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Ron Reed

Mary Doria Russell

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Ron Reed   

Does anyone else know these books? I'm halfway through The Sparrow on the insistent recommendation of a literary friend, enjoying it very much. I'll call it literary science fiction, stronger emphasis on character than on science. Great NYTimes review blurb: "A startling, engrossing, and moral work of fiction."

It concerns a Jesuit mission to Alpha Centauri in the near future, to make contact with the first non-terrestrial life to be discovered. Very strong emphasis on faith issues: the writer herself is a Jewish convert from Catholicism. "I wanted to evaluate, as an adult, issues that had lain dormant for me since adolescence, to study the religion of my youth, to revisit the source of my values and ethics. That's why I chose to write about men who are collectively among th emost admirable and best educated of Catholic priests, the Jesuits. Writing The Sparrow allowed me to weigh the risks and the benefits of a belief in God, to examine the role of religion in the lives of many people."

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The Sparrow (and Children of God, but not so much) is the only book to challenge Dune as my favorite sci-fi novel, and I keep it on my shelf of, oh, about fifteen novels that I will continue to re-read over the rest of my life. It's masterfully done, and very very brave. It'll tear you to pieces before it's over.

It would be wise, but exhausting, to read both The Sparrow and Endo's Silence in the same year.

There was a movie in the works, but rumors have gone silent. Jimmy Smits was going to play the lead role, which doesn't work for me at all.

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This is an awesome book. Let us know, Ron, when you're finished. I've always wanted to discuss the theology in this book. It is masterfully written and terrific memorable characters.

I wasn't aware of their being a movie in the works. I must admit its always been my secret dream (now not so secret) -- "If I ever get an opportunity to write a screenplay or direct a big-budget film-- it would be The Sparrow." blush.gif

I've read so few good Science Fiction books that deal with religion and specifically Christianity. The only other one I can think of is A Canticle for Lebowitz.

ant

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BethR   

The Sparrow (and Children of God, but not so much) is the only book to challenge Dune as my favorite sci-fi novel, and I keep it on my shelf of, oh, about fifteen novels that I will continue to re-read over the rest of my life. It's masterfully done, and very very brave. It'll tear you to pieces before it's over.

...

There was a movie in the works, but rumors have gone silent. Jimmy Smits was going to play the lead role, which doesn't work for me at all.

Update on the movie from Mary Doria Russell's website. Now Brad Pitt is slated for the lead. I know, I know! But she has an interesting rationale for this casting choice, and some other comments on the vagaries of translating book to screen.

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Crow   

I saw Mary Doria Russell speak at a local Borders last night. She talked about her travel to Italy to do research for A Thread of Grace, and how she met people who hid Jews during the Holocaust. These were some amazing stories. I hadn't heard of her until I found this board, so I'm looking forward to reading her books.

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Speaking of A Canticle for Liebowitz, have you read Walker Percy's Lost in the Cosmos, which ends in a tribute to Miller's masterpiece? If not, I highly recommend it.

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Crow   

I finished reading The Sparrow, and it's amazing. The characters are sharply drawn and very real. The language is beautiful, and the description of the new world is captivating without relying on sci-fi cliches. The dual plot lines of the mission and the aftermath really keeps the reader intrigued and unsettled, knowing that beyond the idyllic description of humans encountering a new world, tragedy lurks. The ending lingered in my mind long after I finished reading.

I'm looking forward to A Thread of Grace.

Edited by Crow

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Wait! Don't you want to read the sequel, Children of God, first?

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Crow   

I hadn't realized Children of God was a sequel. I guess I'll read that next then. The list of books on my to-read list keeps growing! ::w00t::

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Crow   

I have just finished Children of God and it is another excellent book. Like any sequel, it lacks the freshness of the original, the opportunity to discover a new world. However, it does provide a more detailed look at society on Rakhat and the conflict between the Runa and the Jaanata (although it was a little difficult at times to keep the characters names straight in my mind; so many "a"s). But the return of Sandoz to Rahkat and his continuing personal journey were compelling.

Edited by Crow

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Andrew   

Compelling, indeed. Once again, the participants on this board have lead me to treasure I don't think I'd have discovered otherwise.

I just finished 'Children of God' last night, and wow, these 2 books are amazing. Such honest, soul-searching, faith-searching writing is hard to come by - I can so relate to Sandoz's faith struggles (although not his experiences, thank God!), that although painful to read at times, it was also quite cathartic and encouraging. I underlined a few key sections that I'm sure I'll be returning to, for further pondering. The science is sufficiently plausible, so it doesn't detract from the engrossing storyline. Especially in book 1, these are characters to fall in love with. I appreciate how Russell drew her characters warts and all, with only one utter villain and no plaster saints.

I did have a few minor quibbles, that in my mind knock this a bit down from the perfection of (for instance) 'Gilead.' The witty banter in book 1 is just a bit too witty to be believeable - maybe I'm hanging out with the wrong people, but I don't think any group can maintain such dialogue for such long stretches. Secondly, the twisting storylines in book 2 became a tad confusing during the second half. And lastly, the end of book two seemed overly tidy and Hollywoodish.

Nonetheless, these are truly minor quibbles about what is overall a grand accomplishment that I'd recommend without reservation. On a lesser note, I loved Ballantine's packaging of these books, with the author's interviews and the highly intelligent questions for group discussion - kudos to them.

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kebbie   

I've been alternately speeding through/savoring The Sparrow over the last few weeks, and I'm looking forward to hearing Mary Doria Russell at the Festival of Faith and Writing. I'll report back on any interesting insights I jot down during that workshop! (She's leading a few, but I'll only be able to make it to one, called "Beyond the Fields We Know," about constructing new worlds in fiction.

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Big news from the author ... for fans of The Sparrow and Doc,

AMC has optioned The Sparrow and Children of God for a series. AMC is the cable channel responsible for Mad Men, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead and Hell on Wheels. They’re not afraid of the dark, so maybe this time The Sparrow will fly. ...

...

I suspect that what I write is better suited to long-form television than to feature-length films. There is now a real possibility that in a couple of years Doc will be on HBO and The Sparrow will be on AMC. Very cool. Very cool, indeed… But nothing is real in Hollywood until the cinematographer is on the set eating a breakfast burrito. For now, we just sit back and wait to see what happens.

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On 12/17/2004 at 11:55 AM, Overstreet said:

It would be wise, but exhausting, to read both The Sparrow and Endo's Silence in the same year.

I just finished reading The Sparrow, and actually tweeted Russell to ask her if Silence played an inspirational role in the creation of the novel.  She replied, no--didn't read it until well after The Sparrow was complete.  But the parallels are so similar, with Rodrigues and Sandoz experiencing the crises of faith in God and God's will in mission as disaster to others strikes.  The Sparrow, of course, spins Sandoz into tragic and harrowing irony as he encounters the Singer who inspired the mission itself--less subtle, I think, than Silence's denouement.  But what a novel--I can't believe it was a first novel.  I read Thread of Grace years prior, and while I found it rich and compelling, it was not near the staggering accomplishment that is The Sparrow.

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On 17/12/2004 at 8:55 AM, Overstreet said:

It would be wise, but exhausting, to read both The Sparrow and Endo's Silence in the same year.

I actually did that this year. I preferred Silence. Russell does an excellent job at describing alien culture (the hierarchy, linguistics, etc...) but she's poor at painting a visual picture of the Rakhat world (unlike C.S. Lewis and his wonderful descriptions of Malacandra and Perelandra). But I also thought Russell's "God" was more-or-less a generic modern Western God and not the God of Christianity. The Jesuits don't seem to meditate on things you'd expect missionaries to reflect on, like if the Rakhat are "fallen."

Edited by winter shaker

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Truth be told, I envisioned both alien species as looking vaguely like Sid from the ICE AGE cartoons.

That is an interesting critique of Russell's Jesuits.  Of course all of them are rather easy going regarding the gospel imperative; I don't know any Jesuits nor am I very familiar with them with the exception of their collegiate basketball prowess.  I took their post modern liberalism I stride, especially with the light attempts at converting Anne and with Sandoz's expectations of sharing about God with the Reshtar (though that comes with a pointed and horrifying reversal of expectations).  I suspect if these were Baptists and not Jesuits the interaction with the aliens would have been much different.

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