Title: The Sparrow
Author: Mary Doria Russell
Summary: The novel begins in the year 2019, when the SETI program, at the Arecibo Observatory, picks up radio broadcasts of music from the vicinity of Alpha Centauri. The first expedition to Rakhat, the world that is sending the music, is organized by the Jesuit order. Only one of the crew, Father Emilio Sandoz, a priest, survives to return to Earth, and he is damaged physically and psychologically. The story is told in framed flashback, with chapters alternating between the story of the expedition and the story of Sandoz’ interrogation by the Jesuit order’s inquest, set up in 2059 to find the truth. Sandoz’ return has sparked great controversy – not just because the Jesuits sent the mission independent of United Nations oversight, but also because the mission ended disastrously. Contact with the UN mission, which sent Sandoz back to Earth alone in the Jesuit ship, has since been lost. (Goodreads Summary)
Why I Loved It: If all science fiction read like this I would be a hard core fan. Science Fiction + Sociology + Religion + Philosophy = beautiful traumatic story. I also recommend the sequel Children of God.
Who would like this: If you are interested in any of the above topics, I would recommended this. And don’t let the Science Ficiton part scare you away.
“After all, Ignatius of Loyola, a soldier who had killed and whored and made a thorough mess of his soul, said you could judge a prayer worthwhile simply if you could act more decently, think more clearly afterward. As D.W. once told him, “Son, sometimes it’s enough just to act less like a shithead.” And by that kindly if inelegant standard, Emilio Sandoz could believe himself to be a man of God.”
“You know what? I really resent the idea that the only reason someone might be good or moral is because they’re religious. I do what I do,” Anne said, biting off each word, “without hope of reward or fear of punishment. I do not require heaven or hell to bribe or scare me into acting decently, thank you very much.”
“…[That] is my dilemma. 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, 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…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.”
“Faced with the Divine, people took refuge in the banal, as though answering a cosmic multiple-choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs, or (c) recognize God? A vanishingly small number of people would recognize God, Anne had decided years before, and most of them had simply missed a dose of Thorazine.”