Friday, December 30, 2011

Jesuits in Outer Space

Mary Doria Russell now mostly writes historical fiction, but her first and wonderful novel, The Sparrow, is science fiction. The Sparrow is about a Jesuit mission (more scientific than religious) to a planet inhabited by alien species. However, most of the novel takes place on Earth, alternating between 2019 when the music radio broadcasts from the planet Rakhat are intercepted, and 2060, when the sole survivor, Father Emilio Sandoz, returns and is unwilling to talk about what happened. This may sound depressing, but the prospect of finding out what happened, and the wonderfully developed characters - a doctor, an artificial intelligence analyst, an engineer, and an astronomer, among others - kept me reading. The author is a Catholic who converted to Judaism, and the main characters are Jesuit priests and a Sephardic Jew, so The Sparrow will be more interesting to readers who are interested in Judaism and Christianity. The Sparrow won the 1998 Arthur Clarke Award (the best science fiction novel published in the UK that year).

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