Book reviews: Would you fly away?
July 22, 2015
“The Sparrow” and “Children of God” by Mary Doria Russell
A question I love posing to my husband is, "If you had the opportunity to travel to another planet, either with fellow humans or aliens, would you do it?" He always says, "No, I like it here."
I, on the other hand, would fly away in a heartbeat never to look back or to question my actions, which is why I eagerly picked up Mary Doria Russell's Sparrow series and found it impossible to put down, both “The Sparrow” and her second book, “Children of God.”
Bound by friendship and lucky to have discovered proof of an extraterrestrial civilization and the backing of the Jesuits, eight intrepid and oddly-matched individuals organize a scientific mission to Rakhat before the United Nations has a chance to stop arguing over whether such an endeavor is a good idea. Surprisingly, all goes well — at first.
The journey to Rakhat is without incident, the planet is verdant and hospitable to humans and the first contact welcomes the visitors freely into their society. But an innocuous attempt to grow gardens to supply the explorers with food from Earth turns the entire expedition into turmoil, thrusts Father Emilio Sandoz into the most harrowing situation imaginable and changes the fabric of Rakhat society forever.
To call these intense novels simple works of science fiction is unfair, as they probe the deeper meaning of exploration, faith and the ideal structure of a society
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Is it right to assume that one would be welcome in some distant land — or that contact can occur without incident? Our own history is riddled with examples of those who would rather we never arrived on their shores.
When life delivers a horror so extreme, so unimaginable, that it makes one doubt the very existence of God, does one lose his or her faith, or is that faith transformed into something deeper?
Russell repeatedly explores these elemental questions and then asks her readers to seriously examine the question of population control. Is our current society the best model for existence or is the structure on Rakhat more humane?
These thought-provoking, richly written tales will not only delight the imagination of those who secretly wish to be capitulated to another world but will stimulate long, passionate discussions at summer dinner parties.
Would I still fly away in a heartbeat? I have to say that Mary Doria Russell changed my mind.
“The Sparrow” and “Children of God” are available at the Bud Werner Memorial Library and at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. Mary Doria Russell is a 2015 Literary Sojourn author and just published “Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral.” Alysa Selby is digital services librarian at Bud Werner Memorial Library.