The Sparrow – Science Fiction for Those That Don’t Read Science Fiction

I read a decent amount, not as much as I would like but more than nothing.  When I come across a book I particularly enjoy I’ll spread the word about it, recommend it to people in an effort to get others to read it (so that I have people to talk to about it).  I recently finished one such book and I’d like to recommend it here.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is one such book.  I’m someone who enjoys Science Fiction, but I know that there are people out there who don’t like the genre.  If you’re one of those people I think this book might be worth giving a shot.  It’s hard to judge what other people will like but I think “The Sparrow” is Science Fiction for those that claim not to enjoy Science Fiction.

It’s a “first contact” book, about discovering an alien planet and sending a mission out to it.  In this case the mission is a mission in the classic sense, a religious one.  The Jesuit order of the Catholic church sends a small group of missionaries and scientists out to this planet to make contact with the new beings there.

Taking place in the near future there are no epic space battles, nor are there alien lovers.  It’s a book told in flashbacks by the one person to return from the mission.  Battered, a ruined man, the lone Jesuit who survives to return to Earth recounts how the whole mission went horribly wrong.  Like the missions to the new world back in the age of exploration this mission to a new planet is fraught with misunderstanding and violence from the natives.

The book is well written, lovingly crafted and an ode to language.  The plot is a slow burn, exploring more the human condition than the concept of alien encounter.  The science is there but it is the fiction that keeps you reading.  The book is an examination of faith and God in the face of the inexplicable.  It is a lovingly crafted linguistic look at how we might face the barrier of communication in an encounter scenario.  It is a book that reads more like Literary Fiction than Science Fiction.

If you’re looking for something to read please take a look at “The Sparrow”, I think you’ll be surprised by it.  If you want to pick up a copy please consider using this link or heading over to the Book Suggestions category in the store.  Purchases done through those links help support the site (and me).

I am not an avid Science Fiction fan.  I read a wide variety of genres and actually only really got into reading Science Fiction in the last few years.  With that said I think it is a genre that gets a bad representation in the reading world.  It is often tossed aside as a junk genre, on par with harlequin romance novels and vampire books.  This is unfair, sure the genre has its share of cheesy novels but it also has some very strong offerings that explore themes that are important.

It’s weird to defend a whole genre like this, and weird to feel the need to do so, but I really do think that of all the genres out there this one gets the most unfair assessment.  It is a genre viewed as disposable and having nothing to offer other than nerd entertainment.  It is a genre that is still weighed down by the baggage of the past, of covers showing space battles and lusty aliens.  It has evolved a lot though and even some of those past works are more victims of bad marketing than of their content.

I think part of the reason I feel such a need to defend the genre is because I was told to avoid it for so long.  I remember one of my favorite teachers in High School telling us that it was a garbage genre and to not waste our time reading it.  I followed that advice and avoided the genre and because of that I feel that I missed out on a lot of good reading.  I still think that he was a good teacher but he was very wrong about the genre.

Science Fiction is an important genre to read because of what the books explore.  More than just looking at what science can do they are often ethical explorations.  It looks at what we can do and if it is right to do so.  As we enter an age of artificial intelligence and neural networking, an age of commercial space flight and planetary destruction, these are questions that need exploring.  Literature explores the human condition, Science Fiction explores the human relationship to our technology.

I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as a garbage genre.  There are garbage books, but it a huge disservice to paint a whole genre as garbage.  Even the harlequin romance novel is, at the very least, an exploration of human sexuality.  I don’t think people should be shamed for enjoying a specific genre or a specific author and to avoid reading genres because of a stigma is to neglect reading potentially great works.

Rant about Science Fiction aside, seriously consider grabbing a copy of “The Sparrow”, I enjoyed this book and I think you will too.  If you hate it let me know in the comments.  If you want to talk about it let me know in the comments (that’s why I have them there).

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