Ahoy there me mateys! This be the sixteenth book in me Ports for Plunder – 19 Books in 2019 list. I found this book in the 2016 treasure haul from Maine and then never read it. That’s why it made this year’s 19 in 2019 list. And in a weird coincidence, it happens to be a book that’s being read as part of a Sci-Fi Month read-along. Talk about good timing! I ended up reading the whole thing at once but will be following the weekly discussions surrounding this book on Goodreads.
Basically this book is about a group of eight humans sent by Jesuits to make first contact with aliens on another planet. Four are Jesuit priests and four are civilians. The prologue states “They went ad majorem Dei gloriam: for the greater glory of God. They meant no harm.” So how were the humans going to screw this up? I thought the concept of Jesuits going for scientific pursuits was kinda awesome. Ye know very early that the trip was a disaster but through the course of the book ye find out the reasons why.
The book has multiple POVs and two timelines. There is the present timeline (2059) where ye meet with the sole survivor. There is the history of how contact was made (beginning 2019!) and what happened on the other planet, Rakhat. And there be snippets of the lives of the travelers before they went to space woven in both timelines. But most of the focus in both timelines be on the survivor Father Emilio.
This book was beautifully written and highly engaging. I particularly enjoyed the found family aspects of the group who goes to Rakhat. The best character by far was Father Emilio himself. I loved pretty much everything about him. I hated his suffering in the present and I loved the juxtaposition of his personality before the mission. There were four other very strong characters that I loved. Sophie and D.W. were the two other humans on Rakhat who felt the most real and I loved their personalities. In the present there were two men John and Edward who helped Father Emilio in his struggles. I loved how caring and compassionate they were. The other characters were developed to a lesser extent but I thought all of the characterization was well done.
I actually really enjoyed the planet Rakhat and the descriptions of life there. I loved how life evolved on the planet. I thought the first contact scene was different and excellent. The languages on the planet and how they worked were cool even if I didn’t quite understand all the ramifications. How the planet was described made me want to visit and see all the flora and fauna. I thought the politics of the world were set up well. Also I was surprised at how the alien music turned out.
There were several downsides in this book which immensely lessened me overall enjoyment. First were the rather rushed endings of both the time on Rakhat and with the Jesuit investigation back on Earth. Though the set-ups for the each timeline were immersive and extensive, the resolutions were compressed into 50 pages and personally unsatisfying. There is a massive theme of rape in this book that was distasteful in the extreme. It was gratuitous and superfluous. I believe it could have been written out altogether without changing the message. And lastly how the investigation was carried out was demeaning and harsh towards Emilio and for no real purpose. It felt like he was tortured by both the ruling aliens and then the ruling Jesuits. The ending in particular was both horrifying in how the trauma was dismissed and annoyingly ambivalent about what happens to Emilio next. Moreover I felt it was fundamentally dishonest about the healing process with regards to PTSD.
The issues I had with the ending took this from a five star read to just an okay read. Though I do have to say that the experience so far with the read-along has enriched me enjoyment of the book and I am glad that stars aligned for the timing of experiencing this book. Arrrr!
Side note: Only three books left in the 19 in 2019! Also Sci-Fi Month is hosted by Matey Lisa of Dear Geek Place and Matey Imyril of One More. Check out their blog links for more info and join the fun!
Goodreads had this to say about the novel:
In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet that will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question what it means to be “human”.
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