THE SPARROW
Mary Doria Russell

 


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Villard, Sep 1996
Review by Joy Calderwood

Space listeners pick up a broadcast of heavenly music, which is pinpointed as coming from a nearby planet. Eight people leave on an expedition organized by Jesuits, to make the first alien contact and spread the word of their religion. Only one person makes it back.

Gather your courage, all ye who enter THE SPARROW. It is one of the most emotionally wrenching books I have ever read. How did the hero get from his initial condition, eager, shining, and lovable, to the condition in which we see him in the very next chapter? Author Mary Doria Russell has woven together three time lines so tightly yet so mysteriously that the suspense builds to be almost unbearable. A group of idealists went aboard a spaceship to visit another world; one broken man came home, accusing himself of something that surely can't be true. Or, what kind of alien planet and society could change someone so much that it might be true?

Iím told that some commentators consider THE SPARROW must be soft science fiction because it is written by a woman. Author Mary Doria Russell has a Ph.D. in Anthropology, and believe me, she uses it as thoroughly as any physicist sci fi writer. I would say THE SPARROW might be soft sci fi if your idea of softness is being hit by an avalanche.

Especially psychology, but also philosophy, ethics, anthropology, biology, linguistics, are all strongly written. So is humanity, from a completely unscientific, planet-next-door viewpoint. This debut is written with the grip of a master. THE SPARROW is a novel to separate the men from the boys, even though it is written by a woman.

Dec 2004 review originally published on Kevinís Watch
Revised review Jan 2006

 

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