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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
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The Sparrow (original 1996; edition 1997)

by Mary Doria Russell, Mary Doria Russell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,429302800 (4.2)1 / 776
Member:AnneDC
Title:The Sparrow
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Other authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Ballantine Books (1997), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 408 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

Work details

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996)

  1. 130
    Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (mrstreme)
  2. 112
    A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. (prezzey)
    prezzey: Both are good solid science fiction novels featuring Roman Catholic monks.
  3. 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.
  4. 61
    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sturlington)
    sturlington: Also about first contact with an alien civilization that humans cannot understand.
  5. 30
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  6. 20
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
  7. 10
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  8. 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)
  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. 10
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  11. 00
    Daniel Stein, Interpreter: A Novel by Ljudmila Ulitskaya (spiphany)
    spiphany: A central theme of both books is the examination of faith, both within and outside of organized religion
  12. 00
    Black Robe: A Novel by Brian Moore (amanda4242)
  13. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  14. 00
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  15. 11
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Tanya-dogearedcopy)
    Tanya-dogearedcopy: First Contact sections of both novels are remarkably similar
  16. 11
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  17. 11
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  18. 01
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  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 (298)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All (302)
Showing 1-5 of 298 (next | show all)
Ad majorem Dei gloriam. For the glory of God.

"The Sparrow" is partly science-fiction, partly thriller, and partly and exploration of what it means to have faith in God.

Truth be told, this story didn't need to be science fiction, it could have been set in an unexplored part of the globe several hundred years ago as easily as it was set on the newly discovered planet, Rakhat. The Jesuit mission to Rakhat follows the Jesuit tradition of missions seeking the salvation and perfection of human beings.

But when music is picked up by Jimmy Quinn, a friend of Jesuit priest Emilio Sandoz, the Jesuits are quick to organize a mission to the planet. The mission is comprised almost entirely of people close to Emilio Sandoz, the protagonist. This is one of the aspects of the story I had problems with. it seemed a little to pat, a little too convenient.

The book, published in 1997, spans nearly 40 years, from 2019 to 2060. We hear the story through flashbacks and so we jump back and forth between present day (2060) and the years of the mission (roughly 2019 to 2025?)

At it's heart though, The Sparrow tells the story of Emilio's struggle with believing in a God who lets awful things happen. Let me be more specific, Emilio has faith in a God who lets awful things happen to others, its when they happen to him that he struggles.

I won't say too much more as I don't want to give away too much. I enjoyed the book insofar as it kept my attention and it moved along quickly, and the writing is excellent. I do have problems with some of what the book is trying to convey as far as the meaning of faith and religion, but still the book is worth a read. ( )
  bravewoman | Feb 3, 2017 |
utter drivel ( )
  Baku-X | Jan 10, 2017 |
At the end of the book. there is an interview with the author who is an academic with a a Phd in Biological Anthropology. This was her first-novel and it shows. Her characters tend to be overdrawn and I think the book is too long by about 1/4 or more. It reads very slowly.

She spends too much time on character development and the book feels like a new author who doesn't want to miss anything and just brings too much detail and background to her characters.

This matters because the book doesn't really begin to deliver until the last 60 or 70 pages.

The drama unfolds slowly and thoughtfully in this novel. You can see that the author did her homework and knows the terrain well enough.

There is a lot of rich and interesting detail about how species build and maintain civilizations and how they act wisely or foolishly to maintain their balance with nature.

I did end up caring about the characters and their fates right to the end but was glad to close the book out and frankly found it to be a bit of a let down.

I would compare it in some ways to Margaret Atwood's Madd Adam Trilogy, both attempt to take on serious subjects in a thoughtful way, both works are serious speculative fiction. Atwood shows her experience and skill by painting characters with such a light and sure touch where Russell just seems to throw everything agains the wall to attempt to bring life to her people.

It was an interesting read. It didn't end up on my readdus-interuptus shelf. You will probably enjoy it if you like slow, thoughtful fiction or the Jesuits or the big questions: how can a good God do evil things ?

If you like it, I would absolutely recommend Atwood's trilogy. They are both works of speculative fiction that really try to grapple with thoughtful and provocative ideas. ( )
  blnq | Dec 27, 2016 |
I want to give this book 2.5 stars. I thought the first half was stellar, and the last 1/3 horrendous. ( )
  mkunruh | Nov 13, 2016 |
Reread 10/2016 ( )
  R_B | Oct 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 298 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionscalculated
diBondone,GiottoCover artsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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."
"'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.'" "But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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 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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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