Father Emilio Sandoz, S.J., is the sole survivor of the first expedition to an alien planet, an experience that has left him physically maimed, traumatized, and reviled. He doesn’t want to talk about it, but the Jesuit order who sponsored the expedition require answers.
Russell’s narrative weaves two tales together: the expedition itself and the inquiry afterwards. This is a first contact for which the expedition crew, Jesuits and lay people alike, are not adequately prepared. The two alien races are more alien than they seem at first, operating from fundamentally different axioms. With the best of intentions, the humans’ ignorance leads to great tragedy.
This is an astonishing first novel. Accomplished, nuanced, and moving, it deals in deep issues, examining what it is to be human, and the crisis of faith of a priest who believes himself abandoned by God. Bittersweet, yet often very funny. The characters are memorable and complex.
Unreservedly recommended, this is only the second book to which I am awarding 5 stars.