Here’s the thing…
I am about as unreligious as a person can get, and this book tackles some serious theological issues, but still…I. Loved. It.
Loved it as in it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. Actually, listened to, but still.
And no, the book is not titled Jesuits in Space. The book I am talking about is The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. The title comes from a bible verse, something along the lines of not one sparrow can fall to the ground without God knowing (and I’m pretty sure our lead dude is the sparrow, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion). In brief, the story is about 8 people (four of them Jesuit priests) who go off on a mission to establish first contact with a planet in Alpha Centauri. That’s right folks…the very first time humans hie themselves off into space to go meet aliens, it’s the missionaries for the potential win. So simply put, it really is about Jesuits in space. Except it takes awhile for them to get into space, and that awhile is my favorite part of the book.
Only one person survives this mission (don’t worry, you know this from the beginning, so I didn’t spoil anything). The story is told in alternating flashbacks…a chapter about the lead up to the astronomical discovery of a planet with life and then the mission to the planet itself, and a chapter about the inquisition (sorry, bad joke…but it really did feel like it at times) of Father Emilio Sandoz, the lone survivor, as the Jesuits try to figure out what really happened on the planet of Rakhat. And interspersed with it all is Emilio’s musings on God, and how He could have allowed such a thing to happen. So if you want to read it for the religious stuff, you totally can, but it’s got oodles of other stuff going for it, too, if you don’t want to focus on that. There’s lots of sciencey shit (the whole travel by asteroid was way above my head), and music, and pop culture jokes, and the implications of first contact, and tons of other stuff, including zero gravity sex.
The bulk of the pre-discovery/mission prep/life on Rakhat flashback chapters are about six of the characters who go off on the mission (Alan Pace and Mark Robichaux only appear in the mission and aren’t as integral to the story, although given what happens to them, they’d likely argue otherwise). And they are why I loved the book so much…Father Emilio, Sofia Mendes, Jimmy Quinn, D.W. Yarbrough and Anne and George Edwards are awesome characters (I just wanted them all to stay in Puerto Rico and hang out at Anne’s dinner parties for the entire book). Anne was by far my favorite, and she had some hysterical lines, so there is a surprising amount of levity in a book that is ultimately so tragic. Also, the younger Father Emilio is pretty kick-ass, too. He’s got a pretty sly sense of humor at times, and some of that starts to re-emerge at the end of the book.
I read this for The Estella Project. I was glad it appeared on the list and reminded me that I’ve been meaning to read it for years, because it seems like everyone and their brother has raved about it. I am proud to say I am now one of those people who will be saying “OMG, you totally need to read this!” Okay, maybe I’ll refrain from the OMG, but it’ll be hard to skip the totally.
(Yes, I totally re-posted this from my prior blog. But I’m allowed to rip-off my own material.)
ALSO! If this post convinced you that you must read this book right now (hah), Trish is hosting a readalong in September. Go check it out!
Okay, one last thing…I actually have the sequel, Children of God…anyone up for a readalong of that?