Customer Review

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Book, But Great Characters??, January 12, 2004
This review is from: The Sparrow: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (Paperback)
I picked this up based on the recommendations of friends and reviews on Amazon, as well as the interesting premise of a Jesuit mission to the stars. Granted, it's just following the tradition of a lot of older sci-fi in reimagining the events of the last 500 years of human history on a grander scale, but it's a fairly unique look at contact stories and I was excited to read it.
All in all, I wasn't disappointed. The tone, though occasionally melodramatic, is introspective and thoughtful, and there are a great deal of rich observations in the book. The lighthearted tone of the flashback sequences is nicely contrasted to the pain and confusion of the main character's present. Despite the novel's reliance on Christian symbolism, it never feels moralistic or preachy, and indeed is a pretty balanced look at Catholicism.
And despite its cerebral aims, the story is quite engaging, as one may well imagine. The characters are fairly well-imagined and likable (though see complaint below). And the plot is interesting and well-balanced, with enough surprises and anticipation to keep one turning the pages rather rapidly. Really, only two things bothered me.
One: I was occasionally put off by the way the author ignores what would likely be serious technical and biological hurdles to the mission by simply writing them out of existence(they can breathe the air and eat the food, there are no diseases, the aliens speak a language which actually operates like a human tongue, etc.). However, the aim of the novel is not to describe as realistically as possible a probable attempt at contact but to meditate on real-world anthropology and religion by means of a sci-fi setting, so I suppose this is not really a problem.
Two: Despite what others have said, I do not think this novel is populated by a batch of well-rounded characters. There are a few well-rounded characters who have interesting histories and unique personalities. Even some minor characters have, or appear to have, interesting back stories and responses to the central movement of the novel. And among the main characters there are several strong personalities. However, I think there are also several problem characters, even among the main group, and some characters whose personality seems to be simply an extension of the author's. Not that this is a bad thing, but when you have quite a few characters who all make the same sorts of witty comments, it gets a little repetitive.
But this is getting a little negative. I wouldn't have even said anything about it if other reviewers hadn't specifically mentioned the great characterizations and perhaps just left me expecting too much. This is a really good book and I highly recommend it, and plan to do so anytime I run across someone who I think would enjoy it. But I just had to say something about those darn cookie-cutter people.
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