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The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell

Overall: 9
Readability: 9
Intelligence: 9

This book is often described with the phrase "Jesuits in Space". No, its not a comedy. Its a first contact story. No, its not a boring rehash of every other first contact story with standard plot devices and typical sci-fi archetypes. In fact, it is startlingly original, with characters that actually have depth to them... and the interpersonal relationships between them are both complex and empathetic (especially in the case of the Jesuit priests, which are damn near perfectly portrayed as basically normal people). So much so that the book becomes very disturbing when tragedies, both major and minor, rear their ugly heads. As James put it:
"It's a wild idea, sending off a Jesuit mission as humanity's first (secretively-sent) ambassadors to see what they make of the experience, and Russell pulls off this odd choice, makes it necessary to the deeper workings of her plot. She drives at cross-cultural misunderstandings without demonizing any particularly short-sighted view, sets up a terrible theological and personal conundrum, and is absolutely, utterly, completely and totally merciless in driving her unsuspecting characters into it. The conclusion is quite literally terrible, unswavering in its stripping down of that word to the terror at its core."
Its a fantastic book with excellent character depth, good plotting, and thought-provoking content, but, as you may have guessed, its certainly not for the faint of heart. The Sparrow ruthlessly challenges faith and ones sense of purpose in the universe. Emotionally gruelling, but highly recommended science fiction.

Sparrow/Mary Doria Russell Official Homepage Buy it here!

Further Discussion:
• Do you think it likely that we will make contact with extraterrestrials at some time in the future? What would the implications of such an event be?
• If we do luck upon a radio signal from a solar system less than a dozen light years away from our own, do you think humankind would mount an expedition to visit that place? If so, who would go?
• In the television show Star Trek, a law called the "Prime Directive" mandates the avoidance of interferance in alien cultures at all costs. Would this "prime directive" have changed the outcome of events in The Sparrow?
• What is this story really about?
*These questions are just a sample of what is contained in the reader's guide that comes with the book (towards the back - also includes an interview with the author). There are many other thought provoking questions there...

Contact by Carl Sagan
Nemesis by Isaac Asimov

book cover

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