It's more than four months old, but it's still worth reading...
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
In keeping with my, well, not tradition, since I've only done it once or twice before and then missed last month entirely, but let's just say premise, I am going to post about our latest book club selection before going to the meeting tonight. Sadly, I have not actually gotten very far with this one, but why let ignominy be an excuse for not writing? Maybe I haven't used the time so wisely, but hey, it's been a busy month.
The Sparrow is what I suppose might be called literary science fiction, maybe more in terms of its apparent aspiration rather than anything inherent in the story itself. We enter the tale after a space mission to reach another form of possibly humanlike life has somehow gone horribly wrong, and its sole survivor, a Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz, has now returned to earth, and Rome, both scarred by and judged for the experience. As the book unfolds, we are taken into the backstory of this fateful mission, in which a small handful of people are driven by a seeming destiny to set forth together on it. Whether the hand of God is in it is an open question.
This book was published in 1996 and it made a big splash in certain circles at the time. A lot of our staff members read and recommended it, so I have been interested in its appeal for awhile now. I confess to being a little surprised that such a seemingly God-driven book, though hardly pious and definitely not orthodox, would have captured the interest of what by and large is a pretty secular demographic. I also find the date of the space launch, which involves light speed, a bit disconcerting, because by 2021, it has apparently been figured out and is available for use. The world has moved a long distance since 1996, but not, so far as I know, in this direction. There's no real harm done, but since all the chapters are dated, you can't help contrasting our reality to the book's a lot. It's a bit jarring.
So far, I am finding the story interesting enough, but perhaps a bit too leisurely. There is this foreboding about what really happened out there, but it hasn't yet become my foreboding, if you see the difference. I'm on about page 143 and they are only just now launching off into space. This is what I mean by sci-fi aspiring to be literary. In real genre fiction, the author would feel an obligation to get on with it.
Unfortunately for me, there will undoubtedly be some spoilers tonight about all that goes wrong, and though I'm planning to keep on with it, it will be interesting to see if in fact I still want to after what others say.
I should emphasize that this is not as far as I can tell any kind of Christian tract. Of course, I suppose a lot depends on the outcome...