The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

Book – An undeniably alien communication is received on Earth. While governments bicker and argue about what to do next, the Jesuits quietly fund their own miniature space program, designed to send one small group of scientists and missionaries to the signal’s source, to see what they can find. It goes…about as well as first contacts with Jesuit missionaries traditionally goes: fine, until it isn’t, and then it’s horrible.

This is the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, priest and scientist, heretic and – perhaps – saint, who went to another world to meet the people there and suffered terribly for his mistakes. The story is told largely in flashback, as Sandoz is interviewed by the Vatican to determine exactly what went wrong with the mission and who is to blame. So even though large portions of the book are really very happy and cheerful, there’s an ominous cloud hanging over the whole as we wait to find out just what went so terribly wrong. It’s also a story about good intentions: how much having them can and can’t make a difference, and how we apportion blame for things we wish had never happened.

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. CoreyBook – Anyone who’s been regretting a shortage of great sci-fi movies lately can find consolation in the Expanse series by James S.A. Corey (the pseudonym for the duo of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck). In the first volume, Leviathan Wakes, we’re introduced to the solar system as it will be. Earth is an aging power, Mars a powerful colony, and the Belt – the thinly-populated region of outer space that’s developed its own language, culture, and phenotype – well, the Belt just wants to be left alone. Tensions are high anyway, but they only get worse when Jim Holden of the late ice miner Canterbury accuses Mars of destroying his ship. Holden’s wrong, though. It wasn’t Mars. It was someone else – someone covering up a secret that no one would have guessed.

Corey is terrific at making books out of nothing but awesome things. If you’re in the market for space battles, unnameable horrors, down-on-their-luck cops, and the unstoppable force of a dedicated optimist meeting the immovable object of human politics, Leviathan Wakes is the book for you – and if you like this, there are two more books already available and three more in the works.