Book Review – The Sparrow

I hadn’t even heard of this book until it was brought up by one of my local book clubs. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell was published in 1996 and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and the British Science Fiction Association Award. A mini-series based on the book is currently under development at FX.

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Here is the blurb:

In 2019, humanity finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post picks up exquisite singing from the planet Rakhat. While the U.N. debates possible contact missions, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an 8-person expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be human.

This brief description hardly begins to explain the scope of this book. The story unfolds in two parallel time frames, one telling how an alien radio signal was discovered and a secret interplanetary mission was sent to search out the planet from whence it originated. The second part follows the trauma of the sole survivor to return from that mission, a Jesuit priest, Emilio Sandoz.

The plot develops slowly, but that didn’t matter as much to me as it usually does, being a plot-oriented reader. The way the character development was done and how the relationships between each character were slowly drawn were engrossing and made up for the lack of immediate drama. This is heartbreaking at the same time, for you already know at the outset that something terrible is going to happen to all these people.

Emilio Sandoz becomes the spiritual force behind the mission, and much of this book is about his faith in God at different points in his life. Everyone on this mission has their own reasons for being there, and while the expedition is driven by the Jesuits, this is not a book that glorifies religion. Rather, it asks questions of how far one will go for faith and how events can be interpreted by those with blind faith in their God. In the end, can tragedy be written off as God’s will? Or is it better to forgo all belief in such a system?

Have you read The Sparrow or anything else by Mary Doria Russell? Let me know in the comments.

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Book Review – Binti: The Complete Trilogy

I read Binti: The Complete Trilogy last fall as a book club pick and enjoyed it a lot. Binti is a character in a series of novellas by author Nnedi Okarafor and this volume brings all three of the novellas together in one book, with a bonus new story included. Please follow my Amazon links to help support this blog.

Raised in a traditional village amongst her Himba people, Binti leaps at the chance to attend Oomza University off-planet. Her decision upsets her family, but she believes that the chance to study at this prestigious school outweighs their concerns. Before she can even get there, her ship is attacked by the Medusae and everyone but her is killed.

Binti must communicate with the Medusae and prevent a catastrophe at the university while she struggles to personally deal with the aftermath of the slaughter. Each story in this book takes place at slightly different times, but they all follow logically. Eventually we see how Binti deals with her decision to leave home and how her people receive her when she returns.

The new story in the book is a pleasant tale and adds a little to the characters of the other students at the university. Overall, I really liked how Binti viewed the world as a character. Even though she rebels to some extent by leaving home, she is still one of the Himba people. Her unique outlook makes her character more real and her struggles are based in trying to reconcile her relationships with the universe, her family, and her people.

I don’t know if there will be any further Binti stories or not. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but doesn’t rule out another tale. If you want to just start with the first novella, you can find that one (just titled Binti) here.

Read more of my reviews here.

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