For reasons I can not fathom, Mary Doria Russell’s books, The Sparrow and Children of God are seen as important novels in the discussion of religion and belief. Maybe it is the mention of “children of god” in the title of the second book. Maybe it is the fact that one of the main characters is a priest, and a good part of the novel takes place in a monkery. It is even the case that the publishers have for some editions included some extra back matter on how to use these books as a focal point in your church reading groups.
This is absurd. These are not religious novels, or about religion. Never mind the priest, the god references, all that. These are, in fact, novels that come directly from Anthropology, mainly Biological Anthropology, Linguistics, and Behavioral Biology, but other areas as well. This is not a shock since the author is an anthropologist.
These two books, a series of two, are on my top ten list of modern fiction you must read. No kidding. An, since the second of the two books is currently cheap on Kindle, now is your chance!
Here are the books with their summaries:
A visionary work that combines speculative fiction with deep philosophical inquiry, The Sparrow tells the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads a scientific mission entrusted with a profound task: to make first contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. The mission begins in faith, hope, and beauty, but a series of small misunderstandings brings it to a catastrophic end.
Notice the gratuitous mention of faith in the publisher’s description. Not so in the actual novel.
Children of God This is the one that is two buck in Kindle form.
The only member of the original mission to the planet Rakhat to return to Earth, Father Emilio Sandoz has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Society of Jesus calls upon him for help in preparing for another mission to Alpha Centauri. Despite his objections and fear, he cannot escape his past or the future.
Old friends, new discoveries and difficult questions await Emilio as he struggles for inner peace and understanding in a moral universe whose boundaries now extend beyond the solar system and whose future lies with children born in a faraway place.
Strikingly original, richly plotted, replete with memorable characters and filled with humanity and humor, Children of God is an unforgettable and uplifting novel that is a potent successor to The Sparrow and a startlingly imaginative adventure for newcomers to Mary Doria Russell’s special literary magic.
Again, more gratuitous mention of religion. I’m pretty sure the publisher means “Society of Jesuits” not “Society of Jesus” and at this future date, in the universe of these novels, the Jesuits are not particularly religious. They are more like consultants.
Anyway, must read.