Hawk reviews ‘The Sparrow’

The Sparrow
By: Mary Doria Russell

The story; the SETI project at the Arecibo radio telescope, after being sold off to the Japanese, pays off. Strange, intriguing, even beautiful singing is coming from Alpha Centauri. The discovery is first shared among friends of the technician on duty one of which is a Jesuit priest. In secret The Jesuit Society puts together and launches an ill fated mission to meet the singers.

Ok, let me just say the books is well written. I’d have given up on it without finishing had it not been so well written. Unfortunately the story pushes several of my pet peeve buttons.

Firstly, non linear story telling. We jump from present to past to present over and over. It may, in this case, have helped unfurl the story slowly but I just dislike this mode of story telling. A little foreshadowing is fine, chapters of it are just weird.

Secondly, the science. The expedition uses a hollowed out left over from mining asteroid already fitted with engines that fuse the silica to generate thrust. These, apparently, abound in Earth orbit. We’re supposed to believe that aster…missles, with high powered, highly maneuverable engine systems are just left in orbit and no one’s ever thought or tried to use one as a weapon? I don’t buy it. I also don’t buy the Earth governments allowing these things to just sit out there waiting to rain down upon us.

Early in the story, which starts off around 2019, one character wonders if another ‘even remembers television’. Ten years from now? Maybe in 2019 we’ll have 3D holographic mist projectors instead of flat screen HDTVs but they’ll still be television. People will still be watching video based entertainment calling it television and collecting old shows. Just like we do now. Within ten years we’ll have completely forgotten the medium? I just don’t buy it.

Personally I felt the novel dealt too much with the main character’s religious beliefs and his Crisis of Faith and not enough to the science fiction side of the story. Even the reader’s very first encounter with the aliens is a glossed over “Hi, how are ya? Sure we’ll travel to the big city with you.”

Even now I can’t honestly tell you if I liked the book or not. I read it, finished it, the writing itself was well done but I don’t think I’d ever re-read it (something I do quite often with my favorite books). In the end I’d have to say give it a try, check it out from the library instead of buying it. You might like it. You might not. I’m still not sure.

Hawk (torn between two covers…)


  1. LowlandSolution

    Well, you gave it a shot. I’m a sucker for flashback/flashforward. I think it keeps a story interesting because while you are reading you’re constantly trying to fill in the middle. What I liked most about the book was the fact that it built suspense in that way. Also, the spiritual/religious aspect resonated with me but that’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea.

  2. Frost

    Aw, man. This is one of my FAVORITE books.


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