QotD: Extraterrestrial Contact Version

Do you believe there is intelligent life on other planets?

What a strange QotD, especially when I had just finished a book last week that I had wanted to post about.

Eifelheim

Michael Flynn

Eifelheim is a book by Michael Flynn and is unusual science fiction book because it takes place in the Middle Ages.  In it, an erudite parish priest in a small, isolated Black Forest hamlet discovers and ultimately befriends aliens (“classic Greys” by description) who have crash-landed in nearby woods.  The story goes back and forth between then and the modern world, where a researcher who has figured out that something’s amiss in Eifelheim’s history, but doesn’t know what it is, digs in deep to try and piece it together.

Of the two settings, the 14th century village makes for much more interesting reading and more compelling characters.  Initially a story of fear that turns to a détente and finally to respect and friendship, the unlikely protagonists help one another through a difficult winter where the humans are at risk to The Black Death, and the aliens at risk by trying to live on an un-natural ecosystem.

It's a pretty good book: I loved the beginning tension of the book, the end was very satisfying – the middle wandered a bit and I didn’t care that much about the “modern” people, and maybe things fit together a little too conveniently.  One of the more interesting aspects is that the priest seeks and allows the conversion of aliens to Christianity.  There wasn’t a lot of theology tossed about, but it made me think of another book of a similar theme that I'd read a couple of years ago…

 

The Sparrow

Mary Doria Russell

Mary Doria Russell's book “The Sparrow” is a fascinating book in which WE are the ones making first contact to an alien civilization.  After detecting signals from another world, Earth’s governments debate a course of action.  The Jesuit Order of the Catholic Church however decides that they are called on to act as Missionaries to this new world, much in the same way that Spanish and French Missionaries lead much of the colonization of the Western hemisphere in the 16th century after the initial voyages of discovery.  They use the considerable resources of the Church to beat the secular governments to the punch.

The story follows the Mission and centers on the priest who is the spiritual head of it.  Because of the inability to communicate at long distances, the Mission is sent and must find its own way.  Early in the book, you learn that the priest returns a devastated and broken man.  The story is gripping and heart-rending as it is played out both in the “present” day and in reflection of what befell the Mission (you are reminded that a lot of earthly Missions ended with the Missionaries all dead).  The characters are well-established and the philosophy of what the discovery of an alien civilization would mean for the world’s religions is thought-provokingly covered.

Too often in science-fiction religion has no place – depicted too much with simple-minded zealotry, but I thought these two books covered that ground thoughtfully and sympathetically (without being preachy at all).  Overall, both were good reads, and the two together are a very interesting take on the whole “first contact” sub-genre.  Of the two, I recommend “The Sparrow” more – it is a better crafted novel that asks more of its reader.

And as for the QotD, we all know the answer: “Its life Jim, but not as we know it.

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10 thoughts on “QotD: Extraterrestrial Contact Version

  1. When ever my mind wanders to the topic of extra terrestrial life it inevitably wanders to this very topic. What will happen when the, for lack of a better term, cultures collide?It's a topic that will forever fascinate me.

  2. I loved The Sparrow. interestingly enough, another neighbor of mine posted it and its sequel in answer to this very question. Have you read Children of God? it's also very good, if i recall correctly (it's been a few years since i read either of them.)

  3. Hi Steve, I loved "The Sparrow" and your review makes me want to check out "Eifelheim." I've always loved science fiction and fantasy ever since I read "The Hobbit" by myself at age 8… It's always fun to find a new book / author I haven't read who sounds good. Thanks for that.

  4. PS – the sequel to "The Sparrow", the title of which escapes me, explains a LOT about how Emilio Sandoz finds himself in that place where he is devastated and broken, and yet explains it in such a way that the alien character Supaari comes off as way more sympathetic than you might expect, given what happens in the first book. But on balance, I still think the first book is the better of the two.

  5. HI Carole — I'd heard that there was a second book after "The Sparrow", but I sort of wondered if that was a story that was almost better as a stand-alone. It made me think so much, that I don't think I want the answers from the author. Though maybe now that its been a couple of years since I read the first one, I think it could be good to go back and read the second.

  6. Both of these books sound like they would be of interest to me. I've favorited this post so I can return to it when I'm looking for something to read. Thanks for the recommendations.

  7. Pingback: #81 – The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell « Let's eat, Grandpa! Let's eat Grandpa! (Punctuation saves lives.)

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