Seriously flawed world building. This whole dystopia is just a web of plot holes that falls apart at even the mildest inquiry ("Oh yeah, turns out my...moreSeriously flawed world building. This whole dystopia is just a web of plot holes that falls apart at even the mildest inquiry ("Oh yeah, turns out my mom is from another faction. I guess that's why I never met her parents or family! LOL"). It was so deeply problematic that it completely overshadowed a spitfire protagonist, Tris, who isn't perfect by a long shot but serviceable as a YA leading lady. Hated the milquetoast love story. The action sequences barely held my interest. I'm really not seeing what all the fuss is about here.(less)
When it was good it was very very good; when it was bad it was horrid. I very strongly disliked the audio version and switched to the hardback around...moreWhen it was good it was very very good; when it was bad it was horrid. I very strongly disliked the audio version and switched to the hardback around page 120.(less)
Worth reading just for the scene where Han Solo runs away from a giant rolling boulder, cracking a glowing whip at the crowd to get them out of its wa...moreWorth reading just for the scene where Han Solo runs away from a giant rolling boulder, cracking a glowing whip at the crowd to get them out of its way. Cross-pollinating fandom humor!(less)
The Snow Queen has a fantastic premise but it chokes on itself - Vinge's writing style is very heavy, weighted down with flowery descriptive passages...moreThe Snow Queen has a fantastic premise but it chokes on itself - Vinge's writing style is very heavy, weighted down with flowery descriptive passages and melodramatic soliloquies, which is great if you like that sort of thing. This book was just too long and too heavy; if 100 pages and 10,000 adverbs were cut, it would be much stronger. The omniscient narration provides too many thoughts, and it was just exhausting to try to invest interest in all of them. That said, I did like it quite a bit. The premise is just awesome, and barring a few minor quibbles, I really loved the world Vinge creates here. The characters were just ok - some were too boring, some were just unpleasant, but none of them were one-dimensional (with the possible exception of Sparks), and I was quite taken with Moon. My favorite part was actually Tor Starhiker and her relationship with her robot servant/friend Pollux - it came to an end in an understated yet moving way in a denouement that was short on understatement and long on, well, length.(less)
It was good, but I don't know if I want to read the next two. I don't like the way Butler imagined humans reacting to an alien race: impossible to say...moreIt was good, but I don't know if I want to read the next two. I don't like the way Butler imagined humans reacting to an alien race: impossible to say how accurate it is (she has us cowering in fear, unable to go near, look at, or touch the aliens even when they are specifically trying to be non-threatening and gain our trust), but I would have liked it better if it felt less overwrought. Lilith is a smart person struggling against complex choices and emotions, and I don't think I need two more books to understand her character. Plus, the groundwork of the plot makes the ending inevitable, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything.(less)
In a nutshell, this is the story of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest/expert linguist who travels to an alien planet after his friend discovers a radio s...moreIn a nutshell, this is the story of Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit priest/expert linguist who travels to an alien planet after his friend discovers a radio signal originating there that contains beautiful extraterrestrial music. The story is inventive and original (it's hard not to be when you're writing of a completely nonexistent planet, complete with two sentient species and all of the trappings of civilization that come along with it), accurate in its science without being strictly jargon, and, most importantly, meaningful and compelling.
The futuristic setting really works for this novel; it's in some ways a very realistic view of what will happen to Earth as the human population keeps growing, and in some ways a highly speculative account of the ways we might cope with our overcrowded planet (mining on asteroids and on the moon, for example). The focus of the action jumps around a lot and is pretty hard to follow-the narrative bounces around between real time, flashbacks, and flash-forwards (sometimes with flashbacks to real time included).
Rakhat, the alien planet, is located at the nearest star to earth, Alpha Centauri, which is convenient since even this nearby star is 17 light years away (the travelers only age a few months on the trip, supposedly because of Einstein's theory of relativity, but I couldn't be bothered to bend my mind around that information: like any book or movie containing time travel, I think it's best not to think too hard about it and just enjoy).
Russell explores religion and faith in some depth as well; the main character is, after all, a Jesuit priest, and his main conflict is with God. This is one of a couple of qualms I had with the novel: the religious element is predictable. Sandoz has faith, Sandoz loses faith. How and why are the big reveal at the end of the book, although it's easy to guess most of what happened to him; the details, when they finally come out, are gruesome, but not unexpected. It's like getting back a grade on a paper you didn't put a good effort into: you knew all along that it wouldn't be good, but all of the red ink makes you a little woozy when you finally see it.
The characters are a bit too idealized and formulaic, in my opinion; yes, they have flaws, but they are the flaws you expect, and they impact the lives of the characters in exactly the way you'd expect. A perfect example: the damaged former child prostitute hides her secret and shuts the world out to protect herself, becoming a cold and distant woman. By the end of the book, she has fallen in love, married, and even become a loving mother, warm and open now that she has reconciled with her past.
But characterization isn't the reason I read science fiction or fantasy novels: this is the genre I look to for wild speculation, invention, guesswork, and other worlds, and all of that is present in abundance in "The Sparrow." By setting the story on a planet with two sentient species, Russell has the opportunity to explore what it means to be human, and does so, and any reader will find that it is a truly complicated question. The aliens who live on Rakhat are incredibly strange, and yet, very like us: physiologically speaking, their anatomy is very similar to ours (the have eyes to see, legs to walk on, mouths to eat and to speak, and, most importantly, they are mammals). Their civilization and their social order is the big difference, and it is where their animal traits and barbarism show, juxtaposed with the consciousness, grace, and eloquence that put them on a human level or even higher. At the end of the novel, the big question becomes, are we any better?, and it is not easy to answer.(less)