Archive

Posts Tagged ‘mary doria russell’

Book Review: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell (Series, #2)

January 26, 2016 4 comments

cover_childrenSummary:
Father Sandoz, the only person from the humanity’s first mission to Rakhat to return to Earth, has barely begun to recover from his ordeal when the Jesuits asks him to assist in preparing the second team. Reticent to assist anyone to go to Rakhat but enjoying the use of the languages again, he agrees.

Meanwhile, one survivor of the mission joins forces with the Runa and a rogue Jana’ata to bring about justice. What world will the second mission find when they return? It certainly won’t be the one previously held in a tenuous working balance between predator and prey.

Review:
The Sparrow really touched me, and I was eager to return to Rakhat, not to mention to see how Sandoz handled his recovery. What I found was a mixed bag. A creative expansion on the world of Rakhat but a message and character development that moved in directions that left me feeling very little.

The presence of humans upset the delicate balance between the Jana’ata and the Runa. The humans demonstrated to the Runa that they didn’t need the Jana’ata, and thus a revolution was born.  The thing is though this culture is just so truly alien that it’s hard to root for the Runa or the Jana’ata.

The Jana’ata have a depraved world, yes, but they are also truly predators who evolved from predators. It’s hard to hate on them when they’re basically cats walking around in medieval clothes. Well, of course they’re acting barbaric. They’re cats! And the thing is, they’re not just cruel to the Runa, they’re cruel to each other as well.

The one real disjointed bit of the narrative is that this culture reads as a developing one, as if they are from the 1200s or 1300s on Earth. Yet they somehow have enough technology that they could broadcast music to Earth? It makes no sense that they would be so backwards and yet simultaneously so advanced in science.

Similarly, the Runa are a people with a culture but they also are a prey species. They reproduce like mad when they have enough food, and they act like herd animals.  Yakking constantly and with no real art or science developing. It is easy to see how these two cultures came to co-exist, as well as the fact that they need each other. Put another way, everyone thinks deer are cute, and they are. But if they exist in a world with no natural predators, they soon over-run the place until they have too much population for the land to support, and they start to starve. Yes, the co-existence between the Jana’ata and the Runa could be handled better (certainly with more clarity and more maturity) but the Runa and Jana’ata need each other. They co-evolved.My perspective on the Runa and Jana’ata impacts how I feel about the rest of the book.

Russell presents the idea that it’s ok for the Runa to become the dominant culture so long as they “allow” the “good” Jana’ata (the ones who have sworn off eating Runa and struggle along eating the eggs of some other creature that can barely sustain them. Truly barely. One character has multiple problem pregnancies due to malnutrition). Positing the idea that the Jana’ata are bad because they are predators, and the Runa are good because they are herbivores (with some outliers in both groups of course) is just hard to swallow. Bad and good is much more nuanced than that. Is a shark bad because it eats a seal because it’s hungry? No. But if a shark kills a seal because it’s fun to kill a seal and then swims off without eating it? Then one could argue that’s a bad shark with a bad nature. This level of nuance is just something I felt was missing from the book and the world.

I also found Sandoz’s path back to god to be a bit irritating, as well as the repeatedly presented idea that we can all have different interpretations of the one god, but there is definitely one. A whole alien planet with two sentient species, and no one can even entertain the idea that there might be more than one god? People are allowed to think there’s not one at all, although the book does present this as a shortcoming of those people’s natures. Basically, if they were a bit more willing to open they could at least be agnostic about the idea. The ultimate “proof” of the existence of god in the book is something that made me laugh. I won’t reveal what is found but suffice to say that if you’ve heard the argument about a watch proving there’s a watchmaker, it’s very similar to that one. After the insight and the gray areas allowed in the first book with regards to faith, I was disappointed.

If my review seems a bit mixed and all over the place that’s because that’s how this book read to me. There were chapters of beauty and then others that made me sigh and still others that made me scratch my head. It’s a mixed bag of content set in a complicated world with an ending that some readers would definitely find satisfying but I do not. I still enjoyed the read overall simply because I love visiting the world of Rakhat. But would I want to visit it again? Given the direction it was going, probably not. Although I would gladly visit the future Earth that gets to meet a Jana’ata or a Runa on our own turf.

Overall, readers of the first book who enjoyed it for Rakhat will enjoy getting to know more about both the Runa and the Jana’ata culture will enjoy the sequel, whereas those who appreciated it for its nuance and exploration of gray areas and difficult topics will be less satisfied.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

Buy It

Previous Books in Series:
The Sparrow, review

Counts For:
miabadge
Illness(es) featured: Autism Spectrum Disorder

Reading Challenge Wrap-up: Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge 2012

December 24, 2012 2 comments

mia2012badgeAs you all know, the one reading challenge I host is the Mental Illlness Advocacy (MIA) Reading Challenge.  Since we’re into the last week of the year, I’d like to post the 2012 wrap-up.

This year, I read 8 books that count for the challenge, successfully achieving the Aware level.

The books I read and reviewed for the challenge, along with what mental illness they covered, in 2012 were:

  1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  2. The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
    Mental Retardation
    4 out of 5 stars
  3. Barefoot Season by Susan Mallery
    PTSD
    4 out of 5 stars
  4. Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia by Megan Warin
    Anorexia
    4 out of 5 stars
  5. A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
    Depression
    4 out of 5 stars
  6. Haunted by Glen Cadigan
    PTSD
    3 out of 5 stars
  7. January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her by Michael Schofield
    Schizophrenia
    4 out of 5 stars
  8. Germline by T. C. McCarthy
    Addictive Disorders
    4 out of 5 stars

The books I read covered genres from scifi to thriller to memoir to academic nonfiction to historic fiction.  I’m also a bit surprised to note in retrospect that all but one of these books received four stars from me.  Clearly the books I chose to read for the challenge were almost entirely a good match for me.  It’s no surprise to me that I enjoy running this challenge so much then. :-)

The most unique book for the challenge was The Sparrow.  The scifi plot of first contact with aliens was a very unique wrapping for a book dealing so strongly with mental illness.  Most challenging was Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia, which was my first foray into university-level Anthropology.  Something I’d like to see more of is more memoirs by parents of children with a mental illness, like January First: A Child’s Descent into Madness and Her Father’s Struggle to Save Her.  That was an interesting, new perspective for me.  I think I’d also like to read more schizophrenia books next year, as well as books that challenge the gender norms perceived of in certain mental illnesses, such as the idea that eating disorders are female or that alcoholism is male.

If you participated in the challenge this year, please feel free to either comment with your list of reads or a link to a wrap-up post.  I’d love to see what we all successfully read this year!

And if the MIA Reading Challenge sounds like a good match for you, head on over to the challenge’s main page to sign up for the 2013 iteration!

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013

December 23, 2012 2 comments

Finishing the Series Reading Challenge 2013 BadgeHello my lovely readers!

Because life is so incredibly busy, I hadn’t been planning on participating in any of the many wonderful reading challenges in existence around the book blogosphere.  (Beyond hosting my own, the Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge, of course.)  But when I received a GoodReads invitation to Socrates’ Finishing the Series Reading Challenge, I couldn’t resist because it fits in so well with my already established (in my head) reading goals for 2013.  It’s incredibly simple. Choose a single (or multiple) book series you’ve previously started to finally finish reading during 2013.  I already have a GoogleDoc of all the series I’m reading and was saying to myself, “Amanda, finish at least a few of these in 2013,” and doing that in the context of the fun that is a book blog reading challenge just makes me happy.

I’m currently reading 26 series. I know, I know.  I’m not going to challenge myself to all of those, because then I’d only be reading series books all year. :-P  But I am signing up for the highest level of the challenge: Level 3: 3 or more series.

So what am I pledging to finish?

  1. Georgina Kincaid series by Richelle Mead
    #3 Succubus Dreams review 1/31/13, 5 stars
    #4 Succubus Heat review 12/25/13, 4 stars
    #5 Succubus Shadows
    #6 Succubus Revealed
  2. Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughan
    #8 Kimono Dragons
    #9 Motherland
    #10 Whys and Wherefores
  3. Riders of the Apocalypse series by Jackie Morse Kessler
    #3 Loss
    #4 Breath
  4. John Cleaver series by Dan Wells
    #3 I Don’t Want to Kill You review , 3/2/13 3.5 stars
  5. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
    #2 Children of God
  6. Katherine “Kitty” Katt series by Gini Koch I will not be finishing this series, due to severe dislike of the third book. It’s a permanent dnf.
    #3 Alien in the Family review, 10/3/13 2 stars
    #4 Alien Proliferation
    #5 Alien Diplomacy
    #6 Alien vs. Alien
    #7 Alien in the House
    #8 Alien Research

For the Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, it is not yet finished, so I’m only pledging to books that are projected to be published before the end of 2013.

I also reserve the right to give up on a series if it starts nose-diving before the end. ;-)

Phew! That’s a lot of books…but it would also make a serious dent into my series list.  So fingers crossed that I have good luck with it.

If the challenge sounds like a good match for you, be sure to check out the official challenge page!

Book Review: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (Series, #1) (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

January 30, 2012 8 comments

Planets and stars with an old painting in front.Summary:
It is the year 2060, and the Jesuit priest Emilio Endoz has been found on the planet Rakhat by the second Earth ship to travel there.  Found in a whorehouse and killing a native inhabitant in front the UN members’ eyes, they nonetheless strap him into his original spaceship and send him back to the Jesuits.  There he is treated for his horrifying wounds and through a series of flashbacks and current conversations with the various Jesuit committee members assigned to his case, we slowly see how everything that started out so right went so horribly wrong on Rakhat.

Review:
It may have been a while since it made it onto my tbr shelf, but I still have a crystal clear memory of why I acquired this book.  I entirely blame Little Red Reviewer, who just so happens to be the only other female scifi fan who book blogs that I’m aware of.  (Feel free to enlighten me to more in the comments).  Her review that religion is there but in a questioning way that honors the tradition of scifi made me give this book with a Jesuit priest and mission at its core a chance.  I’m glad I did.

This is a first contact story that takes the all-too-infrequent route of Earth finding the inhabited planet first and sending a mission to them.  There’s so much more than that that makes this book unique, though.  The future Earth just barely has the technology to make it to Alpha Centauri, and only the most tech-savvy are aware of it.  Thus, we’re not an incredibly advanced civilization making first contact, just one slightly more so than Rakhat.  I’d say a fair comparison might be late 19th to early 20th century earth to early to late 21st century Earth.  It’s a short span of difference.  Additionally, Russell made the intriguing choice of the first contact being run by missionaries, instead of a political unit.  When you think about it, it makes perfect sense.  Who tended to be first to the New World? Religious groups.  Who can organize themselves quickly and have vast finances? Religious groups.  Having first contact be missionaries makes so much sense that I’m shocked I didn’t think of it first.

That said, thankfully this book is not a love letter to organized religion or mission work.  It is instead a complex, scientific, and anthropological study of the human condition, the difficulties of vastly different cultures meeting, linguistics, and much more.  At its core it is all about why does god (if there is a god) let evil happen, especially to good people who are serving him?  These issues are more easily addressed and made further complex by having agnostics, non-practicing Catholics, and a Jewish woman members of the mission team.  The non-believers are about at even numbers with the priests.  In fact, the deeper into the book I got, the more it tore at my heart-strings.  Varying types of questioners are represented, and of course it’s possible to identify with many of them, particularly for a reader who once was religious but is not anymore.  There’s the priest who is secretly gay, the Jewish woman who was wounded terribly by war but comes to learn to love again, the Father Superior who thinks he may be seeing the formation of a real live saint, the priest questioning the very existence of god, and the agnostic who wants to have the beautiful aspect of faith that she sees in those around her.

This book reads, it sounds a bit odd to say, almost like an agnostic’s prayer.  Of course agnostics don’t pray, but if they did pray, the pain and wondering and intelligence found in this book would all be there.

We are, after all, only very clever tailless primates, doing the best we can, but limited. Perhaps we must all own up to being agnostic, unable to know the unknowable. (page 201)

The problem with atheism, I find, under these circumstances…is that I have no one to despise but myself. If, however, I choose to believe that God is vicious, then at least I have the solace of hating God.  (page 394)

People more into science than the questioning human spirit will find plenty for themselves as well.  The science of linguistics is astoundingly well presented.  The way the two “sentient” species on Rakhat have evolved is also incredibly well thought-out and realistically drawn.  The problems of poverty and war on earth are briefly explored too.

All of these things said, I do feel it took a bit too long to get things set up and moving.  Granted, I tend to be a bit of an action-focused reader, so others may not have a problem with that.  It was still a draw-back of the book for me though.

I sort of feel like I’m not doing the experience of reading this book justice.  Suffice to say if you’ve ever questioned whether or not to have faith and love your big questions to be wrapped in well-thought-out scifi, this is the book for you.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Better World Books

Buy It

Counts For:

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,560 other followers