The Sparrow - Mary Doria Russell

Since Robyn's earlier review gives a pretty good plot overview, I'll skip that myself. For the most part, I agree with Robyn. It's well-written and held my attention, and the underlying question is about theodicy: why do bad things happen to good people? The book also doesn't give any pat answers; in the end, Sandoz doesn't get back everything he's lost and then some. The science fiction aspect is used to create an imagined situation with a very real dilemma, and then challenges the reader to wrestle with it.
But I'll mention some things that Robyn didn't. For starters, the book reminded me a bit of "Contact" (the movie, since I haven't actually read the book). There's SETI, Arecibo, the excitement of first contact, some conflicts and agreements between science and religion, and a hearing afterwards. However, in The Sparrow, there's no doubt about the existence of the aliens, only questions about what actually happened on the journey.
Also, I thought the alien civilization was wonderfully created; imaginative and thoroughly thought-out. I guess that's the advantage of being an anthropologist—you know what to look for and possibilities to think about. Also, instead of shocking revelations and epiphanies about the aliens, Russell prefers a slow building of understanding and foreshadowing. When the final piece falls into place, you feel that you've known all along yet it's still just as unnerving.
All in all, it's a pretty brilliant piece of work, both as science fiction and as a modern-day version of Job.

Fed to jonathan's brain | January 06, 2005 | Comments (0)


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