“The mission, he thought, probably failed because of a series of logical, reasonable, carefully considered decisions, each of which seemed like a good idea at the time. Like most colossal disasters.”
I’m still trying to sort out my feelings on this book. Don’t worry, they’re mostly good – it’s just so much to process and muse over. And I could sit here for half and hour and try to summarize it, but the inside jacket does a really good job –
It is the story of a charismatic Jesuit priest and linguist, Emilio Sandoz, who leads and twenty-first century scientific missions to a newly discovered extraterrestrial culture. Sandoz and his companions are prepared to endure isolation, hardship and death, but nothing can prepare them for the civilization they encounter, or for the tragic misunderstanding that brings the mission to a catastrophic end. Once considered a living saint, Sandoz returns alone to Earth physically and spiritually maimed, the mission’s sole survivor – only to be accused of heinous crimes and blamed for the mission’s failure.
I first heard about this book on the BookRiot podcast several months ago and had it on my radar since then, so when I saw this copy at the used library bookstore for $2, I snatched it up. I’m glad I did. It’s not what I was expecting… I think I was expecting more science, or more of a dystopian factor, but instead it was a beautifully written examination of culture, spirituality, and human bonds.
The book alternates between before and during the mission to Rakhat, and after when Sandoz is the only one to return. I enjoyed seeing how the other planet was discovered, how the mission was put together, how the crew was chosen, and how they approached a completely alien culture once arriving. Also, a lot of bonus points to this book for showing how space travel can be possible when a group of determined people put their mind to it. All of that was interesting, even if it left more technical, scientific aspects out. But I think that even more than that, I enjoyed Emilio. Emilio is such a wonderful character. When we first meet him, he has returned from Rakhat and he is completely wrecked, physically and emotionally – but we don’t know why. Watching him evolve and go through different adjustments in his faith was fascinating, and just so beautifully done. (And this is coming from someone who expressly doesn’t like religion.) Finding out exactly what happened on this mission and to Emilio is what kept me turning the pages, wanting more.
The other characters are all likable as well – I don’t think there was anyone I didn’t like, and there were some that I grew quite attached to. But Emilio and his story are what give this book a life and uniqueness that I’ve never really seen anywhere else. Imagine my delight when I went online to read more about this author and found out that there’s a sequel, called Children of God. I have to hunt that down as soon as I can.
Sarah Says: 4 stars