Powerful... Father Emilio Sandoz [is] the only survivor of a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat, "a soul...looking for God." We first meet him in Italy...sullen and bitter.... But he was not always this way, as we learn through flashbacks that tell the story of the ill-fated trip.... The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and intelligence.
San Francisco Chronicle
A notable achievement... Russell shows herself to be a skillful storyteller who subtly and expertly builds suspense.
Two narratives—the mission to the planet and its aftermath four decades later—interweave to create a suspenseful tale.
It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future.
San Antonio Express News
If you have to send a group of people to a newly discovered planet to contact a totally unknown species, whom would you choose? How about four Jesuit priests, a young astronomer, a physician, her engineer husband, and a child prostitute-turned-computer-expert? That's who Mary Doria Russell sends in her new novel, The Sparrow. This motley combination of agnostics, true believers, and misfits becomes the first to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat with both enlightening and disastrous results.... Vivid and engaging... An incredible novel.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Russell's debut novel...focuses on her characters, and it is here that the work truly shines. An entertaining infusion of humor keeps the book from becoming too dark, although some of the characters are so clever that they sometimes seem contrived. Readers who dislike an emphasis on moral dilemmas or spiritual quests may be turned off, but those who enjoy science fiction because it can create these things are in for a real treat.
Science Fiction Weekly
The dense prose in this complex tale may at first seem off-putting, but hang on for the ride; it's riveting! —Jennifer Henderson
An enigma wrapped inside a mystery sets up expectations that prove difficult to fulfill in Russell's first novel, which is about first contact with an extraterrestrial civilization. The enigma is Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist whose messianic virtues hide his occasional doubt about his calling. The mystery is the climactic turn of events that has left him the sole survivor of a secret Jesuit expedition to the planet Rakhat and, upon his return, made him a disgrace to his faith. Suspense escalates as the narrative ping-pongs between the years 2016, when Sandoz begins assembling the team that first detects signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life, and 2060, when a Vatican inquest is convened to coax an explanation from the physically mutilated and emotionally devastated priest. A vibrant cast of characters who come to life through their intense scientific and philosophical debates help distract attention from the space-opera elements necessary to get them off the Earth. Russell brings her training as a paleoanthropologist to bear on descriptions of the Runa and Jana'ata, the two races on Rakhat whose differences are misunderstood by the Earthlings, but the aliens never come across as more than variations of primitive earthly cultures. The final revelation of the tragic human mistake that ends in Sandoz's degradation isn't the event for which readers have been set up. Much like the worlds it juxtaposes, this novel seems composed of two stories that fail to come together.
Brilliant first novel about the discovery of extraterrestrial life and the voyage of a party of Jesuit missionaries to Alpha Centauri. Russell lays down two narratives: One begins in 2059, in the aftermath of the mission; the other in 2019, when a young astronomer intercepts a transmission of haunting songs from Alpha Centauri. In the latter, a linguist and Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz swiftly organizes a group of Jesuits and civilian specialists to turn an asteroid into a spaceship. The ship will reach the singing planet, called Rakhat, in four years of passenger time, even though 17 years will pass on Earth. In the narrative beginning in 2059, therefore, the mission's only survivor, Sandoz himself, is only a decade older. But he is a broken man physically and spiritually. The mission began well: Rakhat was beautiful and bountiful, and the men and women from Earth lived peacefully alongside a gentle and dreamy race, rather like the eloi of H.G. Wells's The Time Machine, here called the runa. Then, inadvertently, the visitors improve the local diet, causing a surge in births among the Runa; suddenly, another, fiercer race appears to put things right. It seems that the Jana'ata raise the Runa like rabbits. The newborn are slain and eaten, as is the party from Earth, except for Sandoz, who is taken to the strange capitol city and sold into a brothel. There, he is raped repeatedly by the great poet who wrote the angelic songs that fetched the Jesuits in the first place. A startling portrait of an alien culture and of the nature of God as well, since, in his utter humiliation and in the annihilation of his spirit, Sandoz is reborn in faith. Shades of Wells, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Arthur C. Clarke, with just a dash of Edgar Rice Burroughs—and yet strikingly original, even so.
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