This novel is partly a science fiction book about the first expedition to a planet with an alien culture, and an exploration of what God means to people in extraordinary circumstances. It is not an easy read, but one that I enjoyed reading for my Third Tuesday Bookclub meeting (February 16th, 2016).
In the late 2010s, the Search For Extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) picks up singing from a planet in the Alpha Centari system, four light-years and seventeen years away on Earth time (although in relative time it takes eight months to reach the system). The Society of Jesus, with a long history of sending missions to new lands, sends a mission to make contact with the aliens. Father Emilio Sandoz, S. J., who grew up in the slums of Puerto Rico, is one of the priests on the mission, which consists of four Jesuit priests and four lay people.
The book moves back and forth from the inception of the mission, and nearly forty years later, when Father Sandoz, the only survivor of the mission, arrives back on Earth maimed in body and soul, with lurid reports of murder and prostitution having preceded him home, to face a Jesuit inquest on the mission.
As a reasonably educated Roman Catholic who has been a reader of the Jesuit magazine America for many years, I very much enjoyed this book, although it is not an easy read, and I anticipate a good Third Tuesday Book Club meeting to discuss the book.
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