My local library branch has a shelf of “Book Club Picks” at the front, which usually serves to confirm my impression that book clubs might not be my scene. But I do look at it sometimes, because it’s still books, and the other day I picked up The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Mostly because the premise is Jesuits in space. I do love a clever and unexpected premise and, c’mon, Jesuits in space!
Okay, actually it’s more about faith and doubt. (But they do travel to another planet. And not in a metaphorical way.) Emilio Sandoz is a priest who just so happens to know an astronomer who discovers an extraterrestrial music broadcast. Then it just so happens that between them and a few other friends they have the means to actually go there. Obviously God means them to do it!
The storyline about the expedition cuts back and forth with a storyline where Sandoz, having come back alone and very much the worse for wear has to explain himself to the Jesuits. If God meant them to go, then it seems He also screwed them over.
The plot didn’t really grab me, I think because you know so early on that the expedition is doomed. (Confession: Sometimes I flip forward to see what happens because I’m invested, but here I knew roughly what would happen before I got invested.) But I did like the talk about God. So often religion seems like a vaguely embarrassing superstition that, if it gets any air time at all, is either all about backward creationists or else a God who dispenses rainbows and solace. Those of you familiar with the Bible may recall that before the part with the rainbow, God felt the need to drown most of the world. I am just saying.