The Sparrow

by Mary Doria Russell

Rating: ★★★

I'm not sure what to make of it, really. The book's main features to my mind were its positive presentation of the Jesuits as well-meaning, charitable and reasonable Christians; its inclusion of a generally liberal and permissive cast and their reactions to a few common moral hurdles. The first of these bleeds into the second -- it was nice to see an image of priests who were neither Biblical literalists nor staunch conservatives, and at the same time not depraved boogeymen.

Yet a lot of this had very little to do with the science-fiction elements of the book, and indeed much of it developed on Earth before the plot got going. You could've set the story historically and it would have been mostly the same.

Similarly for the Jesuits. It made a certain amount of sense that the Jesuits would go to Rakhat, but I never really felt that it was necessary for them to have been Jesuits: they didn't act particularly religious, they didn't attempt to convert the aliens, and their interest in the alien song was at least mostly comparative. I feel I might have missed something here, though, as the inclusion of a lot of material on Emilio's recovery probably has something to do with any religious component but I'm not sure what that might be. I don't know if his feeling of betrayal would be more significant or shocking to a religious reader.

The aliens weren't terribly alien, although I did find the inclusion of multiple languages refreshing after so many science-fiction books which presume a global tongue. The herding relationship between the two species was fairly obvious to me, but I did like the way the revelation was managed, and in general I thought that the structure worked well at both hooking me and providing a well-paced build-up.

I feel like either I'm missing something or the book was 'just fine'.