The Sparrow
by Mary Doria Russell
448pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.28/5
Good Reads Rating: 4.29/5

Mary Doria Russell’s first novel, The Sparrow, failed to live up to my (rather high) expectations. I had heard that it had well-developed characters, an interesting first contact story, thought-provoking commentary on religious themes, and a haunting ending that stayed with you long after reaching the final page of the book. It sounded exactly like the kind of book I love, but it just did not capture my interest to the extent I had expected, although I did not dislike it. I will most likely not be picking up the sequel, Children of God.

Emilio Sandoz, the once revered Jesuit priest, is now famous as the only survivor of a space mission to the planet Rakhat and infamous as a whore and the murderer of an alien child. The Jesuits are attempting to treat Emilio’s disfigured hands and coerce him into telling them the story of what happened to him while he was away from earth. The story alternates between Emilio and the Jesuits in the year 2060 and flashbacks of the discovery of life on Rakhat, the trip to this distant planet, and the events that occurred there.

The half page long prologue introducing the Jesuit’s desire to go meet God’s other children had me intrigued. The first couple of chapters relating Emilio’s current state made me curious about how he became such a bitter man. I enjoyed most of the parts that took place in the year 2060, but the parts about the past dragged a bit, especially in the beginning. Too much time was spent showing the relationships forged between the members of the space mission and it seemed to take forever for the plot to advance to the actual discovery of alien life and the time spent with the residents of Rakhat. Normally, I would enjoy this, but none of the characters were well-written enough that I found this particularly interesting. They were mostly too perfect or too cheesy or just too obviously meant to fit into a particular stereotype. Somehow the characters just did not appeal to me that much other than the broken Emilio in the present. The interactions between him and the other priests were far more interesting than the dinner parties of the past.

The two main alien species discovered on Rakhat were the more compelling part of the story of the previous life of Emilio, although that was unfortunately a fairly small part of the flashbacks. The less intelligent, more naive Runa were greater in number but subservient to the more vicious Jana’ata. There were the usual common occurrences for first contact stories – misunderstandings abounded between the humans and the aliens and the humans made what they thought was a minor change that turned out to be a big mistake.

After all the mystery surrounding the details of how Emilio came to be the only survivor and such a different man from the person he was when he left, the ending revelation seemed rushed and very anti-climatic. The ending failed to affect me as much as one might expect partially because I already knew what was going to happen, but mostly because I never formed any real emotional attachment to any of the characters. It failed to shock me on the level I had anticipated, and therefore the tragic end did not keep resurfacing to my mind once I had put the book down.

One aspect of this book that was handled well was Emilio’s belief that the reason the obstacles that could have prevented the trip to Rakhat were so easily removed meant that it must be God’s will to go to this planet. Everything seemed so perfect, Emilio felt so happy and blessed about meeting God’s other children and learning to communicate with them, and relations with these aliens seemed to be going wonderfully. Then one little mistake caused the death of everyone left other than Emilio as well as the downfall of Emilio himself. The priest must deal with his guilt about convincing his friends that this mission was God’s will and being the sole survivor.

The stronger points of the descent of Emilio Sandoz, the religious themes, and the alien race are overshadowed by too much time spent with weak, uninteresting characters that I did not come to care about.


Primary Inversion
by Catherine Asaro
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.63/5
Good Reads Rating: 3.94/5

Primary Inversion, a novel in the Skolian Saga, is the debut novel of Nebula Award winner Catherine Asaro. Although it is not chronologically the first novel in the series, it is supposed to be a good place to start. The series mostly focuses on the story of different members of one family and a few of the books are closely linked (for instance, The Radiant Seas continues the story begun in Primary Inversion and is about the same characters). This partially space opera, partially hard science fiction novel had me hooked from the early pages and proved to be difficult to put down.

The universe is comprised of two main empires that are at war with each other – the Skolians and the Traders (there is also a third empire that is neutral and is not mentioned very much in this book). The Traders, due to a flaw in their engineering, not only can withstand pain but derive great pleasure from it and therefore particularly enjoy torturing the empathic Skolians.

Primary Inversion is told from the first person point of view of Sauscony, otherwise known as Soz, a Jagernaut Primary (a soldier fairly high in the hierarchy with advanced technology making her strong and quick). While on a neutral planet with her colleages, Soz is hit on by a man who is obviously a Trader and most likely of the ruling family. She notices he does not seem like the other Traders, but cannot immediately figure out why.

This novel has almost everything one could hope for in a space opera – interesting technology and societies, political intrigue, and a pretty cool space battle. A lot of the focus in the middle of the story is on Soz, as she deals with the after-effects of her experience as a spy on a Trader planet and some events in the present. Some may find this to be a little too emo, and there is also some romance, although not too much. This book is certainly not a straight romance novel, as I have heard some of the other books in the series are. The beginning and the end (especially the end) are rather fast-paced and make up for what some may consider to be a slow middle.

Soz is an interesting and well-developed character, both because of her life as a Jagernaut and a member of the royal family and her internal conflict. She is an empath, one who can feel others emotions as though they are her own, yet she is in many ways an emotional cripple. Soz has a hard time expressing her thoughts and feelings and being truly close to people. Her character is likable – believable yet flawed.

This book was very easy to read quickly in spite of a lot of technological explanations (particularly in the beginning when much of the Jagernaut technology was explained to a young man in training). It was mixed in with plenty of dialogue and insight into the characters that kept it from being heavy reading.

If you don’t mind some internal struggle and romance but enjoy space opera featuring well-developed characters and societies, I would recommend giving Primary Inversion a shot. It is very easy to begin reading and very difficult to stop reading. I look forward to reading more books in this series.


March is over and I could not be happier! It was a very hectic month; I think the only weekend I didn’t have to do work was Easter weekend and of course I was busy with the holiday then. Hopefully, now I can get back into reading and reviewing more.

Even without having a lot of time to read, I have 4 books to review (Primary Inversion, The Sparrow, Melusine, and The Virtu). Now I have just started the final book that is out in Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinths series, The Mirador. I can’t wait for the next book; this is one of my favorite recent finds for books. Unfortunately, it’s not supposed to be out until next year, but it could be a longer wait so I shouldn’t complain. It’s one of those superb character-driven series with great characters (although I would not recommend it to anybody offended by language or sexual content).

The 2008 Hugo Finalists have been announced. The nominees for best novel are:

  • The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)

  • Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)

  • Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan/Feb. 2007)

  • The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)

  • Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)

The list seems a bit underwhelming, but I haven’t actually read any of those so I guess I can’t say too much about it. I would like to read Brasyl at some point, but I have no interest at all in Rollback or The Last Colony.

I’m hoping either Stardust or the first season of Heroes wins in the category of Best Presentation, Long Form.

Arthur C. Clarke, one of the few true visionaries of science and science fiction in the twentieth century, died today. Clarke is in a very select category of people, along with a few others like Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, who not only showed what the future could be but also worked to help create it. Anything I write would be insufficient to describe his impact on the world we live in, both through influencing others and his own direct contributions, so I’ll just say he will be missed.

I haven’t put up a review in two weeks even though I have two to do. I feel like a horrible reviewer. Unfortunately, I have a big project at work due the end of next week and I knew there was no way I’d finish it on time with all my other projects if I didn’t work extra, so a lot of my spare time has been going into that and I haven’t had time to actually write a review (or read all that much). I’ll just be glad when this month this over.

So I thought in the meantime I’d take a little break from my project and write a few brief thoughts on the books I’ve read recently before I get to review them. These are not reviews and my brain is pretty much mush right now, but hopefully it will at least give an idea on the books since I don’t know when I’ll get a chance to actually write in-depth reviews of them.

Catherine Asaro’s Primary Inversion, the first book in the Skolian saga, took me about 1 1/2 days to start and finish. This space opera was very easy to get absorbed in from early in the novel, and it kept me wanting to find out what happened. It may be a bit angst-filled for some people’s taste (and it had some romance, although the romance was not the entire plot or anything). It reminded me somewhat of a more connected version of C.S. Friedman’s In Conquest Born with it’s slightly telepathic race of empaths and empires at odds with one another. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the Skolian Saga.

Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow was good, but a little disappointing after all I had heard about it. I had heard that the characterization was wonderful, but even though I liked the characters in the story, I felt they lacked something. I’m not sure what, though, since there were certainly a lot of gray areas and the depictions of their motives are problems were very real. There were a few elements of the story that I found hard to swallow even for science fiction – for instance, using an asteroid as a transport vessel to Alpha Centauri. The writing was ok, but nothing exceptional. The mystery of what had happened was riveting, but at times, the story dragged a little. This story was worth reading for the way it brought up interesting questions about religion and how it depicted Emilio’s descent from a godly priest to a bitter man with a bad reputation.

Now I am back to fantasy and reading Melusine by Sarah Monette a little in the evenings when I have time. So far, it is very promising although I’ve only read the first three chapters.