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.Twenty Minutes into the Future
, 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 Take That
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 Writer on Board
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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