20 April 2012

Ruler of the Universe: A Review of The Sparrow

Jacket covers have been swirling through my mind over the past few days.   There are so many books that I have been dying to discuss. Now that I have initiated "Dune Girl's List of Hardcore, Slap You Off the Sofa SF Books", I really get to go there.  (Like you, I have no idea what I am referring to when I type "there".  The idea of a vaguely awesome, sparkly, ominous sounding place where all my wicked books reside really appeals to me.)  To be truthful, I am well aware of what the next theme and subsequent entries will be.  My brain decided and voilĂ , there it was. Brains are helpful that way.  They take over when you least expect it.

In an interview Mary Doria Russell was asked if science fiction is suited to exploring questions of religion, in the same sense that legends and folk tales do in other cultures? Here is her response,

...human beings have always told stories about alien beings, but in the past they were called angels and demons and elves and trolls. Folk tales and science fiction are often about what it means to be human in a large and terrifying and beautiful universe, so naturally they overlap a good deal. As for religion, well, the great monotheistic world religions address the same concern. And if God is real, and the ruler of the universe, then logically that sovereignty must extend to other worlds and their inhabitants. That's a perfect set up for SF.

Not surprising religion, and faith are consistent themes in SF.  Most to all SF books have dark shadows lurking in the plot lines with characters undergoing extreme emotional or physical crises.   Sure I admit that some of those crises are more ridiculous than terrifying;  The unfortunate whale in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams that plummets to its death, just as it realizes it is sentient is not only hilarious but rather sad.  That whale just got it, and then it was gone.  Sidebar:   If you haven't read (or better yet heard) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy then once again our blossoming friendship is on the line. You also have not lived.   Yes, you were just slapped.  

Then there are those books  that are straight up terrifying requiring some type of jeopardy

of faith to ground the crisis into a believable reality for the reader.  Even I, whose ability to suspend disbelief is abnormally high (I cried when I discovered that the Millennium Falcon was not a real ship.  It's not by the way.  Deal with it.) need some part of humanity to cling to when a SF story is truly alien. With this in mind let me introduce The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell.   I once recommended this book to a friend not preparing him in any way for what he would be reading.  He no longer looks me in the eye.   It rather surprised me because of all the books I have read Children of God is the one that I continue to ponder on,  and cherish as if it was my own work.  These are not happy books but they are filled with beauty.  There is depth and eloquence in Russell's world that is so very near to our own but so very not.  Once read you will never truly leave these books behind.