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The sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The sparrow (original 1996; edition 2004)

by Mary Doria Russell

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4,781255973 (4.2)1 / 651
Title:The sparrow
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:adult, science fiction

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
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  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
    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)
  9. 21
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  10. 10
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  11. 21
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  12. 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.
  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. 01
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  16. 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 (251)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All languages (255)
Showing 1-5 of 251 (next | show all)
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 |
This One Will Stay with You

Cautionary tale about first contact and The Law of Unintended Consequences, resulting in betrayal, loss, and shattered faith in God. I'm not sure I need to read it again, but I'm very glad I did. Powerful stuff. ( )
  Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
This book stirred up emotions in me, I can best sum up in the one word--disquieting. Science fiction is out of my comfort zone but this novel seemed interesting enough to try.

In the not-to-distant future, scientists searching for life on other planets, in a SETI-type project, hear beautiful music from a planet near Alpha Centauri. They want to explore and to bring back knowledge: a crew of eight: an engineer, a doctor, other scientists and several Jesuits make this interplanetary journey. The life on the planet starts benignly enough with the meeting of a friendly people, but the Earthlings begin dying; and once they reach the city of the beautiful music events lead swiftly to a horrific climax. This book was touted as a spiritual journey, but to me the end led nowhere. The book alternated between 2015-19 [preparations for the journey and events on the planet] then 2059-60 when the sole survivor has returned, broken in body and spirit, and tells his story to the Father General of the Jesuits.

The style was easy-to-read and the characters were interesting. Anything scientific or technical I just accepted, since I am neither an engineer, computer person, nor a physicist. I don't know nor care if the physics or technical stuff is true or bogus. I did wonder why, though, when the space travelers landed upon the planet, there was no need for space suits, why a garden of earth vegetables would grow so easily in a completely foreign atmosphere. I could see the garden was a literary device: a catalyst for what followed. I did wonder about sexual practices between the Earthlings and the Rakhatians; would they be so similar to ours?( ( )
  janerawoof | Jul 19, 2014 |
When I picked The Sparrow to include among my list of favorite books to re-read this year, I remembered being intrigued both by the plot and pacing of the story as well as by the themes explored. Re-reading the book allowed me to revisit an intriguing story while also thinking more deeply about challenging issues that Russell explores through her characters. The story tells of a mission to the planet Rakhat by an eclectic group of explorers - Jesuit priests, a doctor, an engineer, a linguist, and others. The explorers encounter two species and gradually piece together how society on Rakhat differs from society on earth. The story is told through flashbacks from an explorer who has returned to earth, and Russell does an amazing job of world building and developing complex characters.

However, it is the themes that underlie the story that sets this book apart from other similar exploration novels. One of the priests, Father Emilio Sandoz, firmly believes that God has created the opportunity for him to visit another society. At one point, he reflects on this: "Why, he had once wondered, would a perfect God create the universe? To be generous with it, he believed now. For the pleasure of seeing pure gifts appreciated. Maybe that's what it meant to find God: to see what you have been given, to know divine generosity, to appreciate the large things and the small. . ." (p. 253).

However, both Emilio and other members of the group struggle to understand God's role in some of the tragedies that occur. When Anne, the doctor in the group, questions why God would have allowed one of the expedition members to die, Father Marc Robichaux attempts an answer in a sermon at the funeral: "It is the human condition to ask questions like Anne's last night and to receive no plain answers. Perhaps this is because we can't understand the answers, because we are incapable of knowing God's ways and God's thoughts. We are, after all, only very clever tailless primates, doing the best we can, but limited. Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable.. . The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne's are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God."

Russell doesn't provide easy answers to the questions that are raised in this book, but she does us all a service by exploring them from the perspective of multiple characters and by allowing enough space for us to reaching our own conclusions. This is a book that I could re-read often and still find new layers. ( )
2 vote porch_reader | Jul 5, 2014 |
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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
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.

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