"The Sparrow" by Mary D. Russell


(Mark D.) #41

Thank you for that. I am used to having my ‘real’ motives questioned by Christians. I appreciate the atmosphere you help to maintain here.

All I can say is that it is honest work and work I enjoy, much like the labor involved in making my garden. You can’t explain the value of a non-kitchen garden to someone who doesn’t care to know any easier than you can the value of finding harmony, meaning and understanding in ones life. But to one who recognizes the value there is nothing more satisfying.


(Mark D.) #42

I am relieved to find this thread open as I am near the end of the sequel and note some possible parallels with my own beliefs regarding religion. I always slow down when nearing the end of an enjoyable book, eager to see what is around the next bend but fearing to see the end of the trail.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #43

Enjoy it to the very last words! I will be eager to hear your thoughts about where she went with everything.


(Mark D.) #44

Finished Children of God and it was a very fun read. Definitely lots of surprises in the evolution of characters, which the author admits in the reader’s guide was intended. So something about being quick to judge and how a wider context redeems a character one might otherwise dismiss as a villain. That seems to fit with an often repeated theme on these boards. People here as opposed to Christians I come across elsewhere on the internet seem more likely to question their knowledge base when it comes to judging others.

The rest I’ll put under spoiler protection. The thoughts are rough but if any discussion comes of it perhaps some of it can be smoothed out.

[spoiler]Ah, one impression I remember now was how the predator race was largely viewed almost as gods by the Runa. And yet the Runa seem to have greater dexterity and to be capable of creating more technology. Ultimately those strengths are entirely put at the service of the Jana’ata who essentially breed them to that end - among others. This mirrors my own take on religion to a degree. I see our conscious minds and that which is regarded as God as co-products of consciousness. In the books the Runa = the conscious mind and the Jana-ata = that which fills the god hole of consciousness. It has occurred to me that our conscious minds are a later development and one that fills purposes to which it is better suited than is the more primordial-intuitive product of consciousness. In some sense the Jana’ata heighten the consciousness of the Runa who are more content to lead a less thought provoking life style. In the course of the books the Runa rise up as the result of changes brought on by the Jesus like character of the Jesuit Suarez. In the course of that upheaval, the Jana’ata are transformed from ‘gods’ with an OT disposition into one more disposed to peaceful coexistence.

From the perspective of the autistic/mystic Isaac, the true value of the Jana’ata is their music and stories. He values these far more than the ever present, always convivial and chatty Runa among whom he cannot hear his own songs/thoughts. Likewise, the fruit of that which fills the god hole in my thoughts is a place where creativity and inspiration transcending the mundane thrives. We are better off not to drive ‘our Jana’ata’ to extinction. We are better off for keeping their songs and stories alive. Atheists who dismiss all of religion as a mistake to be buried and covered over represent the triumph of the practical over the sublime, not the best outcome.

The opposite extreme would be a world in which all the roles and songs have been codified, sanctified and regulated. A perfection of top-down control, in which traditional religious forms are enforced but no longer live; a religious state in which religion rules but true religious experience is no longer allowed.[/spoiler]


(Mervin Bitikofer) #45

Wow – you went a lot deeper with all the potential symbolism you spotted in there. I was still mucking around in the ideas and dialogue bandied about by the characters. But now that you mention it, the Runa and Jana’ata do seem to roughly fit some of the parallels you mention. Almost as if … the Jana’ata had eaten from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, while the Runa had stayed back in relative innocence?

Coming back up closer to the surface, I agree with you that (most of!) the characters are given more dimensions than villainy or heroism. She made them all pretty real --to a fault I would add. One possible exception (on the periphery) … the ex-husband of Sandoz’s new wife (his name escapes me at the moment), seemed to be fairly villainous, through and through, though he is allowed his own moments of friendly and normal dialogue along with the others. And his character never claims too big a spot in the story, so maybe it isn’t fair to try to read much into that.

Russell seems to shun any sort of fluffy storybook endings, especially if you stop with the first book, leaving the reader starved for closure. And while she still couldn’t be accused of succumbing to fluffy Disney style endings in the second book, I nonetheless felt that it gave me a good measure of the closure I was longing for. Did you feel that way too?


(Mark D.) #46

I agree, the characters aren’t all equally well elaborated by the author. The ex-husband was named Carlo and do you suppose the woman he was going to marry was in on the plot all along? Seems possible.

That fits. The Runa could be seen as humans who don’t ‘eat from the tree’ but co-inhabit the world with those who did. Looked at that way, being ‘fallen’ doesn’t look entirely like a mistake. I wonder if some Christians see the acquisition of the knowledge of good and evil as a necessary step and quite possibly part of the grand plan. Can we be said to have free will without it?

I think I read in that study questions section that she had always imagined writing it as a single story over two books. And she does seem to encourage us to judge characters given an incomplete account only to redeem the them later with a fuller back story. I think she has a lesson to teach (axe to grind?) on this count.

But with only a couple of disconnects in the story line I was entirely happy with the plot and resolution. Thanks for the recommendation~


(Mervin Bitikofer) #47

I would press further with a followup question as to whether the story of our creation and fall is a story of earth and its particular creatures? Or is it a story of our entire Cosmos … and … it’s particular creatures?

My initial answer to that is that this is our earth-bound story and it is peculiarly for us. So I see our “tree of good and evil” as representing a fact of life about who we are, just as our initial “animal innocence” is also built into our human substrate.

I think God’s accommodation to us is a peculiar earth-bound accommodation to earth-bound inhabitants; indeed what else could it be? But in defense of Russell’s story, who am I (are we) to think that our citizenship on this planet is not itself beholden to a larger even more basic citizenship in our cosmos? In some senses maybe we have more in common with any alleged ETs that may exist than we might at first guess.

Okay – here’s a subject switch. And I think I’ll make a new post of it, hoping to maybe draw more readers in for a moral discussion than just you and me here.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #48

Please feel free to read this and make comments even if you have not read the discussed books. This does not involve any significant spoiler to the plot of the story, but an ancillary plot device that I thought itself raises good questions.

My family is in the background right now, watching a Bones episode that happens to involve undocumented immigrants being charged with murder and the hell they go through often being trafficked into this country and enslaved without rights.

And that subject reminds me of Russell’s world, in which she has one of her main characters having grown up as a child in Brazil, orphaned and in hopeless poverty. In Russell’s predicted 2018 future (she wrote the book in the 90s) she portrayed private companies in this “futuristic” world as having figured out that all of the masses in poverty represent a potential human resources to be … “exploited” (the word a cynic would use) … or “redeemed” (the word that capitalistic enthusiasts might prefer.) Here is how it worked in Russell’s world: companies would subject hopefull masses of impoverished kids to just enough of a barrage of tests to be able to select out a few of the best and brightest (usually with regard to very specific sought-after skills). After all this vetting, the company would extract the (lucky?) child from their poverty, provide all the best schooling, training … everything needed. And in return they would “own” the emerging trained adult, and enjoy returns on the high-paying job this “redeemed adult” was trained to do until the investment has shown its return. A defender of the practice (if we set aside the disturbing word: “own”) might liken this to med students needing to serve in the army or in a certain state until the investment into their medical degree is considered sufficiently compensated.

Russell’s character is a brilliant world-respected analyst who is nonetheless “with obligation”, but doing quite quite well for herself in comparison to her childhood of selling herself for prostitution. I.e. at some point she ostensibly “consented” to choose this future with its obligation, and was probably the envy of any other impoverished childhood street friends she may have had.

I don’t for a moment defend slavery in any form, historically or now. That said, what do people think of these kinds of situations which, as today’s news shows is far from merely hypothetical. What do we say to people who because of how horrible their present situation is, are willing to try slavery as a means toward gaining a different life?


(Phil) #49

Hum. Don’t we all let ourselves be enslaved to some degree? May be work, money or just psychological dependence.
I am near the end of the book (actually an autographed copy I found at the bookstore.). Some of the science was a little weak, but after all that is not what the book is really about. Seems to be a bit of a journey of life story, like the movie African Queen. In any case, enjoying it.


(Mark D.) #50

That’s good so it won’t be a busman’s holiday for you. Just some good old fashioned entertainment with just the occasional science/religion thrown in for spice.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #51

Yeah; it’s always interesting to note what sorts of things authors work to be realistic about and what they decide to give up for the sake of story line. Actually I thought she compared quite favorably over the usual ‘star trek’ fare. She actually faced interstellar distance and relativistic effects square on instead of ignoring it by papering it over over with fictitious “warp” or “hyper” drives and such. The technology license she had to fabricate was in their ability to use asteroid ore for fuel. Oxygen could be there in silicates and such, but getting that loose would use up a lot of energy rather than making rocket fuel available. But as you said, I can forgive her that, especially after we’ve trained ourselves to put up with transporters, universal translators and all manner of other nonsense in other popular sci fi. And her human component in all of it is simply … unmatched … as one might expect from an anthropologist. That is where she really shines. But doesn’t shine so much that I didn’t notice one other giant incredibility the scientifically and politically adept reader is obliged to grant for the story to happen: that a small cadre of humans [even brilliant scientists or engineers as they were] could contrive such a trip with so little input from the wider international scientific community. There is just no way, of course. But what is an author to do … the story simply demanded it in this case.

Yes, but is it fair to real slaves for us to bandy that word about? The Bible isn’t shy about using it in what we would call a host of different situations. You might muse that they really aren’t so different, but I’m inclined to agree with those whose hackles would be raised by the facile comparison. One person or company effectively owning another … that’s what we’re talking about. Is it a slippery slope from financial slavery into actual real slavery? That’s kind of scary to think about with where our nation seems politically determined to go.

[with edits]


(Phil) #52

Just finished the book, good questions to ponder. Only criticism of the last bit was the sudden turn of Emilio seemed too abrupt to be realistic. Still a good read and I have the next book to go.


(Phil) #53

Now into Children of God. Enjoying it thus far, promises to be a good read. In reflecting about The Sparrow, it reminds me of “Silence” ( only saw the movie) in that it ponders the same sort of questions.


(Mervin Bitikofer) #54

We just watched ‘Silence’ recently ourselves. What a sobering history! There is much to ponder there about how God would want his faithful to respond when it is not your own life being exacted as a cost, but others being sacrificed in front of you because of your own wish to remain “faithful”.

What would Jesus have done if the Romans had started killing others in front of him and kept it up until he said any words they would want to hear?


(Phil) #55

Finished Children of God, thought it perhaps more enjoyable than The Sparrow, probably because of the resolution. I found myself slowing down as I did not want the book to end. I felt the author did a great job of going back and forth in time. It was interesting how she would tell or hint of a character’s death or fate ahead of time, filling me with both dread and anticipation of reading how events unfolded.
I could not help but think of this book when reading of the convergent species on each planet:http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/earth-and-environmental-science/palaeontology-and-life-history/lifes-solution-inevitable-humans-lonely-universe?format=HB&isbn=9780521827041
Again, thanks for the book suggestion.


(Mark D.) #56

That Life’s Solutions looks like an interesting book, which unfortunately is not available through my local library. But I had to suppress a Beavis snicker when reading the books author’s position described:

Simon Conway Morris is the Ad Hominen Professor in the Earth Science Department at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of St. John’s College and the Royal Society.

Oh wait, that was Ad Hominen not Ad Hominem. Never mind.


(Mark D.) #57

This video of the author speaking does him credit but would benefit by the inclusion of the slides he is showing his audience.

Never noticed his necktie until he began to take questions.