
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  20. 02
    The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov (johnxlibris)

(see all 21 recommendations)

1990s (21)
To Read (437)

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English (343)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All languages (347)
Showing 1-5 of 343 (next | show all)
An immersive, provocative read. This reminded me in its themes of [a:Michel Faber|16272|Michel Faber|https://images.gr-assets.com/authors/1417041854p2/16272.jpg]'s [b:The Book of Strange New Things|20697435|The Book of Strange New Things|Michel Faber|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1394824754l/20697435._SX50_.jpg|28178740]. Russell delves into the meaning of faith and community when our world view expands to include other planets and beings. The characters are wonderful: complex, deep. The relationships are well-drawn and feel real. My one reservation is the book's pacing. It takes a long time to get past the scene-setting on Earth to the alien culture first heard through audio of beautiful music. Once the colonists arrive on Rakhat, there's a lot that makes no sense, as if Russell realizes the book has gone long and needs to wrap up. I felt like this turned the characters into plot engines instead of the complex people we'd met earlier. They make decisions (no spoilers) that just seem idiotic and not belonging to the people we've met and come to know. But overall, a wonderful, exciting read. ( )
  MaximusStripus | Jul 7, 2020 |
In the year 2019, music is heard from another planet - the first confirmation of people out there. The Catholic Church's Jesuits send a group to investigate. This is the tale of those people and what happens to them. It's fascinating mainly because the people are. ( )
  susandennis | Jun 5, 2020 |
A good book, but not necessarily an enjoyable read. It feels like it plods along quite slowly to the ending that it's constantly hinting at, resulting in a feeling of "just get there already" instead of the perhaps desired "I can't wait until we get there". Everything about this is a journey, and luckily the end of the journey--while hard to get through--is powerful and not without hope despite the overarching themes. ( )
  Garden. | Jun 1, 2020 |
Let me be a bit real here. I was a bit anxious about reading this because it seemed to be yet another Jesuit first contact novel including aliens.

Now, let me be clear. I actually like religious ruminations when I'm in the right mood and when it's done well and when the context is backed up with solid world-building, whether local or extra-solar. Blish did it extremely well with his Jesuits and aliens. I was simply worried that this would be more of the same. Meaning of life and faith for the poor unsaved brothers from other systems kind of thing.

But actually, what I received was a prototypical near-LitSF that was erudite, humorous, full of likable and complex characters, and a full-blown excellent novel in structure, prose, and thriller-type twists.

And yes, there is also a lot about aliens, tragedy, loss of faith, and especially rape.

We know it's a tragedy before we even really begin. There are two timelines. Before. And after. The nearly saintly linguist-priest Emilio is the sole survivor of an 8-person mission to Alpha Centauri after a musical message gets decoded, luckily, by peeps bankrolled by the Vatican. He comes back mutilated, completely out of faith, calling himself the Whore of God (as in a reference to Beloved being the highest title in a harem), and who keeps everyone around him ignorant of the details.

We must learn about it the long way. But in the meantime, we're treated to present and past as others attempt to heal him and get him to talk and we're delighted by how fresh and funny and faithful he is early on.

The science bits aren't bad and Russell does a lot to keep it real, glossing over a few little issues such as power sources and stuff, but this isn't nearly as bad as some more recent LitSF titles I've read. This is actual SF with a deep and complex storyline about faith and tragedy and a really nasty surprise about the aliens. All three are intertwined.

No spoilers, but my god the end is pretty horrible. We're given a lot of great characters and characterizations, so losing them this way, and then seeing what Emilio had to go through, was damn rough.

A sparrow falling in the wood, but yet, the Father sees all, indeed.

My initial reservations were unfounded. Both atheists and the faithful can find wonderful things in here. Indeed, it's meant to be challenging as hell. And it is.

As for being a new-modern-classic for SF, I can definitely see it. Most of these other LitSF titles are lightweights in comparison. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
I liked The Sparrow a whole lot. Part of that is just that I like the premise: Jesuit First Contact? Hell yes! The Jesuits are the science-minded and intellectual ones among the Catholic orders, and at the same time very capable of actions and decision-making.

There are some things I positively adored about this book: I liked the world-building, both on Earth and off, and found the near future very relatable and not overdone towards u- or dystopia. Honestly, the character building and especially the dialogue were excellent. The characters were super alive and will stay with me for a while, as will their dialogue and development. The pacing was also excellent for me.

The plot and the aliens on the other hand were only so-so. The plot had its strengths, was well-told and not overly predictable (packed some punches towards the end). The aliens were too human/mammalian for my tastes. Communication has only a language/culture barrier, and is apparently easily overcome with a year or two of work and play. Much meh.

My real problem with the book involves how *everybody* in there deals with sexuality, namely prostitution and sexual assault. Apparently nobody is able to think when it comes to these things, or to talk, or to be sensible in any way. That's *not* because the people involved are Catholic monks (believe me), it's straight up the author's culture creeping in. Big time. It was distracting and made me increasingly annoyed, to the point of probably keeping me from reading the second book. ( )
  _rixx_ | May 24, 2020 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
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
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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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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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