An atheist recommending a book by a Catholic author about a Jesuit priest

Never mind the ideological clashes, it’s a really good, thoughtful SF novel. The Sparrow e-book is currently on sale for $1.99. It belongs in every atheist’s library.


  1. Johnny Vector says

    Huh. I liked it a lot until the final chapter. Mostly because I got the impression that the author considered the church’s response to be a good thing. I mean, really?

  2. timmyson says

    SF by female author: I’ve been trying to read precisely this genre, however I’m not in a great place mental health-wise, and I’m trying to avoid stuff that has a)people being shits to each other or b)sad endings. Both of them tend to set off my depression. Should I save this one for later when I’m doing better?

  3. says

    @timmyson, #3: I’ll second PZ’s recommendation – it’s good sci-fi and just good literature in general – lots of interesting first-contact hypothesizing and xenoanthropology, coupled with very well realized characters. I also wouldn’t define it solely as a “Catholic” or even “Christian” or “Religious” work – it asks a lot of religious questions, but doesn’t put forward any easy-to-digest answers to those questions. It’s kind of in the vein of “Speaker for the Dead”, but far better than Orson Scott Card ever was.

    That said, it’s not a book I’d recommend reading if you’re having a rough time emotionally. Without too much in the way of spoilers, it ticks both the boxes you mentioned as wanting to avoid. I’d also recommend folks who might be triggered by depictions of sexual assault or traumatic physical abuse to read with caution; the book contains both – although handled with a level of respect that I wish more authors put in their work.

  4. m n says

    Thanks for reminding me that this has been on my to-read list since my parents took it away as too mature for a middle schooler, so… uh… for about twenty years now? Hrrm, wow, that’s a bigger number than I was expecting to come up with, there.

    In all fairness, I’m pretty sure it was an inappropriate choice, but still. I’ll have to put that on my holds list; I’m a little surprised I’ve still never gotten around to picking it back up.

  5. chrislawson says

    Like Johnny Vector, I found the story very interesting but got increasingly frustrated with the author’s strongly implied justification of conservative catholic theology. Still very much worth reading. It makes a very good companion piece to James Blish’s A Case of Conscience, which has its own flaws (including an inaccurate view of Jesuit philosophy, which Blish explained as not being a description of current thinking but of a hypothetical future Jesuit philosophy).

  6. chrislawson says


    It’s hard to make recommendations because almost every book that is considered great has a pretty strong emotional effect.

    Perhaps Connie Willis’s short fiction would be a good start. She can write both gentle comedy and wrenching drama, but in short form the emotional kicks don’t have the full weight of a novel behind them. Except for To Say Nothing of the Dog which is entertainingly daft and was inspired by the absurdist comedy classic Three Men in a Boat.

    Obviously Le Guin is worth a go. Especially the Earthsea Quartet (fantasy not sf), which touches on some very heavy themes but keeps a light hand. Her sf tends to be a lot more confronting.

    I’m sure others will make some good recommendations. For me, almost every book I’ve loved has some devastating passages.

  7. Thornae says

    timmyson@3– I recommend Janet Kagan’s Mirabile – very gentle and enjoyable, no traumatic stuff, and some fun (if slightly dubious) science being done.
    It’s my favourite comfort read.

  8. jdmuys says

    Hmm trying the Amazon page, it tells me that the Kindle version is not for sale. Cheapest is paperback at $15.30. Am I simply too late?

  9. says

    Really? I mean, the story is well-paced, the characters are reasonably compelling, and the physical science was good enough. But I still balk at the wildly improbable presumption of biological similarity (let alone sexual compatibility) between aliens and humans. Honestly, it’s just as improbable as the depiction of virtually all movie aliens as bipedal, bilaterally symmetrical hominids.