The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.
Karla actually picked this book for one of her posts already. Great minds think alike! This book is set in the near future, and an astronomer has picked up music from Rahkat, a planet near Alpha Centauri. A group of researchers, including a Jesuit priest named Emilio Sandoz, takes off on a mission to find the beautiful music of Rahkat and hopefully befriend the creatures there.
Once on Rahkat, they do befriend the creatures that they meet there (the Runa) and begin learning the customs of this planet. They slowly begin picking up the language, and they teach the Runa people how to plant and grow crops. By doing this, the humans have unknowingly altered the the workings of society on Rahkat. They find out there is another species on the planet called the Jana’ta who are the creators of the music, and the Earthlings have destroyed the ecological and economic relationship between the Jana’ta and the Runa.
Emilio Sandoz tries to communicate what he does as a priest, but the Jana’ta misunderstand him, and he is taken as a slave to the poet/musician who created the music. Sandoz is subjected to multiple forms of abuse and his spirit, once believing that it was God’s will for him to come here, is now broken.
Sandoz finally makes it back to Earth years later, the only human to survive the trip. But he only barely survived. Now he faces interrogations and judgment from the Jesuits and the Catholic church. Through it all, Sandoz struggles with his belief in God, who supposedly watches over even the little sparrows.
Really this book feels more philosophical than sci-fi. It is a very difficult story to read at times, but it maintains this tender balance between brokenness and healing.
There is also a second book called Children of God.
Honorable Mention: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
What is your favorite sci-fi book?
And click here for Karla’s choice.