Children Of God Paperback – 8 Dec 2009
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Mary Doria Russell's first novel, the award-winning The Sparrow, proved that any stock sf theme can be renewed by hard thought and good writing. The first human expedition to the alien world of Rakhat ends in complex disaster; the only known survivor, the Jesuit linguist Emilio Sandoz, is brought back raped, mutilated and an emotional wreck--only by telling his story of complex cultural misunderstandings does he even gradually regain his sanity, if not his faith. Rakhat is a world with two intelligent species, not one--and the gifted biologists and musicians whose radio messages attracted Earth's attention not only enslave, but eat, the likable efficient peasants that humans first contacted. Sandoz is shanghaied back, by a coalition of the Church and the Mafia, only to find the situation even more complicated--he was not, after all, the only survivor. Sophie, infuriated by massacres, has started a revolution - and when prey determine to be rid of their predators, revolution becomes genocide. This is a powerful novel of religion, politics and bad choices--it is a sequel which intelligently undercuts and revises assumptions its predecessor imposed on us; like its predecessor, it is one of the key sf novels of the 90s. --Roz Kaveney --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"'Almost impossible to put down...a miracle of telling'" (SF Weekly)
"'A powerful epic narrative...an ambitious novel, and a tragic, haunting parable...here, for a change, is a sequel that counts'" (Entertainment Weekly)
"'You don't have to be a believer to find Russell's portrait of courage and endurance and humanity (among aliens as well as humans) both moving and exhilarating'" (Locus)
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Most of the characters from the first novel have died (in this novel we discover how a few of the missing people from the first expedition met their fates), and due to the effects of near-light-speed travel, many decades have passed on earth while Father Emilio is still relatively young.
There are political crises on earth, including a crisis in the church, and there seems to be an urgent need for yet another expedition to Rakhat. In the interim, there have been several attempted journeys, all of which have failed. The church hierarchy decides that the only 'successful' trip was that of Father Emilio, and thus decides (largely without his consent) to send him off again.
At the same time, Rakhat has undergone a dramatic change, brought about in part by the arrival of the strangers, but also due to the political schemings of members of the dominant race, the Jana'ata. The Runa, always larger in population, begin to realise their oppressive situation, aided by renegade Jana'ata, and a civil war breaks loose. Into this situation the human expedition re-enters the scene on Rakhat.
This story completes many of the unfinished details from `The Sparrow'. By filling in the blanks while also carrying the narrative forward, Russell's rather dark picture of the nature of God in the universe (as enacted by the creatures on earth and elsewhere) becomes a little lighter, a little more just, a little less doomed. There is, however, no answer to the personal injustices, to Father Emilio's abuse both at the hands of the Jana'ata and the Jesuit order.
Russell's development of the characters, both human and alien, deepens and broadens in this second novel; her imaginative history of the alien cultures is quite stunning, and her treatment of the strengths and weakness in human character insightful.
Read `The Sparrow' and `Children of God' back-to-back if at all possible.
Mary Doria Russell has created a highly intelligent story: what would the story of a future saint be? Say, a Jesuit spearheading an exploratory mission to an alien civilization as a linguist of unique abilities; a former outcast that found his true calling as a man of the Cloth and God's face in all the hungry he fed and all the orphans he sheltered and all the lost he bough back from desperation. And then God asked for more. Much more. Is God real or a mere human construct? Can Faith survive anything?
This is one of those books that stays with you for ever. Read THE SPARROW first, CHILDREN OF THE GOD later in order to enjoy them both more.
Father Emilio Sandez was the only survivor of the trip to the newly discovered planet and he was maimed both physically and mentally. He is still recovering, aided by the help given by the Jesuits but he is opposing any possibility of returning to the scene of his own hell and is trying to make a life on earth - in the end he gets no choice although the manner of his going surprised me.
Unknown, at the beginning of the book, to anyone on earth Sophie has also survived and she is pregnant. She gives birth to her son and tends him among those she has begun to think of as friends. But the coming of the humans to the planet has affected the balance of power and soon there is revolution and an overturning of the social order and Sophie and those she loves are in the middle of it. I found this part of the book less absorbing than the earth based story because I found it difficult to understand the motivation of the aliens - the author has been successful in making them unhumanlike and therefore she has to explain what they are doing and why in detail. Some of the positions that people took and what they did seemed perverse and inexplicable to me but I am not a great lover of books about politics and political manoeuvring which is what this storu was in places.
This novel covers a longer time period than the first and moved away from the intimate story of the lives of the few travellers into a larger narrative. I didn't really enjoy the change and I didn't find that I easily identified with the new characters. Some of the loose ends of the first book were tied up although there are still some left open at the end - what did happen to the second expedition ? There is room for a third book especially with the new expedition heading towards earth.
The success of "The Sparrow" for me was around its intense concentration on people, the events that affected them and their suffering. The opening up of the story didn't work as well for me and left me unsatisfied in places. Nevertheless this is still an excellent novel with some terrific ideas and a true understanding of cause and affect on the lives of characters. I honestly think that the first book stands on its own as a work of literature but although this novel doesn't enhance it there are definitely occasions when it builds on it and explains it. The scope of the book is wide and the issues tackled are many and beautifully addressed - friendship, faith, motivation, cause and effect, power inequality and suffering to name but a few.
If you've read "The Sparrow" I recommend that you try this one and see what you make of it - if you haven't then I highly recommend that you do.
I must admit was slightly disappointed with this sequel (but only compared to the very high standards set by the first book though). It felt like there was too much padding and contrivance, and the lead character (Sandoz) changed from an interesting intelligent character into a bumbling, ineffectual and frankly annoying character, to the point that it became a bit of a slog.
The concept at the end was brilliant - and again different from anything else that I've read, but the self-pitying lead role detached me too much from the character and thus the book.
A great book - but don't think it did the first book proper justice.
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I have up on this one at 75%. Didn't engage with any of the characters.