[Epub] The Sparrow By Mary Doria Russell – Prestigelakesidehabitat.info
Sadly, goodreads has yet to allow a kill it with fire rating, so I ll have to content myself with a one star review and a nice cup of tea to quell the overpowering nausea Not due to the shocking ending, which I would have welcomed somewhere around page two Not due to the incompetent sci and incredibly half assed fi Due to the revolting, self congratulatory, aren t we so clever and cute, wink to the audience characters But perhaps this was intentional Perhaps Ms Russell intended her audience to greet the tragic death scenes with laughter, loud cheers, and grateful relief that these idiots will FINALLY shut up No There s still than 100 pages left God, damn it.I can only imagine Ms Russell s thought process went a little something like this Now I want to set this book in the future, but I don t actually want to go to the effort of developing a rich, textured, and believable future society I know I ll have all my main characters be obsessed with the 20th century And they ll do nothing but reference 20th century pop culture And then they ll all stand around complimenting each other on how funny and brilliant and totally sexy they all are I mean, anyone reading my book will HAVE to think my main character is witty if all my other characters say he s witty Ooo Ooo And they ll all agree with everything I think, and one of them will actually be me, but no one will notice because I ll be super subtle about it and You would think that at this point someone would have stepped in, if not for Ms Russell s sake, if not for the sake of future generations, then for the whole field of science fiction They ve already dumped Stephenie Meyer on us Did we really need this too What is a life worth living, and what is a life wasted, and why What is worth dying for, what is worth living for, and why What shall I teach my child to value, and what shall I urge that child to avoid, and why What am I owed by others and what do I owe others, and why Each human culture provides a different set of answers to those questions, but deity is nearly always embedded in the Why The above quote is from Mary Doria Russell in her Afterword of this brilliant novel I think they sum up perfectly the very same questions that I found myself grappling with while reading this Russell certainly won t give you any answers to these questions, but she will give you plenty of intellectual food for thought I admit to lying awake many nights in the past pondering the questions of the universe, but of late I knew the answers would not come so I set aside such contemplation Russell managed to reawaken such reflections I won t get into the details of the plot just suffice to say that on the surface The Sparrow is about a first contact made with another planet It appears to be a science fiction novel therefore, non lovers of the genre may mistakenly steer away from this However, this is so much than the introduction to an alien species Sure, we have the opportunity to meet these, but in reality it isn t all that different from making contact with another culture albeit one that is completely unfamiliar to us More than a physical journey, the characters in this novel are on a spiritual journey The character development is superb Father Emilio Sandoz is a Jesuit priest but wait, don t run away quite yet He is someone that you will not be able to get out of your head once you see his soul bared to you in all of its most human components The way the novel is structured, we are taken back and forth in time from post mission to the preparation for the mission, as well as to the mission itself We know from the outset that Emilio Sandoz is tormented and my heart broke for him What could possibly have happened to this man that has turned him into such a tortured human being Aside from Emilio Sandoz, there are a number of other characters that are a pleasure to get to know Perhaps my two favorites were Anne and George, in their sixties and happily married Anne doesn t buy into the whole idea of a God, but that doesn t stop her from sustaining a valuable and close friendship with Emilio The two are sounding boards for each other s beliefs and doubts, and their conversations are priceless Anne is very spirited, and her thoughts on marriage are another source of wisdom for any reader that is so inclined to glean a bit thought about this institution as well At one point she says,People change Cultures change Empires rise and fall Shit Geology changes Every ten years or so, George and I have faced the fact that we have changed and we ve had to decide if it makes sense to create a new marriage between these two new peopleAnyone with a spouse can likely relate to this I know it certainly made me consider my own relationship I could carry on about this for quite some time, but I don t think I can really do the book justice There is a lot to ponder here My mind is beginning to spin into those dizzying heights that leave me feeling rather breathless and inarticulate Much like the feeling I get when my son drags me onto some of those terrifying yet thrilling rollercoaster rides that he is wild for All I can say is that you don t have to be a religious person to read this book You don t have to be a science fiction devotee But if you have ever stopped to consider what is out there that is bigger than yourself and what role we as humans play in this universe, then you might want to give some serious thought to reading this book For my part, I am not done with Father Emilio Sandoz s journey, and will continue on with Children of God, the sequel to this oneWe need not choose one kind of majesty, forsaking all others I had wanted to read The Sparrow since its release back in 1996 1997 I had seen a review of it and loved the basic idea of future Jesuits being the first missionaries to make contact with the first sentient alien species discovered But I lost that review and was never able to figure out the name of the book or the author I tried to discover it everywhere I went, and all those I asked were oblivious I really thought I would have no trouble tracking it down, but I couldn t, so after a while I gave up.Now, over ten years later, I discovered Mary Doria Russell s masterpiece and am disappointed that I didn t read it sooner I feared many times over while reading The Sparrow that my disappointment would be complete.The Sparrow is so good, you see, that as I moved from moment to moment, following Father Emilio Sandoz s broken narrative, I was sure that there was no way Russell could deliver on the promise of her writing It was so good it was great, and I worried that it was too good to maintain its level throughout Experience with much literary disappointment was steeling me for a let down.Creating Suspense One of the things Russell did was to create suspense in the story with all the skill and technique of Alfred Hitchcock Hitchcock provided an example of how to craft suspense in an interview many years ago, relating this scenario show the audience a bomb being planted under the seat in the witness stand, then bring the witness in and have him take a seat The man goes on answering questions, going through the action we expect of him, totally oblivious to what is coming, thus letting the audience worry about the bomb The audience wonders when the bomb will go off Who will the bomb injure Is there a chance for the man to be saved How will he be saved How will he die And the audience s tension rises for every minute that ticks by without a resolution.It s a cinematic version of dramatic irony, and Russell is a master of her own prose version We the audience are positioned as the tribunal of Jesuits, listening to Father Sandoz s history of the mission to Rakhat, but we are given droplets of information ahead of our brethren that none but Sandoz and Father General Guiliani have access to These droplets set up Russell s entire narrative structure, making the story compulsively readable by piquing our need to know , our need to understand how these terrible things we know must happen actually happened.Complete Characters But this need to turn pages, this desire Russell kindled in me to know it all and know it all as quickly as possible, was steadily tempered by my desire to stay with the characters she crafted I didn t want to leave Emilio Sandoz to his torment I wanted to prolong my stay in his presence I wanted to remain with Anne and George, D.W., Marc Robichaux, Sophia, Jimmy, Father Behr, Father Candotti, Father Reyes, Father General Guiliani and even Father Voelker and the Jana ata trader Supaari I wanted to stay with them so much that I found myself slowing down my reading, setting the book aside even while another part of my mind tugged me back to turn the pages.The reason was how deeply Russell made me feel her people They were real for me in a way that few characters have been reallyit s only my favourite books that have achieved what Russell achieved, character being important to me than anything Their decisions made sense, their love for one another made sense, their desires and cares, their anger and frustration, their actions and reactions They were real and true And I felt them as though they were real people in my world.Morality Then there was The Sparrow s struggle with morality I am not a moral person but I am an highly ethical one, and Russell s management of the big moral questions moved me Contemporary or futuristic moral struggles in literature often bore me, or even anger me with their preachiness or closed minded simplicity, but not the struggles of the priests in The Sparrow These men were struggling with their morality and their God in passionate, energetic, complex and vital ways And the heart of the struggle was Emilio Sandoz, the man who loved his God the deepest and had his faith and love shattered in the worst possible ways.He described the struggle best when he said 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 This meditation on responsibility is pivotal for all of the characters morality, not just the Jesuits, but this pivot is most emotionally raw for Father Sandoz, and his position as our narrator makes his struggle, to some extent, our own.Disappointment I expected that all this excellence was too good to be true I expected Russell to lose her nerve in the end, to take the easy route of evil, thereby absolving all of the missionaries from their own responsibilities based on the scapegoating of the VaRakhati specifically the Jana ata And for one moment, during one act of Jana ata brutality, I thought she had done what I feared, but Russell stood fast and said what needed to be said through Sandoz 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 payand 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 moral This moment is an act of true authorial bravery, solidifying The Sparrow s place in my pantheon of books while ensuring that no disappointment could taint Russell s fine work.There are quibblous moments in the book that stroked my fur backwards, such as Russell s tendency to focus on her characters joyous moments of laughter and rejoicing I ve never seen people laugh so much or so easily as the Jesuit missionaries and their party, except in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel or the veneration of Anne by every being she met, but these are meaningless when faced with the triumphs of The Sparrow.I could go on discussing linguistics, the clear link between Mary Doria Russell and the great Ursula LeGuin, the subtly handled science, the concepts of culture and race, the manifestations of violence, rape, prostitution, art, love and scent but all of that would be superfluous As is most of what I have written Suffice to say that The Sparrow is a masterpiece that Russell will likely never better I wish I had written her words And I hope to meet her one day so I can thank her properly for the experience. What a strange, accomplished nautilus of a novel, every chamber containing both joy and tragedy. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was Russell s first novel and was published in 1996 Winning many accolades and several awards, including the Arthur C Clarke Award, it describes a first contact between humans and an alien race A group led by Jesuit priests travels to a planet near Alpha Centauri after alien singing is picked up from interspace radio signals This is a beautifully written novel with brilliant characterization really the greatest strength of the novel that is poignant in its narrative and painfully brutal in its inevitable path towards a tragedy that is interwoven throughout the bittersweet story Told by alternating timeline perspectives, the reader learns of the action by the protagonist s bitter memories of the doomed trip and from present tense action of the trip itself These scenes are painfully alive for the reader who has a theatrical ironic view of what must ultimately come The look back sections are also difficult to read as the priest struggles with his ability to deal with the psychological damage of the trip and his return This really transcends the science fiction genre and is almost of a psychological or philosophical thriller The reader will also be led down a theological path of discovery, questions and hard fought resolutions An excellent story, masterfully crafted but with an overwhelming sense of tragedy and loss. I ve hit page 199 of The Sparrow and the viscosity of the text is increasing.By page 12, I had a lot of hope for this book By page 88 I was really into the book, and thinking there was a good chance this was a 4 or 5 star book At this point though, I m not sure I can summon enough conviction up to finish it.Russell takes a gamble with her story of telling it from the beginning and end toward the middle, and relies extremely heavily on foreshadowing It s high risk technique with a big payoff, and while it is somewhat effective at first in generating interest in the story, after about 130 pages of foreshadowing gloom and horror, it gets really tiring It s like taking a bad page from some of the worst of Kurt Vonnegut s literary tics, only where Vonnegut comes off as pretentious or even pandering, Russell is coming off as being a bit of an amateur Even worse, making the first third of your story foreshadowing with nothing happening is I think promising a payoff that is so large that I don t see at this point how she can deliver a sufficiently big twist or epiphany to justify it.There are a lot of things to like about this book its witty intelligent dialogue, its ambition, and its quality prose But the chief merit of the book so far is the sensitivity to human culture that Mary Doria Russell brings to her work Her skill and knowledge as an anthropologist shows, and in particular she envisions the social fabric of the world of 2016 in a way that is believable and seems to be almost prescient The same easy believability cannot be said for almost any other aspect of her work Her characters are all little than caricatures, with the sort of exaggerated easily identifiable physical features that you d expect of characters in a comic book or role playing game The physicist is 6 6 and scarecrow thin The mathematician is a petite and impossibly beautiful ex prostitute The pilot is impossibly ugly and speaks such an exaggerated Texan slang that the portrayal is embarrassingly close to racism The main character Emilio is a roguishly charming and impossibly handsome Jesuit priest He s essentially an agnostic that wants to believe, who hubristically seizes on the mission to another world as a way to reconcile his own lack of faith in his God His chief sounding board, and seemingly the author s chief voice, is Anne a 64 year old silver haired but still sexually precocious doctor and hostess who is always ready with wit and wine Both characters seem to be someone s fantasy rather than real people, and tellingly Anne s husband George is the least well drawn and least independent of the central characters I m finding it increasingly difficult to suspend my disbelief While I can easily believe the social developments that appear to have happened by 2016, it s simply ludicrous to believe that by 2016 we will have sufficient in space infrastructure and technical process that a private organization will be able to mount an interstellar mission It seems highly unlikely that a technological civilization would be found orbiting our nearest neighbor It seems even unlikely that news of the discovery of said alien civilization would create only a small and passing sensation in the press, or that any of the major world governments would simply allow such a singularly important event as contact with an alien species to be unregulated I mean, I would think contact with a new sentient species would be perceived as a matter of the utmost delicacy, given that the potential extinction of either species is on the line should matters go wrong But as Russell would have it, the discovery of mankind s first extraterrestrial neighbor generates somewhat less interest than the Y2K bug.Equally bad, it seems impossible to me that supposedly excellent scientists would fail to develop contact protocols and would arrive at a distant planet inhabited by a sentient species with no clear idea what they intend to do This last one is for me the near mortal blow to the story Not only are no contact protocols developed, and no plans made, and no experiments scheduled, and no egos bruised fighting over whose theoretical models should be attempted first, but upon reaching the planet, the team takes essentially no environmental precautions and stupidly starts sampling everything that looks remotely edible This, quite unsurprisingly, leads to the death of one of the crew This is a severe problem because we ve been foreshadowing a tragedy the whole time and the author somewhat unsuccessfully has been trying to make the characters very sympathetic, congenial and witty so that this tragedy will produce some sort of big emotional payoff when its elements are finally revealed In what amounts to the prologue chapter, Russell voices what appears to be something of a thesis statement Through the thoughts of one of her most sympathetic characters she writes The mission, he thought, probably failed because of a series of logical, reasonable, carefully considered decisions, each of which seemed like a good idea at the time But at this point I ve not been seeing a lot of logical, reasonable, carefully considered decisions I m seeing characters behaving like such complete buffoons that the vibe I m getting is slasher film than tragedy, and if they keep acting so foolishly I m going to be rooting for their gruesome deaths before it s all over Well, I m finally done with The Sparrow For all that foreshadowing, Russell ends up spoiling most of the twists either explicitly or by inference long before the story is complete There isn t a really big epiphany at the end, and the last thing she chooses to resolve seems almost anticlimactic to the point of unbelievably.Judged as a science fiction book or a non science fiction book, this is a book with major flaws As a non science fiction book, it s very difficult or impossible to have sympathy for the characters because their mistakes are in many cases so egregious and have so predictable of consequences Some of the Mary Sue isms which would be forgivable in a sci fi book are made to grate precisely because the author builds up how hyper competent the people are, and then makes them jump through hoops of stupidity so as to achieve her tragic story goals The slasher movie vibe was palpable Ultimately, it s difficult to believe that anyone considers Emilio that saintly Speaking as a religious person myself, I never got the impression that Emilio was acting with divine guidance and never understood why anyone would have seen him as such His faith was childish in all the worst ways rather than all the better ones He seemed infected with Hubris, projecting his hopes, desires, and needs on to God, and then blaming God when his Emilio s plans didn t work out He never struck me as someone who walked with God or who had some spiritual gift the some real people have And, I found it difficult to believe that Emilio, who has lived such a hard brutal life, if he had any faith, would let simple Latin male machismo get in the way.As a science fiction book, the story fails for several reasons, not the least of which is none of the participants seems to be particularly skilled in hard sciences The biology of the story was utterly unbelievable You can t move from one end of the country to the other, much less to a foreign country, without spending at least the first six weeks sick as your body builds immunity to local pathogens and your digestive tract accommodates new flora Yet, these people go to a whole new world and don t show the slightest concern for the fact that they ll be encountering microorganisms wholly unlike anything they ve ever encountered, or that they ll be exposing the new world to the same Old world explorers didn t have a clue about the consequences of exposing the New World population to small pox, but modern explorers have no such ignorance The events of this story are scientific irresponsibility to the point of being criminal.I could have rated this story just two stars or even less, based on the flaws and the fact that I nearly put this story down unfinished twice But I think some consideration has to be given to the ambition, seriousness, and thoughtfulness of the author This story gives me a lot to chew over and has a lot better prose than most stories I d just give two stars So I m tentatively giving the story three stars, even if it wasn t as enjoyable as most stories I d actually say of, I liked it This is Mary Doria Russell s first novel, and it shows I can only hope that she has a long and productive career, because the talent is there to produce a true masterwork that puts her in the first rank among science fiction authors However, this wasn t it. This is the third SF story I ve read where a Jesuit priest goes on an expedition to another planet and suffers a spiritual crisis as a result It s almost becoming a sub genre I don t want to call Emilio a whiner or anything obviously, what happens to him is truly horrible But, much as I hate to say it, his tragedy seemed lightweight compared to the other two, and I felt disappointed I was expecting something a little cosmic in scale.Of the three stories, the one I found most effective was Arthur C Clarke s classic short, The Star They set course for a supernova remnant and find a half melted planet on the outskirts of what used to be its solar system There s a deeply buried time capsule planted by the alien civilization which was destroyed by the explosion The aliens evidently had plenty of warning, but no chance to escape This was all they could do The priest spends a lot of time looking at the records and artifacts, and is greatly moved by them.They also let the humans get a precise fix on the date of the explosion, which was previously just guessed to within a few centuries The Jesuit does the calculations, and makes a horrifying discovery The light from the supernova would have arrived on Earth in 1 A.D At the end of the story, he is wringing his hands How could God have destroyed this innocent alien race, just to provide a beacon to shine over Bethlehem OK, I found that suitably impressive And, even though it s poorly written, James Blish s A Case of Conscience is also grandiose enough to justify the SF setting, rather than making it a historical novel set in the colonial era There s this planet populated by a race of lizard like aliens At first, they seem harmless enough They re kind, peaceful and very civilized But, if you re prepared to accept the author s loopy theology, the mere fact that they have this perfect society without any belief in God is an affront to the teachings of the Church Then the aliens also provide living proof of the correctness of evolution, since their young visibly recapitulate all the evolutionary stages after they ve hatched Thus and I must admit that the details of the argument were a little obscure to me , it follows that the whole planet was created by Satan in order to tempt mankind There is an apocalyptic showdown, the details of which I shan t reveal, but, even if the book is crap, at least it s crap on a motorcycle.So, two hard acts to follow At one point, I wondered if Mary Doria Russell was trying to update the Blish formula, and produce a better packaged version of it That might be worth doing The closer I got to the ending, the harder I found it to see what the payoff could be, and when I got there it thought it was dismayingly prosaic Did we need to go to Alpha Centauri for this Well I don t want to knock the book too hard I liked the main characters, even if they were sometimes just too damn nice to be credible, and it was a page turner The linguistics and anthropology were well done, and it was uplifting at times I didn t think it lived up to the advance billing But I enjoyed it enough that I ll probably read the sequel, which I m told is better Stay tuned.PS This is incredibly geeky, and I know it has nothing to do with the actual story, but I need to share my thought The asteroid accelerates at 1 g for a year, reaching about 0.93 of the speed of light, or so she claims Then it decelerates by the same amount for another year, to slow down To get back home, same procedure again.Now whatever can its power source be Even if you had an anti matter drive working with perfect efficiency at turning matter into kinetic energy, you d still use up most of the asteroid as fuel, with all sorts of structural implications Remember that structural stability was important And how would you store that quantity of anti matter Recall that this is being done a few decades into the future.Look, she started it This is what s wrong with an SF scenario If it had been a historical novel set in e.g the sixteenth century rain forest, you wouldn t have to worry about my silly objections It s bad enough keeping track of the theology, without getting involved in physics too.PPS And continuing my geeky thought if the engines are powerful enough to accelerate the asteroid at 1 g, it follows that they could lift it against Earth s gravity Wow Those are some engines I estimate their thrust at around 2 Supermen or 0.8 Powerpuff Girl say, Buttercup when she s feeling a bit wussy And we re going to have invented them within the next ten years.Sorry, sorry, sorry all totally below the belt, I know But I m still blaming her for starting this She tries to give it a hard science gloss, but she didn t use enough undercoat. If called upon to imagine a scenario in which the faith of the devoutly religious is put most severely to the test I would probably think of the Jews in the Nazi death camps What they experienced and witnessed is almost like science fiction in the unimaginable scope of its horror Mary Doria Russell chooses the genre of science fiction to dramatize one human being s dark night of the soul and it s certainly the most imaginative account of a spiritual crisis I ve ever read The Sparrow is about a Jesuit mission to the planet Rakhat We learn early on that only one member of the crew survives and returns to Earth This is Emilio who is mutilated and traumatised The narrative alternates between the voyage and life on Rakhat and the Vatican interrogation of the surviving crew member A lot of the success of this novel is due to the ingenious structure which cleverly builds tension and the big vivid and vibrant characters I especially warmed to the two women the earth mother, Anne and the damaged ice queen, Sofia Sexual politics plays a big part in the novel s subplot Sex is depicted as both a pinnacle of rewarded faith in life s beauty and wonder and the most base inhumane means of cruelty At times The Sparrow walks a tightrope over an abyss of absurdity but every time I thought the narrative might fall off it regained its balance The most dangerous moment was when the author opts to take us inside the head of an alien Earlier she had made fun of Star Trek and how the aliens always speak English I wasn t entirely convinced taking us inside the head of an alien wasn t a similar kind of act of hubris nor was I convinced we needed this small part of the novel Otherwise though I was gripped throughout Thanks to Candi for her ravishing review. If God is anything like a middle class white chick from the suburbs, which i admit is a long shot, it s what you do about what feel that matters 4.25 This was a beautiful and heart wrenching book The characters were attaching and you can t help but root for them but also cry with them An interesting take on the first contact with alien trope. In 2019, Humanity Finally Finds Proof Of Extraterrestrial Life When A Listening Post In Puerto Rico Picks Up Exquisite Singing From A Planet That 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 What It Means To Be Human.