27 November 2023

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

As a science fiction fan who attended a Jesuit high school, I am a big fan of the "Jesuits in space" subgenre of science fiction, and so I was delighted to receive this as a SantaThing gift a few years ago (and appropriately enough, I received the subgenre's other most prominent example, James Blish's A Case of Conscience, from the same program way back in its first year).

Originally published: 1996
Acquired: December 2021
Read: January 2023

I wouldn't say I loved this, but I liked it a lot. (It's too brutal for "enjoyed" to be the right word.) It bounces back and forth between the planning for and the aftermath of a terrible Jesuit expedition to the first known inhabited extraterrestrial planet. Russell is a very methodical writer, laying down her characters and themes and background in great detail, and I in particular enjoyed her rich character work here. All the people here really come to life, and you are very much invested in every step they take.

Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J., the Jesuit astronomer and sf fan, tore into the book, saying, "the real crime of this novel is that the Jesuit characters take themselves far too seriously. Our real reaction to soul-shattering events is, more often than not, to laugh at ourselves and our predicament." It is a very serious book... but I actually think that's an unfair assessment of the characters, who have very well-developed senses of humor. But though I have been around many Jesuits (my high school and college best friend is one now), I am not one, so maybe that gives him a different perspective.

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