->'' They went for the reason Jesuits have always gone to the farthest frontiers of human exploration. They went '''ad majorem Dei gloriam''': for the greater glory of God.''

->''They meant no harm.''

''The Sparrow'' is a science fiction novel by Mary Doria Russell.

TwentyMinutesIntoTheFuture, a SETI technician is trying to prove that his job shouldn't be automated. He picks up a strange signal from near Alpha Centauri, transfers it to audio, and discovers that he's listening to choral music transmitted over radio waves.

While the United Nations is fussing about the appropriate measures for approaching extra-terrestrial intelligence, the Jesuits scrape together a ragtag missionary team and a STL spacecraft. The team leaves behind everything they know, forms deep bonds, and meets a peaceful and doe-like alien race. Then everything goes horribly wrong.

The story is told by the only survivor of the original team: their linguist, father Emilio Sandoz. He's returned to Earth physically and emotionally shattered. Rakhat is undergoing a massive social upheaval, the UN team that followed the Jesuit team has vanished, and no one on Earth has any idea what happened.

The book is something of a TakeThat to current historians; it holds that no matter how careful and respectful people are during first contact with a very different culture, misunderstandings are inevitable, and terrible consequences are likely. However, don't assume it's just a WriterOnBoard tract--the story is beautifully written and heartbreaking.

The sequel ''Children of God'' shows the fallout from the original team's ill-fated trip to Rakhat.

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!!Provides Examples Of:

* AlienSky: Rakhat has three suns (Alpha Centauri is a triple star) and two moons.
* AliensSpeakingEnglish: Averted. Learning each others' languages fuels much of the plot and character development.
* AllLoveIsUnrequited: Though unspoken, Sofia and Emilio have a deep love for each other. Jimmy Quinn's love for Sofia is also unrequited [[spoiler:until they get married on Rakhat, largely due to being the only two people who can (i.e., human, unmarried and not a priest)]].
* AuthorAvatar: Anne and George are partly based on Russell and her husband.
* BatheHerAndBringHerToMe: [[spoiler: Fr. Sandoz, repeatedly, when he's sold to the prince.]]
* BigEater: Jimmy.
* BlueAndOrangeMorality: The novel is, in part, about this trope; it is very easy to assume an understanding of another culture without actually possessing it. Inter-human interactions, on the other hand, tend to be heavily influenced by GrayAndGreyMorality.
* [[spoiler: BoldlyComing: As rape.]]
* BrainsAndBondage: [[spoiler: Sandoz is made the concubine of an alien poet and songwriter. This is an honor for the alien. Not so much for Sandoz.]]
* BreakTheCutie: Poor Sandoz.
* CelibateHero: Sandoz, who is faithful to his vows. All the Jesuit priests on the mission honor the vows.
* ConditionedToAcceptHorror: The Runao are conditioned to serve the Jana'ata. [[spoiler:In every sense of the word. Including [[ToServeMan the Twilight Zone sense of the word]].]]
** After some jarring injustices, one of the humans teaches the Runao the old Earth adage of "We are many, they are few". The Jana'ata that are there to hear this being chanted, understandably, flip out and try to pull a TotalPartyKill; their entire civilization hinged on the Runao never making that connection (the Runao outnumber the Jana'ata population something like 10:1 at least, even if they are pacifist herbivores).
** [[spoiler: In the sequel ''Children of God'', the Jana'ata's fears are proven exactly right and they are almost hunted to extinction by the Runao.]]
* CultureClash: The inter-species version.
* DefrostingIceQueen: Sofia Mendes. [[spoiler:Which makes her transformation into a KnightTemplar by the end of ''Children of God'' that much more tragic]].
* FaithHeelTurn: Happens to Sandoz -- or does it?
* FantasticReligiousWeirdness
* {{Fingore}}: The most obvious sign of how Sandoz was affected by the mission is that his hands have been carved into to create the illusion that they're supernaturally long and delicate, leaving the muscles and nerves completely pulverized. Apparently Jana'ata anatomy is better designed for this procedure.
* FirstContact
* ForegoneConclusion: You know from the first chapter that the mission to Rakhat ended catastrophically and the Sandoz is the only survivor to make it back to Earth. You also know he's destroyed physically and spiritually. The rest of the book is about how that happened.
* GodIsLoveSongs: Hoo boy, [[spoiler: subverted]].
* GoodShepherd: Sandoz is pretty much the model priest, at least before...things...happen. A number of the other Jesuits are also portrayed very sympathetically as well.
* HappilyMarried: Anne and George.
* HugeGuyTinyGirl: Jimmy and Sofia.
-->"Sofia and I have a deal," Jimmy told them. "She doesn't say anything about basketball and I never mention miniature golf."
* IComeInPeace: What the humans wanted to be. Reality, unfortunately, was more complex...
* [[spoiler: ImAHumanitarian: Or at least a co-sentient species eater. Population control, and all.]]
* InMysteriousWays: One interpretation of the end.
* KillTheCutie: By the ''protagonist'', at the ''beginning of the novel''. (Note that this is a different cutie from the one listed above in BreakTheCutie. It's that kind of book.)
* TheMafia: Plays a background role throughout much of the first book, and a more central role in the sequel.
* MindRape: [[spoiler: And physical rape. And ''spiritual'' rape. Ow.]]
* MustHaveCaffeine: Coffee is several characters' drink of choice, especially Sofia, who likes "awful damn Turkish mud". They take lots of coffee with them to Rakhat. Coffee beans become a trade item, and then a plot point.
* RedLightDistrict: Sandoz is found serving in an alien brothel at the beginning of the book.
* [[spoiler: ServantRace: The Runa.]]
* [[spoiler: SuperiorSpecies: The Jana'ata, at least to the Runa. Of course, all this is in flux at the end of the book. ''Children of God'' is about how the Runa not only overthrow the Jana'ata, but damn near render them extinct.]]
* SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism: As you might be able to tell from the tropes listed, pretty far on the cynical end. Whether there is any hope at all left at the end is an interesting question left to the reader.
* StraightGay: The one member of the exploration team you would least expect. Another is MistakenForGay.
* SurvivalMantra: "I am Mendes."
* Squick: Some of the events that happen towards the end.
* ThePope: Shows up in ''Children of God''. He is a brilliantly gifted African, Gelasius III. He comes to tell Fr. Sandoz that he got into the priesthood in the first place because of his memories of Sandoz, who as a young priest had lived with and aided his family.
* TranslationTrainWreck: About those songs...
* TwoLinesNoWaiting: The chapters alternate between the original team's mission to Rakhat and Sandoz being interrogated about the aftermath. [[spoiler:The sequel ''Children of God'' is more like FourLinesAllWaiting as it traces the fallout of the mission and the war it sparked among multiple groups of people]].
* WholeEpisodeFlashback: The book alternates between present-day scenes and Sandoz's retelling of the story of the Rakhat mission.
* ZeroGSpot: Anne and George have one suggestion: duct tape.
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