I managed to read two books – “The Sparrow” and “Children of God”, which is a sequel to the first one. Written by a former Catholic who converted to Reform Judaism (Mary Doria Russell), these Scifi novels take on more subjects than I can count – love, hate, God, suffering, death, friendship, tragedy, evil, faith – a recurring theme is how we can act on presumptions without knowing the whole picture, and then find out that what we thought we understood, we really had no clue about.
I think these are books you either love or hate. Almost relentlessly brutal, they follow the life of one Father Emilio Sandoz, Jesuit priest, part of a “first contact” mission sent out by the Jesuit Order to the planet Rakhat, where sentient life has been discovered.
The first book really exists as a two-track – two storylines told simultaneously. We see the beginning of the mission at the same time as we are introduced to its aftermath, a mutilated, broken Sandoz accused of heinous crimes. The rest of the book slowly unravels how Sandoz got from point A to point B.
I had a hard time getting into the first book, maybe because I didn’t really want to find out the details, but by the second part of the book I couldn’t put it down any more, and finished the sequel in two days.
The book is by no means Christian, the viewpoints expressed by the characters are many and varied, but there are passages I still keep thinking about.
“Rain falls on everyone, lightning strikes some…God made the world, and He saw that it was good. Not fair. Not happy. Not perfect. Good.”
“… trust in God could impose an additional burden on good people slammed to their knees by some senseless tragedy. An atheist might be no less staggered by such an event, but non-believers often experienced a kind of calm acceptance: shit happens, and this particular shit had happened to them. It could be more difficult for a person of faith to get to his feet precisely, because he had to reconcile God’s love and care with the stupid, brutal fact that something irreversibly terrible had happened.”
“There is a passage in Deutoronomy – God tells Moses, “No one can see My face but I will protect you with My hand until I have passed by you, and then I will remove My hand and you will see My back.” Well I always thought this was a physical metaphor, but you know – I wonder now if it isn’t really about time. Maybe that was God’s way of telling us that we can never know his intentions, but as time goes on…we’ll understand. We’ll see where He was: we’ll see His back.”
Anyways, I found these hard to read, but worth it. The second book seemed choppier and less developed as far as the characters go, but still good. There are few novels that stay with me for longer than a day or two, and these did.