Friday, June 18, 2004

catch-up; The Sparrow, Children of God, Archangel, etc

Something Different

You'll notice down the right of the page that I have a few book links. I have never intended that this blog be all politics (after all, I want to have something to talk about after we defeat the Boy King), so I thought I'd throw in a few book reviews. These won't necessarily be new books, just books I think deserve more attention than they may have recieved, or goodies that I have discovered in the library or thriftshops.As long as the reviews are on the 'front' page, I'll keep the links in the sidebar - as the reviews scroll to archive, I'll move the links to the posting itself to keep the sidebar from getting all cluttered up.

If you're only here for the politics, scroll past this entry.

My first pick to recommend is the Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

I have recommended this book to many people as one of the most intriguing grownup first-contact stories out there. The author is not a science fiction writer, and many readers who primarily read sci-fi are the nitpickiest about this book. There are lengthy conversations about the meaning of faith, and the nature of God. That said, the premise is compelling, the characters are intriguing and the situation is heart-breaking. Sometime in the near future, when the human race is moving around in the solar system (bases on a few planets, mining in the asteroids, etc), we discover incontrovertible proof of alien life in a near-by system. While the governments of Earth debate what to do about it, the Jesuits quietly organize a mission to the system. From the introduction:

It was predictable, in hindsight. Everything about the history of the Society of Jesus bespoke deft and efficient action, exploration and research. During what Europeans were pleased to call the Age of Discovery, Jesuit priests were never more than a year or two behind the men who made initial contact with previously unknown peoples; indeed, Jesuits were often the vanguard of exploration.

The United Nations required years to come to a decision that the Society of Jesus reached in ten days. In New York, diplomats debated long and hard, with many recesses and tablings of the issue, whether and why human resources should be expended in an attempt to contact the world that would become known as Rakhat when there were so many pressing needs on Earth. In Rome, the questions were not whether or why but how soon the mission could be attempted and whom to send.

The Society asked leave of no temporal government. It acted on its own principles, with its own assets, on Papal authority. The mission to Rakhat was undertaken not so much secretly as privately--a fine distinction but one that the Society felt no compulsion to explain or justify when the news broke several years later.

The Jesuit scientists went to learn, not to proselytize. They went so that they might come to know and love God's other children. They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the furthest frontiers of human exploration. They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God.

They meant no harm.

Read to see what happens when people with the best intentions in the world stumble into a situation they don't understand and try to make sense of it. If more 'men of God' had the morals and ethics of Father Emilio, I would have a lot less 'issues' with organized religion today.

I include a link to the sequel, Children of God, which sends the devastated Emilio back to Rakhat, against his will, to attempt to repair the damage caused by humanity's last incursion. It's not quite as good as the first book - the author seriously pulls her punches at the end, eschewing a powerful ending for a cozy one. But if you want to know more about Emilio and the aliens, you'll want to read this.

I am rather annoyed to discover, on Russell's website, that the story, which had previously been optioned by Antonia Bandaras, has now been picked up by director George Miller, to star (gag) Brad Pitt. Oh, no - say it ain't so!

I recently read Angel Seeker, by Sharon Shinn, which is also linked in the sidebar. This isn't quite in the same league as The Sparrow, being more what I'd call A Good Read than a great one. This is the fifth (or so) in her Samarria books; Samarria being a human colony of the future in which humans live among 'angels', mortal winged people who interface directly with the diety 'Jovan' through their singing. The series started with the so-called Archangel trilogy (Archangel being the first of the three books), which gives you all the background on how angels and humans interact and why.

Samarria is home to a variety of 'clans' or tribes of people, all of whom seem to have their counterparts on Earth. The Edori, for instance, are nomadic, clean living, happy people who talk directly to the diety, whom they call Yovah, and are clearly modelled after Native Americans. The Jansai are desert-nomads, who hide their females behind walls and veils and are obviously middle-eastern Muslims. There is a 'merchant' clan who facilitate all commerce on the world - I'm not sure if they're supposed to be the Merchant Princes of the Italianate City States, or Jews Without the Pograms. This most recent entry into the Samarria ouevre features an angel Obidiah falling (literally) from the sky and into the life of a sheltered young Jansai woman, Rebekkah. I include this book for your reading pleasure in case anyone wants to read a book in which the Muslim surrogates are so clearly the bad guys; you can boo their Taliban-like treatment of their women and cheer their ultimate comeuppance without being politically incorrect.

I include a link to the first Samarria book, Archangel, for readers who want to start at the beginning of the series.

(Like book reviews? Hate 'em? let me know in the comments, or, if you're shy, via the email link at the top of the page.)

Edit: Book links moved from sidebar to post:


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