Series: The Sparrow #1
Published: September 8th 1997 by Ballantine Books
Genres: Science Fiction
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A coworker loaned me The Sparrow several months ago, and I’ve been slowly savoring it. It’s a literary science fiction novel about first contact with an alien species, and everything that can go wrong. In 2019, we discover a transmission of music from another planet, and the Jesuits put together an expedition to travel to and meet the singers. Their motivations are pure; they believe that any race capable of making such beautiful music must be from God.
Only one person survives the mission: Father Emilio Sandoz.
The Sparrow alternates between the past (2019ish through the expedition) and the present (2060), when Emilio has returned with severe injuries and PTSD from his encounters. And even more importantly, what he encountered on Rakhat has shaken his faith. Emilio’s superiors try to get him to confess what happened, but it’s an arduous process for everyone involved.
Because of the alternating storylines, we become attached to each of the members of the expedition while knowing they are doomed. And it shouldn’t really come as a surprise, considering the history of pretty much every first contact on our planet ever. The mission has a certain level of hubris to it; a sense of “we are intelligent people who have prepared for everything we can think of” only to find that the smallest details can cause catastrophe. Each of the crew members essentially a good person, but fallible, and their deaths are all the more tragic because of their precautions and their good intentions.
The Sparrow is a fascinating novel, and I’d highly recommend it. Each element of the story was masterful, from the anthropological and linguistic insights into Rakhat society to the heartwrenching depictions of Emilio’s struggle with mental illness and spiritual crisis.