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The Sparrow: A Novel by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow: A Novel (original 1996; edition 1996)

by Mary Doria Russell

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4,858261952 (4.2)1 / 677
Title:The Sparrow: A Novel
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:Villard (1996), Edition: 1st, Hardcover, 408 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996)

  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. 10
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
  6. 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.
  7. 10
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  8. 00
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  9. 00
    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
  10. 00
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  11. 11
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  12. 00
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  13. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  14. 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)
  15. 11
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  16. 00
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  17. 00
    Girl in Landscape by Jonathan Lethem (sturlington)
  18. 01
    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 (257)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All languages (261)
Showing 1-5 of 257 (next | show all)
I was hooked from the moment John Candotti took pity on Emilio Sandoz, mutilated survivor of the Jesuit mission to make first contact on another planet. Full review here. ( )
  CarsonKicklighter | Jan 26, 2015 |
Description: 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.

Thoughts: I will admit that I'm a little more than shattered by this book. Shaken, disgusted, depressed, uplifted and amazed at all the same time. Damn.

Thanks to those that suggested this book to me because I'm so glad that I read it. For a novel that is far from perfect- the pacing is weird, the major milestones oddly delayed and then rushed, the too abrupt resolution- the voices that Russell brings forth are staggeringly human and touching and oh so real. Their juxtopositions- to each other and to God and to the inhabitants of Rakhat- are perfect and encompassing and I can't imagine a reader not finding something to respond to in one of their stories.

The story of that unfolds is realistic (even for being about alien planets) and terrifyingly plausiable. You want to suspend judgement from a human Western perspective but it's very hard not to be affected by what happens. And this is probably the part that spoke to me, the former Anthropologist, the most. The delimma of contact and non-interferance in the face of human emotion and the instinct of community. I love that Russell's own background in Anthro is so vivid here in her attention to the very real concerns one would face in this situation and especially how almost impossible it is to completely remove one's own sociocultural filter in order to avoid mistakes. The fact that the story ends up pinioning on such a small, supposedly well thought-out action is just perfect.

The religious ramifications and implications are the same that I've always personally struggled with, something that's made me a tenuous agnostic. While I can recognize that Emilio's position is an extreme one, it's a rational one and a question that I am drawn to. This was a very nice and intriguing way of exploring faith and the nature of God.

I only wish there had been more time spent on the Rakhati cultures and characters and that the conclusion hadn't come so abruptly. I now see that there is a sequel so maybe that is why. I'm not ready to go back into that world yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

Rating: 4.1

Liked: 4.5
Plot: 3.5
Characterization: 4.5
Writing: 3.5

http://www.librarything.com/topic/153717#4088548 ( )
  leahbird | Jan 17, 2015 |
Look forward to discussing this book with someone! An amazingly realistic portrayal of a futuristic journey to a alien world. First encounters with a new intelligent species and the resulting fallout. Of course, having the "first encounter" team being a group of Jesuits changes the dynamic. A little slow at times, but overall, a very intriguing read. Made me think... There's a reason that Star Trek had the prime directive. ( )
  asawyer | Dec 31, 2014 |
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 |
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Mary Doria Russellprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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."
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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 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)

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