Saturday, May 12, 2012

Children of God

A couple of weeks ago, I posted (here) about Alan Jacobs's book, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.  I followed its advice about reading what you really enjoy.  So, since then I've ravaged my way through one of my all time favorites:  Mary Doria Russell's Children of God.  It is the sequel to her The Sparrow.  I reread that one last year, and so decided to reread the sequel too.  This is the kind of reading for me that just about all day long I'm thinking about the story, and planning my day so that I can get back to reading it asap.  Those must be the signs that a book is really clicking with you.

Russell used to be an anthropologist, but wrote The Sparrow as a way of working through her own religious beliefs.  She was raised Catholic, pretty much gave it up during her young adulthood and scientific career, then in the process of writing this book, converted to Judaism.  It is a science fiction story set just a few decades into the future when the SETI program hears a radio signal from an extra-terrestrial source with beautiful but haunting music.  The Jesuits (as they have been doing for centuries) decide that they're going to that other planet, and so ready an away team, which is centered on Emilio Sandoz, a linguist from Puerto Rico who has always struggled with his feelings toward God. Everything goes marvelously well... and tragically wrong.  The stories are the best treatment of the problem of evil that I have ever encountered.  And Russell is fabulously creative in imagining this other world and how the sentient creatures there might be, and how they might relate to a bunch aliens that show up on their planet.  The relativistic effects of interstellar travel also make for very intriguing reading.

I think there's something about (good) science fiction and the radical difference from our own world portrayed in them that shows most clearly what we're really like.  So, I'm now going to ignore Jacobs's advice and say that everyone should read these books!

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