Whether it is the future antics of Star Trek or the eccentric world of Star Wars, we seem to find only flashy entertainment and silly imagination. Of course, I can't dismiss the numerous fans that devote themselves to the intricacies of science fiction like a religion. Unfortunately, I have to disregard the fanatics; we're talking about reality here.
The year is 2019, not too far ahead, and for the first time an alien transmission is intercepted by an unlikely astrophysicist. From there, a series of events leading to an exploration mission being launched by the United Nations and, oddly enough, the Roman Catholic Church. To where? A planet in the Alpha Centauri system, Earth's nearest celestial neighbor to our own sun, where first contact is made with a grand new civilization.
Thoughts of spaceships and subtitled alien language might be deterring you already, but hold those stereotypes. Russell's protagonist is a Jesuit priest, Father Emilio Sandoz, who leads the team, and what follows in the story touches upon the very fabric of humanity and spirituality.
The Sparrow explores cultural miscommunication that lead to a complete imbalance of the alien civilization caused by simple harmless acts by the crew. Sandoz himself ponders the reasons of his being chosen on this voyage, and he questions and analyzes the life of priesthood. A provocative look into the politics of the church suggest that God may have betrayed the entire expedition.
Russell jumps perspectives from present time with Sandoz, after he mysteriously returns to Earth alone scared to death, and the progression of the mission. Both storylines move with great emotion to meet up where we finally discover what horrible fate came to Sandoz.
You'll find the novel rich with imagery as it progresses from urban streets of Puerto Rico, the Roman countryside and the alien planet, which is a lavish duality of African like savannas and ultra-modern cities. The characters die, mourn, love and lose hope. Sandoz, in present time, draws you to suffer with him, urging for a resolve of the pain that haunts him.
The Sparrow is recognized mostly for its compelling nature, which has sparked great interest and debate in the most cynical of adult circles. Although the story's foundation rests on a very sci-fi notion of extraterrestrial contact, the fundamental aspect of The Sparrow hints towards the disruption of civilizations throughout our history through unchecked missionary work. No laser beams this time, but simply a reminder of how our ideals can be equally disastrous.