->'' 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.

!!Provides Examples Of:

* ADateWithRosiePalms: When Jimmy asks Emilio how he deals with not getting any sexual action, he straight-up tells him that masturbation is acceptable.
* 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)]].
* ArsonMurderAndJaywalking: Anne describing what goes on in an emergency room.
-->"In the space of an hour sometimes, you get a crushed chest, a gunshot wound to the head and a kid with a rash."
* ArtisticLicensePhysics: See also WritersCannotDoMath below.
** It would take an ''incredible'' amount of energy to accelerate an asteroid to relativistic velocities, even with a highly efficient fuel like antimatter.
** Shortly after the ship is launched, George notices that the ship time and Earth time are already starting to differ. In reality, relativistic effects don't become apparent until around 50% speed of light, which would take around one year to reach with a constant 1g acceleration.
* AuthorAvatar: Anne and George are partly based on Russell and her husband.
* BatheHerAndBringHerToMe: [[spoiler: Fr. Sandoz, repeatedly, after he's been sold to the Reshtar.]]
* BigEater: Jimmy.
* BlueAndOrangeMorality: The novel is, in a great 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.
%%* BoldlyComing: [[spoiler: 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. It's extra salt on the wounds when Sandoz realizes that the poetry and music that brought the humans to Rakhat were about (often violent) sex--and that Sandoz's numerous rapes become the material for the alien poet's new and triumphant works.]]
* BreakTheCutie: Poor Sandoz.
* BrokenBird: Emilio.
* CelibateHero: Sandoz, who is faithful to his vows. All the Jesuit priests on the mission honor their 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 25:1, even if the Runao 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.
* DeadpanSnarker: Anne has shades of this.
* 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 between each finger to the wrist, in order to create the illusion that his fingers are supernaturally long and delicate, leaving the muscles and nerves completely pulverized. Apparently Jana'ata anatomy is better designed for this procedure.
** Even in the case of the Jana'ata, it leaves the hands useless (the Jana'ata just don't risk bleeding out and experience far less pain from the procedure). The uselessness is the point, it's a status symbol for someone of extreme power and wealth... it indicates that the wealthy person can afford a useless dependent.
* FirstContact
* ForegoneConclusion: You know from the first chapter that the mission to Rakhat ended catastrophically and that 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.
* FromBadToWorse: [[spoiler: Alan dies. The Jesuit team gets stranded on the planet. Anne and D.W. are poached and eaten. Jimmy, George, and (supposedly) Sofia are killed. Runa babies are murdered by the Jana'ata. Runa babies are fed to Marc and Emilio. Marc and Emilio are mutilated. Marc dies and Emilio is alone, stranded on an alien planet, all of his loved ones having died because of Emilio's desire to visit Rakhat. And then it gets worse.]]
* GodIsLoveSongs: Hoo boy, [[spoiler: subverted]].
* GoodShepherd: Sandoz is pretty much the model priest, at least before...things...happen. Most of the Jesuits are also portrayed very sympathetically.
* 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....
** The prologue hammers in this point, stating: "They went ''ad majorem Dei gloria'': for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm."
* ImADoctorNotAPlaceholder: When Anne asks what an ionosphere is.
-->"Sorry. I've heard the word but I don't know what it is, really. I'm a doctor, Jim, not an astronomer!"
* ImAHumanitarian: [[spoiler: 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. In fact, it's that cutie who kills this ''other'' cutie. 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.
* {{Omniglot}}: Sandoz and Mendes both know quite a few languages.
* RedLightDistrict: Sandoz is found serving in an alien brothel at the beginning of the book. [[spoiler: At least, the Contact Consortium thinks it's a brothel. It's later revealed that Sandoz was a sex slave held in the Reshtar's harem.]]
%%* ServantRace: [[spoiler: The Runa.]]
* ShoutOut:
** There are a few ''Franchise/StarTrek'' references:
*** Anne first does this when asking how to land on the planet.
--->"We could ask Scotty to beam us down."
*** When she later asks what an ionosphere is.
--->"Sorry. I've heard the word but I don't know what it is, really. [[ImADoctorNotAPlaceholder I'm a doctor, Jim, not an astronomer!]]"
*** When George encounters the natives of Rakhat for the first time.
--->"Shit. On ''Star Trek'', everybody spoke English!"
** After discovering the ET signal, Jimmy says scientists would have expected a [[{{Literature/Contact}} series of primes]].
** During his recovery, Emilio admires his new gloves and says that "everyone will be wearing them." John recognizes it as a ''[[Film/ThePrincessBride Princess Bride]]'' reference.
* 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.
* SuperiorSpecies: [[spoiler: 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.]]
* StraightGay: The one member of the exploration team you would least expect. Another is MistakenForGay.
* SurvivalMantra: "I am Mendes."
** "Deus vult." [[spoiler: It makes things worse/more painful.]]
* 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]].
* WeHardlyKnewYe: Alan Pace dies of an unknown medical condition shortly after arriving on Rakhat.
* WholeEpisodeFlashback: The book alternates between present-day scenes and Sandoz's retelling of the story of the Rakhat mission.
* WritersCannotDoMath: There seems to be several discrepancies with regards to special relativity.
** As mentioned in ArtisticLicensePhysics above, relativistic effects won't become apparent until the ship reaches around 0.5 c, which will take over a year with a constant 1g acceleration.
** After just a short time, the ship is traveling so fast that three days on board corresponds to a whole year on Earth. This would make the trip to Alpha Centauri just a few weeks long to people on board, not months or years.
** Also relating to the above, a [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorentz_factor Lorentz factor]] of 120 corresponds to a velocity of 0.999965 c, which would require an incredible amount of energy. If the ship is decelerated upon reaching the planet, and then accelerated and decelerated again for the return trip, then the energy requirements would be astronomical due to the large [[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delta-v delta-''v'']].
** Finally, a ship with a constant 1g acceleration would only reach around 0.95 c by the time it gets to Alpha Centauri, or 0.88 c if it starts decelerating halfway. For 2g acceleration, those values are 0.98 c and 0.95 c, respectively.
* ZeroGSpot: Anne and George have one suggestion: duct tape.