The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell
I finished this book a few weeks ago, and when I finally put it down, I exclaimed to my hubbie, “This is the best f’ing book I ever read.”
Basic synopsis: A group of friends and colleagues, several of whom happen to be Jesuits, are sent to find the source of musical transmissions coming from another planet. The only survivor to return is a traumatized priest who can’t bring himself to discuss what happened to the rest of the crew. The restoration of his battered body and badly shaken faith, and the story of the journey itself, are interwoven into twin narratives that kept me completely hooked.
I read this book on a recommendation, and I am so glad I did. It is a very slow burn, but haunting and extremely well-done. While several characters in the book are Jesuit, I would not call it a Christian book; I’m not a Christian (but I am a student of faith), and I enjoyed the book immensely. Faith is just part of who the people are.
However, this is a sci-fi book that is about ethics and character, not about action. Readers who enjoyed Michael Flynn’s Eifelheim, which I can’t suggest strongly enough, will like this book. Readers who dig on writers like John Ringo will dislike its attention to character and lengthy discussion about morality. The book’s greatest success, I think, is convincing the reader that each character is unique and interesting. It’s a tragedy, and the reader knows that from the beginning. I felt something for each character because they seemed like real people; I cried more than once. Not everyone’s cup of tea, certainly.
From a writer’s perspective, Russell’s narrative technique is what impressed me most and kept me reading. I have little patience these days for crummy language and trite ideas. The dialogue is nearly flawless, and effortless for the reader to experience. Well worth a read for the student of technique.