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The sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The sparrow (original 1996; edition 2004)

by Mary Doria Russell

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,209289858 (4.19)1 / 739
Title:The sparrow
Authors:Mary Doria Russell
Info:New York : Ballantine Books, 2004.
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:adult, science fiction

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. 61
    Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card (sturlington)
    sturlington: Also about first contact with an alien civilization that humans cannot understand.
  4. 62
    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
    The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber (GCPLreader)
  6. 31
    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)
  7. 20
    Eifelheim by Michael Flynn (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Another Catholic priest deals with aliens
  8. 10
    Eden by Stanisław Lem (pitjrw)
    pitjrw: A much better book on the uncertainties, misapprehensions, and danger of first contact.
  9. 21
    Archangel by Sharon Shinn (espertus)
  10. 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.
  11. 00
    Wulfsyarn by Phillip Mann (AlanPoulter)
    AlanPoulter: Both feature an unusual mix of alien contact and religion
  12. 00
    Bright of the Sky by Kay Kenyon (Anonymous user)
  13. 00
    The Keys of the Kingdom by A. J. Cronin (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Missionary priests deal with abuse, spiritual questioning and alien cultures
  14. 11
    The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Tanya-dogearedcopy)
    Tanya-dogearedcopy: First Contact sections of both novels are remarkably similar
  15. 11
    Under the Skin by Michel Faber (Anonymous user)
  16. 12
    Hyperion by Dan Simmons (tetrachromat)
    tetrachromat: Both juxtapose religion and science fiction. Hyperion is also [IMHO] a significantly better book.
  17. 01
    Dark Eden by Chris Beckett (JGoto)
    JGoto: Not quite as good, but some similar themes and an interesting read.
  18. 01
    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
1990s (132)

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English (284)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  Japanese (1)  All languages (288)
Showing 1-5 of 284 (next | show all)
This is an AMAZING book about the conflict between religion and science and what happens when humans interject themselves into alien culture. Best idea: "God get's all of the credit and none of the blame." ( )
  kristina_brooke | Apr 15, 2016 |
This one made me feel all of the things - it shocked me, it inspired me, it broke my heart. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
This one made me feel all of the things - it shocked me, it inspired me, it broke my heart. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Though this book begins to build very slowly, it has much to say about tolerance, acceptance, linguistics, understandings between cultures, and religion.

Initially the book is constructed so that every chapter flips between the year 2019 and the years 2059 through 2061 and between Earth and an unnamed planet in the Alpha Centuri system. Although I wasn’t confused by the constant change because the author had good command of the characters and times, I found the constant back and forth very annoying. After about 60 pages the changes come less often and for longer periods of time allowing the reader to become more intimate with the characters, the time, and the world inhabited. Still I wasn’t fully pulled into the story until nearly 100 pages.

The characters are many and varied: Anne Edwards is older, warm, motherly, intelligent, educated, profane, and is the MD on the trip; Jimmy Quinn is young, smart, educated, incredibly patient, and the scientist who discovers this new alien life; Father Emilio Sandoz comes with a checkered past, was raised by the Jesuits, chose the priesthood when he was 17 and has never looked back, and is the linguist of the group; Sofia Mendes is supremely beautiful, an orphan, comes with her own checkered past, is brilliant, analytical, repressed, and tethered to a broker who decides where she works and on what; and there are 6 more characters to muddy or complete the crew complement of the space ship each with their own strengths and weaknesses.

The relationships between the characters are as rich as the characters themselves, and the new alien characters merely add to that richness. The author obviously enjoyed creating and imbuing her characters with strengths and weaknesses with which she could work in the plot. A very surprising and satisfying read. ( )
  whymaggiemay | Mar 28, 2016 |
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is an extraordinary, haunting novel. It is one of my favorite books (along with the sequel, Children of God.) I remember checking it out from the library years ago, reading it, and immediately reading it again. There have only been a handful of books in my life that I immediately HAD to read again. After that I bought my own copy.

Ostensibly a science fiction novel about a Jesuit mission to a new planet and the aftermath, it is also a novel that examines faith and what it means to question one's faith. The narrative switches smoothly between the years 2016 and 2060. In 2016 an extraterrestrial civilization is discovered through their songs heard on radio waves at a listening post. The Jesuits quickly assemble a team to send to the newly discovered planet, Rakhat. In 2060 a group of Jesuits gather to attempt to discover an explanation for the failure of the mission by its sole surviving priest, Emilio Sandoz, who is physically mutilated and emotionally devastated.

While we know the mission failed horribly right from the start, suspense builds as the full extent of what happened and why Sandoz is accused of prostitution and killing a child is not revealed until the very end. The mission initially seems as blessed as the priest's motto, "Deus veult" (translated by them as "God wants it that way") until events render it to a much more ironic meaning. I appreciate the direction she took this first contact story. Like missionaries in the past, they did not mean harm. (I've included some quotes below from the author interview found in my edition of The Sparrow.)

Mary Doria Russell is an excellent writer, both technically and in her story lines. The characters are well developed. The two narratives, while separate until the end, merge into a complete story. I don't want to leave anyone with the impression that The Sparrow is an easy book to read - mentally, it's not - however the ideas presented stay with you long after you have finished the novel.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best and one I will undoubtedly reread again and again.
( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
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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."
"'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.'" "But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said.
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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 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)

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