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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
4,665None1,015 (4.21)1 / 603
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)

aliens (123) anthropology (29) Arthur C. Clarke Award (27) book club (34) Catholicism (60) Christianity (37) faith (39) fantasy (66) favorite (22) fiction (591) first contact (121) Jesuit (31) Jesuits (121) linguistics (22) literature (20) novel (83) own (34) read (89) religion (307) science fiction (1,001) sf (154) sff (43) space (29) space exploration (19) space travel (90) speculative fiction (50) spirituality (22) Theology (32) to-read (106) unread (44)
  1. 110
    Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (mrstreme)
  2. 91
    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. 00
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both juxtapose religion and science fiction. Hyperion is also [IMHO] a significantly better book.
  6. 00
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  7. 11
    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)
  8. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  9. 11
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  10. 11
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  11. 00
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
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English (245)  German (1)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (248)
Showing 1-5 of 245 (next | show all)
rabck from Waterfalling for one word challenge; TBC book; For the tag game. I usually don't like scifi, but this novel was compelling, with a twist of spirituality to it. When music is heard from a nearby galaxy in 2016, four Jesuit priests and four commoners with specific abilities are tapped to make the trip to Rahkat. The novel alternates between 2016-2020; the prep years and remembrances of the only survivor, priest Emilio Sandoz, who was sent back to Earth after being found by a second delegation from Earth. The novel tests faith, beliefs, different cultures, what happens if "discoverers" even inadvertently affect the local culture as they try to observe it. Overall an excellent novel with the ending that as Emilio calls it earlier - the facts are right, but the facts (why) are also wrong. ( )
  nancynova | Apr 14, 2014 |
The following is a collection of some quotes, and not a review.

Maybe THE quote of the book:

“There's an old Jewish story that says in the beginning God was everywhere and everything, a totality. But to make creation, God had to remove Himself from some part of the universe, so something besides Himself could exist. So He breathed in, and in the places where God withdrew, there creation exists."

So God just leaves?"

No. He watches. He rejoices. He weeps. He observes the moral drama of human life and gives meaning to it by caring passionately about us, and remembering."

Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine: Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it."

But the sparrow still falls.”

A quote on promises:

“..."we all make vows, Jimmy. And there is something very beautiful and touching and noble about wanting good impulses to be permanent and true forever," she said. "Most of us stand up and vow to love, honor and cherish someone. And we truly mean it, at the time. But two or twelve or twenty years down the road, the lawyers are negotiating the property settlement."
"You and George didn't go back on your promises."
She laughed. "Lemme tell ya something, sweetface. I have been married at least four times, to four different men." She watched him chew that over for a moment before continuing, "They've all been named George Edwards but, believe me, the man who is waiting for me down the hall is a whole lot different animal from the boy I married, back before there was dirt. Oh, there are continuities. He has always been fun and he has never been able to budget his time properly and - well, the rest is none of your business."
"But people change," he said quietly.
"Precisely. People change. Cultures change. Empires rise and fall. Shit. Geology changes! Every ten years or so, George and I have faced the fact that we have changed and we've had to decide if it makes sense to create a new marriage between these two new people." She flopped back against her chair. "Which is why vows are such a tricky business. Because nothing stays the same forever. Okay. Okay! I'm figuring something out now." She sat up straight, eyes focused somewhere outside the room, and Jimmy realized that even Anne didn't have all the answers and that was either the most comforting thing he'd learned in a long time or the most discouraging. "Maybe because so few of us would be able to give up something so fundamental for something so abstract, we protect ourselves from the nobility of a priest's vows by jeering at him when he can't live up to them, always and forever." She shivered and slumped suddenly, "But, Jimmy! What unnatural words. Always and forever! Those aren't human words, Jim. Not even stones are always and forever.”

As to Sandos' quandary:
“...[That] is my dilemma. 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, 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...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.”

And Anne's foreshadowing of Sandos' quandary:
“See that's where it falls apart for me!" Anne cried. "What sticks in my throat is that God gets the credit but never the blame. I just can't swallow that kind of theological candy. Either God's in charge or he's not...”

On linguistics:
“...I begin with songs. They provide a sort of skeleton grammar for me to flesh out. Songs of longing for future tense, songs of regret for past tense, and songs of love for present tense.”

A description of God and prayer, made to an alien life-form who might also share something similar:
“There are times...when we are in the midst of life-moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness-times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us. It may come as deep inner stillness or as a rush of overflowing emotion. It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or by a sleeping child. If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all it's unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to it's higher truth.

...When my people search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we call it praying.”

On why we seek to blame others:
“He's not a bad guy, John. It's human nature. He wanted it to be some mistake I made that he wouldn't have made, some flaw in me that he didn't share, so he could believe it wouldn't have happened to him. But it wasn't my fault. It was either blind, dumb, stupid luck from start to finish, in which case, we are all in the wrong business gentleman, or it was a God I cannot worship.”

On the vulnerability of love:
“You know what's the most terrifying thing about admitting that you're in love? You are just naked. You put yourself in harm's way and you lay down all your defenses. No clothes, no weapons. Nowhere to hide. Completely vulnerable. The only thing that makes it tolerable is to believe that the other person loves you back...” ( )
  lgaikwad | Mar 24, 2014 |
This would be the book I'd take to a desert island if allowed just one. Just an amazing effort. ( )
  joeyr | Mar 15, 2014 |
Very good, but very hard in parts. Should come with a trigger warning.

A striking contrast with “House of Suns” that I finished immediately before. The science isn’t bad so much as unbelievable in parts, but it’s kind of beside the point. The focus is on the characters, and the author excels here. I ended up feeling like Ursula Le Guin could have written this. ( )
  sben | Feb 11, 2014 |
There are some interesting aspects to this story, particularly the involvement of the Jesuits and the struggle to define the meaning of god. If god exists, his relationship to humans can not be unique. And does he exist if terrible things happen to innocents. However, this tale takes a long time to evolve and the "other world" that the humans travel to is pretty trite and standard stuff. ( )
  ghefferon | Jan 25, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 245 (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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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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 4 descriptions

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