I hesitate to call The Sparrow science fiction, despite its aliens and space travel and political reconfigurations. I hesitate for fear that placing it in an often-inaccessible genre will turn you off from this moving, intelligent book. So let’s use a French word for science fiction—anticipation. Mary Doria Russell wrote The Sparrow in the early nineties, as America contemplated the five hundredth anniversary of Columbus’s voyages. In it she anticipates a meeting of even more drastically different cultures, that of humans and two other intelligent species. She anticipates the beauty and tragedy that could come from such an interaction. She anticipates what would be lost of necessity and what would be gained.