I first read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell in 1997. Then in 2005, I listened to it when it came out on audiobook. I remember it being an exceptional novel of first contact involving the Jesuits. Russell explored both religion and science fiction at the same time. Essentially, the story asks why bad things happen to good people, especially why would God be so cruel to one of his faithful. It asks this ancient philosophical question in a special context involving aliens, aliens who essentially make the query meaningless, or does it?

However, I don’t really remember the details of the book. This week I accidentally watched three reviewers review this book on Youtube and discovered most of them are part of a science fiction alliance of reviewers. That led to two more reviews. Watching all of them tells us a whole lot about how books are perceived by readers, and how reviewers take different approaches to evaluating books for our consideration. Here they are:



Fit 2B Read:

Secret Sauce of Storycraft:

Media Death Cult:

The Library Ladder:

I’m afraid I’m going to have to study these reviews carefully and reread The Sparrow. Bookpilled is my favorite science fiction reviewer on YouTube and he did not like the book. He had very specific criticisms, some of which I’ve made against other books. I don’t remember thinking about those criticisms when I read The Sparrow.

The Sparrow is on the Classics of Science Fiction list with 23 citations. It is a novel that’s widely admired. But it’s over a quarter of a century old, and it’s been eighteen years since I last read it. I’ve changed, society has changed, and maybe it will be a different reading experience for me this time. Watching these reviewers has brought up a number of questions for me:

  • Are reviewers too easy or hard on books?
  • Are readers too easy or hard on books?
  • Will these reviewers change how I reread The Sparrow?
  • Are there positive qualities that all readers can recognize?
  • Are there flaws that all readers can perceive?
  • Are the value or faults of novels entirely subjective?
  • Have these reviewers found insights I missed?
  • Are novels merely Rorschach tests or do novelists have something specific to say?
  • Do we waste our time by reading books that aren’t worth discussing?

I like this group review by the Science Fiction Alliance. Kalandai doesn’t seem to be part of the group but her review fits in. I hope this group does other group reviews. Some novels are worth the extra focus.

James Wallace Harris, May 2, 2023

2 thoughts on “Five Reviews of The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

  1. Thoughtful questions! I remember liking, but not loving, The Sparrow. However, like you, I haven’t read it in years. I do remember its being an insightful metaphor (or maybe allegory) for first contact between Europeans and Native Americans.


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