I recently had a chance to sit down with a couple of thoughtful and funny folks to talk about a book that was entirely absent from my bookshelf. Emily Strand is an artist, Roman Catholic liturgist, and American educator, well known for her thoughtful articles and ideas about the Harry Potter world, including being the co-host of Potterversity: a Potter Studies Podcast. Michael Boyce is a Canadian scholar of English and Film at Booth University College and the host of the Geek4 Podcast. Spurred on by our work together as experts on Refuge 31’s recent documentary, The Science Fiction Makers, we decided to explore some Christian experiments in science fiction a bit further. We knew C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, pretty well, and have all read and taught or talked about books like James Blish’ A Case of Conscience and Walter Miller’s Canticle for Leibowitz. Where should we turn next?
Someone suggested Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow, a 1996 winner of the Arthur C. Clarke, James Tiptree, Jr., Kurd-Laßwitz-Preis, and the British Science Fiction Association Awards. Despite the shelf-full of awards confirming its strength as a work of speculative fiction, I had never heard of it and jumped at the chance to discuss it with these great people.
Goodreads.com summarizes the plot of The Sparrow thusly:
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be ‘human.’
Wow, what a book! This novel was excellently written and a brilliant opportunity for conversation. Fortunately, you can join in the conversation by watching the video (see below) or listening to the podcast (at the Geek 4 Podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcast, or here). This was such a rich novel and conversation that we’ve already agreed to discuss Russell’s 1998 sequel, The Children of God. I am both excited and a little scared to start the new novel!
You can follow Emily on Twitter @ekcstrand and check out her excellent website (emilystrand.com) or her blog LiturgyandLife.com. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mwboyce and Instagram @mwboyce and follow his website (michaelwboyce.com). And you can always catch me on Twitter @Brenton, on Instagram, or on the MaudCast.