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The Sparrow: A Novel (Anglais) Broché – 8 septembre 1997


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Extrait

Ballantine Reader's Circle: The Sparrow (Excerpt)

Chapter 1


ROME: DECEMBER 2059

On December 7, 2059, Emilio Sandoz was released from the isolation ward of Salvator Mundi Hospital in the middle of the night and transported in a bread van to the Jesuit Residence at Number 5 Borgo Santo Spìrito, a few minutes' walk across St. Peter's Square from the Vatican. The next day, ignoring shouted questions and howls of journalistic outrage as he read, a Jesuit spokesman issued a short statement to the frustrated and angry media mob that had gathered outside Number 5's massive front door.

"To the best of our knowledge, Father Emilio Sandoz is the sole survivor of the Jesuit mission to Rakhat. Once again, we extend our thanks to the U.N., to the Contact Consortium and to the Asteroid Mining Division of Ohbayashi Corporation for making the return of Father Sandoz possible. We have no additional information regarding the fate of the Contact Consortium's crew members; they are in our prayers. Father Sandoz is too ill to question at this time and his recovery is expected to take months. Until then, there can be no further comment on the Jesuit mission or on the Contact Consortium's allegations regarding Father Sandoz's conduct on Rakhat."

This was simply to buy time.

It was true, of course, that Sandoz was ill. The man's whole body was bruised by the blooms of spontaneous hemorrhages where tiny blood vessel walls had breached and spilled their contents under his skin. His gums had stopped bleeding, but it would be a long while before he could eat normally. Eventually, something would have to be done about his hands.

Now, however, the combined effects of scurvy, anemia and exhaustion kept him asleep twenty hours out of the day. When awake, he lay motionless, coiled like a fetus and almost as helpless.

The door to his small room was nearly always left open in those early weeks. One afternoon, thinking to prevent Father Sandoz from being disturbed while the hallway floor was polished, Brother Edward Behr closed it, despite warnings about this from the Salvator Mundi staff. Sandoz happened to wake up and found himself shut in. Brother Edward did not repeat the mistake.

Vincenzo Giuliani, the Father General of the Society of Jesus, went each morning to look in on the man. He had no idea if Sandoz was aware of being observed; it was a familiar feeling. When very young, when the Father General was just plain Vince Giuliani, he had been fascinated by Emilio Sandoz, who was a year ahead of Giuliani during the decade-long process of priestly formation. A strange boy, Sandoz. A puzzling man. Vincenzo Giuliani had made a statesman's career of understanding other men, but he had never understood this one.

Gazing at Emilio, sick now and almost mute, Giuliani knew that Sandoz was unlikely to give up his secrets any time soon. This did not distress him. Vincenzo Giuliani was a patient man. One had to be patient to thrive in Rome, where time is measured not in centuries but in millennia, where patience and the long view have always distinguished political life. The city gave its name to the power of patience--Romanità. Romanità excludes emotion, hurry, doubt. Romanità waits, sees the moment and moves ruthlessly when the time is right. Romanità rests on an absolute conviction of ultimate success and arises from a single principle, Cunctando regitur mundis: Waiting, one conquers all.

So, even after sixty years, Vincenzo Giuliani felt no sense of impatience with his inability to understand Emilio Sandoz, only a sense of how satisfying it would be when the wait paid off.


The Father General's private secretary contacted Father John Candotti on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, three weeks after Emilio's arrival at Number 5. "Sandoz is well enough to see you now," Johannes Voelker informed Candotti. "Be here by two."

Be here by two! John thought irritably, marching along toward Vatican City from the retreat house where he'd just been assigned a stuffy little room with a view of Roman walls--the stone only inches from his pointless window. Candotti had dealt with Voelker a couple of times since arriving and had taken a dislike to the Austrian from the start. In fact, John Candotti disliked everything about his present situation.

For one thing, he didn't understand why he'd been brought into this business. Neither a lawyer nor an academic, John Candotti was content to have come out on the less prestigious end of the Jesuit dictum, Publish or parish, and he was hip-deep in preparations for the grammar school Christmas program when his superior contacted him and told him to fly to Rome at the end of the week. "The Father General wishes you to assist Emilio Sandoz." That was the extent of his briefing. John had heard of Sandoz, of course. Everyone had heard of Sandoz. But John had no idea how he could be of any use to the man. When he asked for an explanation, he couldn't seem to pry a straight answer out of anyone. He had no practice at this kind of thing; subtlety and indirection were not indoor sports in Chicago.

And then there was Rome itself. At the impromptu farewell party, everyone was so excited for him. "Rome, Johnny!" All that history, those beautiful churches, the art. He'd been excited too, dumb shit. What did he know?

John Candotti was born to flat land, straight lines, square city blocks; nothing in Chicago had prepared him for the reality of Rome. The worst was when he could actually see the building he wanted to get to but found the street he was on curving away from it, leading him to yet another lovely piazza with yet another beautiful fountain, dumping him into another alley going nowhere. Another hour, trapped and frustrated by the hills, the curves, the rat's nest of streets smelling of cat piss and tomato sauce. He hated being lost, and he was always lost. He hated being late, and he was late all the time. The first five minutes of every conversation was John apologizing for being late and his Roman acquaintances assuring him it was no problem.

He hated it all the same, so he walked faster and faster, trying to get to the Jesuit Residence on time for a change, and collected an escort of small children, noisy with derision and obnoxious with delight at this bony, big-nosed, half-bald man with his flapping soutane and pumping arms.


"I'm sorry to keep you waiting." John Candotti had repeated the apology to each person along the way to Sandoz's room and finally to Sandoz himself as Brother Edward Behr ushered him in and left him alone with the man. "The crowd outside is still huge. Do they ever go away? I'm John Candotti. The Father General asked me to help you at the hearings. Happy to meet you." He held out his hand without thinking, withdrawing it awkwardly when he remembered.

Sandoz did not rise from his chair by the window and at first, he either wouldn't or couldn't look in Candotti's direction. John had seen archive images of him, naturally, but Sandoz was a lot smaller than he expected, much thinner; older but not as old as he should have been. What was the calculation? Seventeen years out, almost four years on Rakhat, seventeen years back, but then there were the relativity effects of traveling near light speed. Born a year before the Father General, who was in his late seventies, Sandoz was estimated by the physicists to be about forty-five, give or take a little. Hard years, by the look of him, but not very many of them.

The silence went on a long time. Trying not to stare at the man's hands, John debated whether he should just go. It's way too soon, he thought, Voelker must be crazy. Then, finally, he heard Sandoz ask, "English?"

"American, Father. Brother Edward is English but I'm American."

"No," Sandoz said after a while. "La lengua. English."

Startled, John realized that he'd misunderstood. "Yes. I speak a little Spanish, if you'd prefer that."

"It was Italian, creo. Antes--before, I mean. In the hospital. Sipaj--si yo..." He stopped, close to tears, but got a hold of himself and spoke deliberately. "It would help ... if I could hear ... just one language for a while. English is okay."

"Sure. No problem. We'll stick to English," John said, shaken. Nobody had told him Sandoz was this far gone. "I'll make this a short visit, Father. I just wanted to introduce myself and see how you're doing. There's no rush about preparing for the hearings. I'm sure they can be postponed until you're well enough to..."

"To do what?" Sandoz asked, looking directly at Candotti for the first time. A deeply lined face, Indian ancestry plain in the high-bridged nose, the wide cheekbones, the stoicism. John Candotti could not imagine this man laughing.

To defend yourself, John was going to say, but it seemed mean. "To explain what happened."

The silence inside the Residence was noticeable, especially by the window, where the endless carnival noise of the city could be heard. A woman was scolding a child in Greek. Tourists and reporters milled around, shouting over the constant roar of the usual Vatican crowds and the taxi traffic. Repairs went on incessantly to keep the Eternal City from falling to pieces, the construction workers yelling, machinery grinding.

"I have nothing to say." Sandoz turned away again. "I shall withdraw from the Society."

"Father Sandoz--Father, you can't expect the Society to let you walk away without understanding what happened out there. You may not want to face a hearing but whatever happens in here is nothing compared to what they'll put you through outside, the moment you walk out the door," John told him. "If we understood, we could help you. Make it easier for you, maybe?" There was no reply, only a slight hardening of the face profiled at the window. "Okay, look. I'll come back in a few days. When you're feeling better, right? Is there anything I can bring you? Someone I could contact for you?"

"No." There was no force behind the voice. "Thank
you."

John suppressed a sigh and turned toward the door. His eyes swept past a sketch, lying on top of the small plain bureau. On something like paper, drawn in something like ink. A group of VaRakhati. Faces of great dignity and considerable charm. Extraordinary eyes, frilled with lashes to guard against the brilliant sunlight. Funny how you could tell that these were unusually handsome individuals, even when unfamiliar with their standards of beauty. John Candotti lifted the drawing to look at it more closely. Sandoz stood and took two swift steps toward him.

Sandoz was probably half his size and sicker than hell but John Candotti, veteran of Chicago streets, was startled into retreating. Feeling the wall against his back, he covered his embarrassment with a smile and put the drawing back on the bureau. "They're a handsome race, aren't they," he offered, trying to defuse whatever emotion was working on the man in front of him. "The ... folks in the picture--friends of yours, I guess?"

Sandoz backed away and looked at John for a few moments, as though calculating the other man's response. The daylight behind his hair lit it up, and the contrast hid his expression. If the room had been brighter or if John Candotti had known him better, he might have recognized a freakish solemnity that preceded any statement Sandoz expected to induce hilarity, or outrage. Sandoz hesitated and then found the precise word he wanted.

"Colleagues," he said at last.

Revue de presse

Excerpts from reviews of Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow

"It is science fiction brought back to the project with which it began in
the hands of a writer like Jules Verne: the necessity of wonder, the hope
for moral rectitude, and the possibility of belief."

--America


"Russell's debut novel...focuses on her characters, and it is here that
the work truly shines. An entertaining infusion of humor keeps the book
from becoming too dark, although some of the characters are so clever that
they sometimes seem contrived. Readers who dislike an emphasis on moral
dilemmas or spiritual quests may be turned off, but those who enjoy
science fiction because it can create these things are in for a real
treat."

--Science Fiction Weekly


"The Sparrow tackles a difficult subject with grace and
intelligence."

--San Francisco Chronicle


"The Sparrow is an incredible novel, for one reason. Though it is
set in the early twenty-first century, it is not written like most science
fiction. Russell's novel is driven by her characters, by their complex
relationships and inner conflicts, not by aliens or technology."

--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


"It is rare to find a book about interplanetary exploration that has this
much insight into human nature and foresight into a possible future."

--San Antonio Express News


"Two narratives--the mission to the planet and its aftermath four decades
later--interweave to create a suspenseful tale."

--The Seattle Times


"By alternating chapters that dramatize Sandoz's tough-love interrogation
with flashbacks to the mission's genesis, flowering, and tragic collapse,
The Sparrow casts a strange, unsettling emotional spell, bouncing
readers from scenes of black despair to ones of wild euphoria, from the
bracing simplicity of pure adventure to the complicated tangles of
nonhuman culture and politics.--The smooth storytelling and gorgeous
characterization can't be faulted."

--Entertainment Weekly



Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 448 pages
  • Editeur : Ballantine Books; Édition : Reissue (8 septembre 1997)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0449912558
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449912553
  • Dimensions du produit: 13,9 x 2,6 x 20,8 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 4.7 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (3 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 187.092 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Lady Lama TOP 500 COMMENTATEURSVOIX VINE le 29 février 2012
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
"The Sparrow", bien que publié en 1996, m'a semblé beaucoup plus ancien, plus proche de certains écrits des années 70s notamment. On y retrouve un grand espoir vers les civilisations extra-terrestres, un esprit de découverte et des extra-terrestres pas trop différents dans leurs modes de vie de ceux des humains. C'est directement ce qui en a fait pour moi une limite, car j'ai dès le début compris où l'auteur voulait aller, et j'ai trouvé que tout était cousu d'un fil grossier, en tout cas pour ceux qui ont lu/vu pas mal de SF.

D'une écriture classique et très précise, l'histoire, dans un futur très proche, est celle d'un jésuite envoyé dans l'espace, ce qui permet de mélanger habilement science et spiritualité. Emilio est un jésuite doué pour les langues, et qui jusque là allait de mission en mission, d'après les assignations envoyées par ses supérieurs. Lors d'une de ses missions, il va faire la rencontre d'un couple de scientifiques modèles. Et y rencontrera à une autre occasion une jeune femme à la beauté aussi stupéfiante que son intelligence. Tout ce petit monde (trop personnages de roman pour être crédibles, mais passons), qui finit au bout d'un certain temps par constituer une sorte de famille, va découvrir presque par hasard les premiers signes d'une présence extra-terrestre, via le programme SETI. Ils entendent des chants d'une beauté stupéfiante et irréelle.
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par FrKurt Messick TOP 1000 COMMENTATEURS le 20 décembre 2005
Format: Broché
Mary Doria Russell's novel, 'The Sparrow', is a truly interesting mix of theology and science fiction. Prior to this novel, Russell had only ever written scientific and technical manuals, which makes her prose style and story telling all the more remarkable, as a hidden talent becomes unveiled.
The story follows close the journey of Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit with a facility for language, and an emptiness in his soul. Set in the near future when near-earth space travel has become if not commonplace at least not unusual, the SETI listening post near Father Emilio's parish post discovers a signal from the nearby star system.
While nations debate and plan an exploratory trip, the Jesuit order (well known historically for missionary work) get their own trip underway, with a crew of Jesuits and laypersons each with differing expertise (one in musicology, as the transmission seem musical; and so forth). They arrive on a planet (Rakhat) with two dominant species (the Runa and the Jana'ata), and an intricate society dependent upon certain inter-species realities that the human visitors come to find unethical (yet not really basing this judgment on more than cursory research and observation).
Russell presents this as an adventure and a tragedy; as members of the expedition die off one by one for various causes, Father Emilio is left alone and injured and ill-used by those he came to embrace as friends. A second expedition arrives from earth and rescues Father Emilio; the whole tale is told in the manner of flashback while the Jesuits investigate what went wrong. Thus, there are two narrative lines running simultaneously--the unfolding story on Rakhat, and the unfolding trauma and resolution of Father Emilio.
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Finity's end TOP 500 COMMENTATEURSVOIX VINE le 28 mars 2013
Format: Broché
Signalons pour la forme qu'il y a une suite à ce roman accomplis mais en vo seulement : children of god .
En france : Le moineau de dieu .

Pour ce qui est de la caractérisation et des descriptions, ce texte est quasiment aussi parfait qu'il est dense .
Le lecteur est véritablement transporté en compagnie de ces gens sympathiques et dans un fabuleux environnement exo planétaire .

On voit bien quelles cultures ont servies de cadre de référence, mais c'est très bien fondu, opératoire , et étranger dans ce long récit de près de 600 pages.
Cependant , ce monde et ces cultures étrangères , reposent également sur une éthologie spécifique magistralement réfléchie.

Un pur délice de roman sur le thème du contact .Un texte très fin riche et subtile ,très riche éthiquement. Un texte également chargé d'histoire .... aussi ...

Cependant la mise en place est longue, près de 200 pages ,donc lecteurs en " mode TGV ", s'abstenir car la route est longue et les détails sont nombreux.
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Commentaires client les plus utiles sur Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 856 commentaires
314 internautes sur 336 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Riveting, intellectual, spiritual, thought provoking.... 29 juillet 2000
Par Nana Annie - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Reading this book was a enriching, rewarding experience for me. As with most books, it isn't for everyone. I was looking for a little lighter read, since I've been reviewing books on death and dying and the Holocaust. Silly me - but I am so glad I made the mistake of thinking this would be an escape from the ultra serious!
This is definitely not a light read and in fact, it hits on many of the issues I've been exploring - the existence and function of God, the meaning of life, the use of suffering and healing, the delicacy and necessity of human relationships.
The story switches between the year 2019 - the US has lost its primary position as a world leader to Japan, marketers search the streets looking for ghetto kids with intellectual skills to groom and sell as indentured servants - and the year 2060, when a Jesuit priest is under examination for sins he is assumed to have committed while on a mission to a New World - Rakhat a planet far away from here.
We see Father Emilio Sandoz before the journey (2019) as he initiates this venture, traveling with characters so well written, I started to believe they were real. Dr. Anne and her husband, George; the recently freed indentured planner, Sofia; the young man who discovered the existence of the other world, Jimmy Quinn; D.W., their grumpy Jesuit leader. Two other characters are less developed, but make nice backdrop for this riveting story.
The book was a little difficult to get into at the start, not because of the writing, but because of the promise of horrors to come. How could this priest, so filled with life in 2019, be so horribly disfigured (did I really want to read the gruesome details?) And how could he have ended up a prostitute, and then murdered a child?
Note: These are not spoilers -- this is information freely given at the start of the story, a hook that pulls the reader in.
To find out, the reader follows Sandoz' slow recovery, sees his bitterness and anger in his interaction with the community who is interrogating him in the year 2060, after he has been rescued and returned from Rakhat. Sandoz questions the intimate, passionate connection he'd had with God - and the reader is led to question some assumptions about God, quite similar to those raised by the Holocaust. (Isn't God supposed to deliver us from evil if we do all the right stuff?)
A science fiction tale, a mystery, a spiritual quest, a sociological and anthropology exploration, this book would be an excellent choice for a group to read and discuss. It is also great for the inquisitive mind of the solo reader.
As for me, I hated to put it down. I read it as often as I could, and almost wept when it was done (sort of Harry Potter for this grown-up!) After writing this review, I'm off to order the sequel, Children of God.
121 internautes sur 129 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Priests...in...spaaace! 1 novembre 2000
Par R. Griffiths - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
Who should read this novel?
1. Sci-fi fans - it has won lots of awards, featured on umpteen 'best of' lists and is just excellent science fiction. If I only had five sci-fi books, this would be one of them. Having said that, it's not 'hard sci-fi' - in other words it doesn't let the science get in the way of the story. Willing suspension of disbelief is the way to go.
2. anthropologists - Ok, so that's not many of us, but the point is that this book sensitively explores the concept of 'otherness'. There are two intelligent species on the planet. One is nice but dim, the other is bright but deadly. Who do the humans identify with? Intriguing question, huh? Well it was for me, anyway.
3. Religious people. And also people interested in the possibility of God, the possibility of forgiveness. This book faithfully addresses the seeming absence of God in the pain of the world (or should that be universe?). But it's never 'preachy', just keepin' it real.
4. Anyone who likes a good yarn. It's well written and the plot cracks along. The repeated cutting between the story of the mission and the aftermath of the mission keeps you guessing to the end. There's a kind of dawning realisation of the horror of what's being told, and I for one couldn't put it down.
5. Look, the first human contact with alien life is sponsored not by NASA but by... THE VATICAN! Its a mad idea - you just have to read this book to see how it works out.
60 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Is God a Criminal? 19 février 2003
Par Patrick Shepherd - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
Science fiction is a medium that is tailor-made for investigation of some of humanity's most perplexing questions, most especially questions of his (and the universe's) origin, God, what constitutes moral behavior, man's ultimate purpose. But very few science fiction novels really attempt to tackle these questions, getting caught up instead in the nifty gadgets that can be imagined, and forgetting their human element. Not so here.

Russell has crafted a fine work of character, of people both exceptional and very real, in this tale of first contact between a Jesuit sponsored mission and the denizens of the planet Rakhat. Emilio Sandoz is the only survivor of this mission, and most of the story is told from his viewpoint, both as a currently happening time-line and a later recollection under interrogation after he returns to Earth. It is easy to become engrossed in this man's life, as we see him as a great linguist, a priest with very understandable doubts but a solid need to help others, a man with normal desires for companionship, a person suffering under sever stress, a man mangled both physically and mentally. The other mission members are not slighted in the character development area, so that by the mid-point of the book, I felt that I was living with a very tight-knit family, whose individual foibles were all well-known and accepted, whose interpersonal banter was enjoyable and fitting.

It is this very depth of characterization that adds poignancy to the mission's fate and starkly highlights the main religious question. How can one believe in a God that allows such terrible things as the mission failure to happen? How can one not believe in a higher power that has orchestrated such an incredibly complex universe of objects, intelligences, and events? Falling within this halo are other questions, ones of personal responsibility against an omniscient deity, institutionalized religion versus an individual call to God, the morality of killing in a culture radically different from our own, when does pride in accomplishment become insufferable hubris? Russell does not provide answers, but her characters each have their own way of dealing with these questions, methods both practical and, for some, esoteric. In this area, this novel is very comparable to James Blish's A Case of Conscience, another fine novel working within this same area of ideas and religious import.

There are some elements that are not so good. Possibly most obvious is the idea that a privately funded mission to contact the first verified alien intelligence would not only be the first but the only mission, at least until the rest of the world found out about this mission. Second is the idea that star-travel is so close to being doable that a (relatively) small amount of money and some minor engineering would allow it to become a reality - if it was that close surely someone would have started such a project long before, even without the impetus of alien contact. Third, this is supposed to be the Alpha Centauri star system. From a planet orbiting Centauri A, Centauri C ( a small and quite dim red dwarf) is so distant it would not show a visible disk nor provide any great illumination (it would look like just a bright star), yet there are consistent references in the novel to working under the red light of the third sun. In a work of 'hard' science fiction, such problems would be pretty major. For this novel, with its primary focus on theme and character, these flaws are at most gnats, easily dismissed as not relevant to the overall story.

Emotionally and intellectually powerful, this story can upset your life, force a new perspective on your world-view, make you once more sit up and see the sparrow.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
58 internautes sur 64 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Outstanding, Mature Science Fiction 17 juin 2002
Par Nicq MacDonald - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
I've read quite a bit of "Sci-fi". I love authors like Gibson, Stevenson, and Varley- science fiction novelists who hit you with material that combines great writing with action and characters who seem like they popped out of the latest hollywood action thriller. Sci-fi filled with weird devices, cool dialogue, and strange venues. The Sci-fi that computer geeks and teenage punks can't get enough of.
"The Sparrow" is not Sci-fi.
Russell is a writer of mature, philosophical science fiction in the grand tradition of authors such as Asimov, Clarke, and Huxley. Science fiction that truly makes you wonder about not only the physical (science), but the metaphysical as well. Questions of morality, spirituality, meaning, and destiny are all actively pursued by such authors- not as afterthoughts or decoration, but as the centerpiece of the fiction. Such works create a vital mythology for the postmodern and impending transhuman eras- they weave truths into their tales.
"The Sparrow" charts the journey of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit Priest and linguist, from the slums of San Juan to the planet of Rakhat, 4.3 Light Years from Earth, orbiting the star Alpha Centauri A. Along with an intriguing little group of well-meaning Jesuits, scientists, and engineers, this modern-day Cortez sets off to a new world in search, not of gold, but of spiritual treasure. Instead, he encounters disease, hardships, and two strange alien races barred from truly understanding humans by millions of years of evolutionary history. Ultimately, his search for god, about to finally be realized, is transformed into a carnal nightmare which destroys his illusions of divinity and nearly leaves him for dead. From this, Sandoz must retell his tale before a council of fellow priests, and face his own existential anguish over having his dreams of grace crushed by the nightmare of an uncaring universe.
Overall, I would say that the Sparrow is one of the most captivating and engaging novels I've ever had the fortune of reading. I highly recommend this book not only to lovers of the philosophical tradition of Science Fiction, but to "Sci-Fi" fans as well- perhaps it will kick start their own spiritual journey- one that, with any luck, will be as profound and meaningful as Sandoz's odyssey.
98 internautes sur 113 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
The Sparrow: what works and what doesn't 29 décembre 2007
Par Frank Richards - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché
A first encounter with intelligent aliens is one of the primary themes of classic science fiction. Will they be good or evil? Will they be friendly or hostile? How will they be like us? How different?

The Sparrow doesn't address these questions so much as use the story of a trip to a planet orbiting the nearest star as backdrop for exploring personal ethical questions, such as the existence of evil in a god-created universe. The Sparrow's aliens are pretty much like us humans, albeit humans living in tribes or the cities of a rather primitive civilization that has somehow developed nineteenth century technologies.

The strength of this book is in its originality. I found The Sparrow an enjoyable read, not particularly as science fiction then, but for the story.

What works:

· First, the anthropological approach that the author used. But it is as if she is describing some very primitive (in some respects) tribes rather than civilization(s). I liked the concept that the sense of smell was much more important to the aliens than it is to us, so they reacted to coffee and spices much differently.

· Second, the language issues and problems that the author brings up, and the tragic misunderstandings that can occur.

· Third, the descriptions of the two intelligent species on Alpha Centauri, and the physical evolution of the carnivores based on the characteristics of their prey were quite good.

· Finally, I liked the interplay between the characters (to some extent), it got redundant after a while, though. Her idea seemed to be to get them all together for pizza and have them make wise cracks or jokes. This happened too often.

What I didn't care for was some of the science fiction and most of the religious aspects.

The Sparrow doesn't fit the science fiction genre, unless it is science fiction from the twenties or thirties. That's the only time you'd find all of the fortuitous events that lead a group of friendly, bantering adventurers off on some far-fetched expedition that would in reality most surely be done by government or corporate interests. I'm thinking of the old Edgar Rice Burroughs or Arthur Conan Doyle type science fiction popular in the thirties.

What doesn't quite work:

Modern science fiction worlds must have credibility; even when you are presenting phenomenal events, you must make things believable. Some problems of credibility I picked up on in The Sparrow were:

· The descriptions of the red dwarf star Alpha Centauri C (or Proxima) are wrong. The star is so small and so far away (½ light year), that it would appear as just another faint red star in the night sky to the people on the planet. You wouldn't have them saying," Wait until the red sun rises, etc."

· The asteroid driven by a mass driver to get up to speed approaching lightspeed would take too much energy, even for an economy 13 years ahead of ours. I don't know how to do the calculation, since the author doesn't provide the mass of the asteroid they use, but I'm confident all the energy currently in use in the world woudn't be enough to move an asteroid up to approach light speed using a mass driver, as the author postulates.

· The society of the Alpha Centauri carnivores is static, sort of a tribal kingship system, yet somehow they have developed their technology to such an extent that they have powerful radios. So the technology has advanced quite a bit, but the social system hasn't advanced much at all. This doesn't make much sense.

The second, more fundamental problem I had was with the religious aspects of the book. I am not religious myself, but am familiar with the issues. The author, on the other hand, doesn't seem to know much about Christianity, the Jesuits, or Catholicism. I read somewhere that she got her information about religious people only from reading books by priests who left their vocations, and it shows.

· It didn't make any sense to me that a group of Jesuits would land on a planet with sentient life and never wonder if the inhabitants had souls, and if they had souls, were they subject to original sin? For religious people, this would be a much larger issue than Sandoz's big struggle with his faith, which the author makes out as the point of the book (more below). For religious people, this would be the first issue to be addressed, but it is never addressed, as far as I know (I stopped about halfway through the second book, Children of God).

· Why didn't the Jesuits try to convert the aliens to Christianity? They never even get around to the issue of God until 140 pages into the second book. But that is what the Jesuits are all about; they are "soldiers of Christ."

· I found it odd that what happens to Sandoz makes him question his faith. He apparently has no knowledge of 2000 years of martyrs that preceeded him in the Christian faith. He's unaware of that old lions and christians in the coliseum thing. You would think that, as a Jesuit, with all the history of Jesuits being tortured or killed, (for example, by the native Americans after the Jesuits arrived in North America), you would think that he would know all this and realize as a Jesuit that such could well happen to him, especially upon arriving on a new world with a strange civilization. But he is shocked to his core that God would allow horrible things to happen to him, even though God allowed them to happen to so many of his predecessors.

The appeal of the book is its fresh approach to the old scientific question of alien civilizations, but the fresh approach is also the cause of some of the books problems.
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