The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell


Surprisingly this one would not have come across my radar if it were not for an article I read about sifi books that were really not about sif as it were. The point of the article was that the books on the list didn’t have much to do with technology, and I think that was a fair assessment. I thought the book sounded different and the title made it seem mysterious, so I decided to check it out. Luckily for me I found a used copy at my local book store.

Mary Doria Russell is an American writer from Illinois. The Sparrow was her first novel and it was quite a hit. It won Arthur C. Clarke, BSFA, and Tiptree annual science fiction book awards, and it was the basis for Russell winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1998 (Wikipedia). So that is quite amazing for a debut novel. The interesting thing, and when I bought and started reading the novel is that, there is a sequel to the book called Children of God. Although this did not receive the same accolades as the first. These two novels or the sometimes called The Sparrow Series are her most famous works, but she has written a few other novels and nonfiction.

The story takes place in the near future and concludes around the year 2060. The story is about a group of mismatched individuals who find themselves through a variety of circumstances close knit friends. The story takes a wild turn when they discover a radio signal from Alpha Centauri. This sets in motion events that lead to them acquiring a space ship in the form of an asteroid and eventually travelling to the star to find who or what sent the radio signal. Along the way the reader is shown a very odd and complex Earth as well as a very alien world that has a very complex social structure. There are a variety of themes explored as the story progresses and not everyone will make it back to Earth if any of them.IMG_2154

I really do not know where to start with this one. When I purchased the book I knew it was going to be a longer read as it was about 400 pages. I was still excited to start the book as I wanted to see what it was about and see what the hype was warranted. Well I can honestly say that this book is by far the most awful novel I have ever read from start to finish. I cannot tell you how many times I begged myself to quite reading it and the usual nights where I have no problem jumping into bed ready to read, instead I found myself doing anything I could not to have to subject myself to the cruel torture of the novel. I would look at my books I have on my shelf longing to pick one up and start fresh with one of those. But me being me, I would not let myself quit, mainly because so long as I am judging this one I am going to judge the hell of out it! So because I finished the hardest most boring read I have every experienced, I feel better about telling you how utterly terrible it is. At least that is my backwards messed up logic.

It was a brutal read, did I mention that already, that seemed to build at glacial pace. Although I think that that might be a bit too fast. In my opinion it took way too long for the story to really take off, like about 150-200 pages to really start to see what the heck was going on or get into something that was moderately exciting. There was too much of a back story that took place, and there is always a fine line when adding this aspect to any story, but there was just too much there for me. This is tough to analyze as sometimes the back story is really helpful, but for this story I felt there was just too much detail about nothing and too many characters had too much detail. I think talking about each character’s childhood and how they grew up is a bit much. There was a plethora of pages dedicated for this purpose and I do not think it was warranted and in no way made the story better.

This is the first book that I have read in about five years that I was serious about quitting reading, just putting it down and never picking it back up. In fact I thought about loading my shot gun taking in the back yard and blasting it to bits. I was beyond unmotivated in any way to finish it and would stall for hours on end to not read. In my opinion there was absolutely nothing exciting happening in the book, and each scene seemed to be a dull account of what was going on. There was absolutely not drama, no build of suspense in any way. When something exciting did happen it seemed to happen “off camera,” so to speak and would be revisited with less enthusiasm. I have not even mentioned the wordiness of the entire thing, I think it was about 150 pages too long, well honestly it was probably about 200 or so. It was sheer torture for me to sit down and make myself read, which is very unlike me. This is the most unexciting, uneventful, gouge my eyes out, least attention grabbing novel I have ever read.

One thing that really bothered me was that there would be some “action,” and I use that word lightly, happening and then that would stop and the character or narrator would have these semi lengthy monologues that would use large words (by that I mean trying to be profound) and try very intensely to add some sort of very deep thinking to the scene. Then after about a half page or more of this nonsense, you would get back to the problem at hand. This was the layout throughout most of the book and it drove me crazy.

It pained me every day to look at the other books I have that I wanted to read, but the drive of not finishing and possibly missing something kept me going. As I mentioned above I felt that it is slightly unfair to say how terrible something is without finishing it. I just wanted to make damn sure that it was indeed awful from cover to cover, and all my suspicions were confirmed. I cannot explain enough how boring the whole book was from start to finish. You would think that a group of people going to an alien planet, exploring an entire new world, meeting aliens would be fun and exciting, but in fact it was the exact opposite.

I will say that perhaps my mind was not in the right place for this novel. Apparently this is a book about good and evil and not so much the sifi aspect, although that genre was used to make the story very unique. Still there were only a few times where I really could see where the philosophy of good and evil really came into play. I, for the life of me, cannot figure out how this book is so popular. It has a ton of reviews on Amazon , all of which are very positive. At one time there was also a movie in the works, which I honestly cannot imagine how the hell that would have played out. The overall premise would, in theory have made a neat movie, but if they tried to add in all the other garbage in the novel I would have rather laid down in traffic that sat through that.

The only interesting thing I did find in the book was the world she created. It seems that in this future version of Earth, religion is very powerful and has the wealth to send an expedition to another planet. While I cannot imagine a scenario that something like that would happen in reality, it was certainly a very new idea. Despite finding the religious aspect interesting I also found it odd. I think because the future world she described here on Earth was so foreign to me that made it seem all the more less likely. Again it was interesting, but when you talk about some new tech or what have you for some reason, in my tiny  brain, that seems more plausible than the world she creates. I do not think that this had anything to do with me not likening the novel, it was just an observation of mine. My reasoning for not liking the novel are quite simple, unexciting, no action, no real deep thoughts, even though that is what most readers found likeable about the novel. That last one is kind of a misnomer, meaning that just because a book is supposed to be deep does not mean that everyone that reads it will get that deepness. Some just read it on a surface level and that is where they enjoy it. For me there is no level, deep or shallow, that I enjoyed this novel. So at least I am consistent.

I will also say that the ending was a little surprising and did add some drama, that was way too little too late. The way the story unfolds you know what happens, albeit the gest of what happens. But as you continue to read you find out more detail as to what exactly happened. The ending was quite shocking as to what actually happened, something that I did not see coming. Still looking back on the whole story it was way too long of a wait for the minute shock factor at the end. Did I mention there was way too much other detail that in no way had any sort of impact on the story one way or the other.

An unforeseen consequence of this book was that it totally destroyed all my creative thinking during the past few months. I was beyond unmotivated to write anything new, as I felt defeated, and all my efforts were going to try to make myself read ten pages in a setting. That was no small task. I have always drawn some inspiration from what I am reading at the time, but in this case that supremely backfired.

In no way can I recommend this novel, and I highly highly suggest spending your time elsewhere. I got almost next to nothing out of a very long, frustrating, and beyond impossible read. For the amount of time and effort put into this novel the reward was next to nothing. But again somehow there are a lot of positive reviews on Amazon. I am just trying to warn you so you don’t make the same mistake I did. Quickly defriend anyone who recommends reading this novel.





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