Though it wasn't particularly well-reviewed, Russell's book, which tells the story of contact with alien civilizations in the near future, has proved quite popular in the nearly 10 years since its release. Set in both 2016 and 2060 (that's not the sci-fi part, it's just a split narrative), The Sparrow tells the story of human contact with the planet Rakhat, the existence of which is first noticed when one of Jodie Foster's big dishes picks up singing in space. "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." Though "the aliens never come across as more than variations of primitive earthly cultures," all sorts of conflict and interaction evidently occurs, and the reviewers at Amazon are wild about the thing. The Jesuit mission is led by a messianic figure named Father Emilio Sandoz, who is presumably the character Pitt would play, if his scheduled worked out, and the script (currently being drafted by North Country scribe Michael Seitzman) met with his approval.
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