Friday, 30 August 2013

The Sparrow Review

By Mary Doria Russell

A few weeks ago in The Guardian someone wrote an article recommending five sci-fi novels for those who don't normally dig sci-fi novels.  That's me.  I picked two based on their synopsis (synopsises? synopsi?) and this was the first one I read.

All the exciting stuff (that I had a vague interest in) happened in the last two chapters but the 300 or so pages getting there was a drag.

20% of the book is a bit-interesting story of the first humans to travel to another planet (Rakhat, which I pronounced in my head as 'rack-hat' but could've been 'ra-kart') and make first contact with a sentient and advanced species.  The humans who go there are a mix of Jesuit Priests and their science-y mates.  They safely land on Rakhat and things don't go very well.  All but one of them die (that's not a spoiler by the way - we find that out in Chapter One).

35% of the book is ruminations on whether God is still with you if you travel to another planet, does God condone evil, at what point does service to God become counter-productive, what is the role of God in a priest and what is the role of God in a lay-person, and what does God want from us, generally.  Being an atheist with a total absence of belief in God this all meant nothing to me, and more to the point, being an anti-theist (opposed to anyone believing in God in the first place) meant that I did not give one holy flying fuck of a shit about any of this.  I wanted to punch them all.

35% of the book is set back on Earth where the Jesuits beg the one survivor to tell them all what really happened on Rakhat, but he doesn't want to talk about it.  "Oh please tell us," they say, and he says, "No, I don't want to," for about 150 arduous pages.  Fuck it drags.

10% of the book is non-witty 'witty' discussions between the main characters as they eat and drink.  I hated them all and was gladdened as each of them died horribly.  That's not a good sign.

Oh, there was also some 'sexual tension' meant to be happening, but it was the most chaste sexual tension one could conjure.  Desire was absent.  There were no erections. All sexuality was discussed within the framework of morality, functionality, religion, biology and love.  Not once was there a "hanging for a root".

Religious-driven science fiction is like putting raspberry jelly on a pizza.

I give it an E.  Fail!


Cath said...

I don't know if I admire or just plain out marvel at anyone that can keep with a novel that they are literally loathing. What motivates you to keep going? The satisfaction of a scathing review at the end?

I can understand sci-fi novels taking a bit to get into, since they need to set "the universe" in place first. But frankly, dragging on with dribbling and lamentable discussions (such as you describe) benefits noone. Many of the greatest sci-fi writers around endlessly blather on - I am looking at you Robert Heinlein. In which case, the synopsis "is" the best part of the story.

So, will you try the other story that piqued your interest?

Perseus said...

I did want to do a scathing review, that was part of it, but also, I annoyingly wanted to know what happened. I was disappointed when I did know.

Read my le Guin review... I do recommend that one!

squib said...

Yeah, I read this one ages ago. I have a vivid memory of it being a big pile of crap (especially) near the end and there was something a bit repressive about it in a Catholic S & M alien-ish kind of way

Hey, really missing Lewd's music picks. Any chance he did some for last year?