“The redemptive power of suffering is, in my experience at least, vastly overrated.” Over this past weekend, I finally got the chance to read Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, and, while it becomes a dark journey indeed for Emilio Sandoz, our Jesuit protagonist, over the course of the novel, I heartily recommend it. In fact, it’s probably the best science-fiction book I’ve read since Perdido Street Station (although Russell’s book is much less phantasmagoric than Mieville’s more fantasy-tinged stuff.)
A former paleo-anthropologist and academic jack-of-all-trades, Russell has retold the standard First Contact type of story here with a blend of straight-up hard sci-fi, Columbian commentary, and devastating ruminations on the price of faith and the laws of unintended consequences. While the story here seemed self-contained, I’m now rather looking forward to picking up her sequel, Children of God (although the reading queue is pretty backed up right now.) At any rate, if you like your sci-fi literate, intelligent, and ultimately somewhat nightmarish, think about checking out The Sparrow. Update: You can read the first chapter here. Also, if you haven’t read The Sparrow, stay out of the comments, where the end of the book is being discussed.