This is my sentiment toward this book. Unlike Mercury Theatre's general consensus, my thoughts on this novel were clearer than those toward The Sparrow. I hated this book. I found the characters to be paper-thin this time around and too many times, Russell steps out of the narrative to pigeonhole. For example,
"Believers found it a miraculous confirmation of God's existence and evidence of Divine Providence. Skeptics declared it a fraud - a clever trick by the Jesuits to distract attention from their earlier failures. Atheists did not dispute the music's authenticity, but they considered it just another fluke that proved nothing - like the universe itself. Agnostics admitted the music was magnificent, but suspended judgment, waiting for who knew what?" - page 431
Come on! Jesus Christ, how more trite can you get? The entire plot felt completely contrived. And what pisses me off worse? It hurts The Sparrow because it resolves Sandoz. From the Reader's Guide: "I left my main character impaled on the horns of a dilemma, and I wasn't able to let it go at that." Why the hell not? It makes for a better ending - don't answer the damn question. That is an ending, separate from this. Ambiguous endings are meant to make you wonder what happened on the surface, but the real point of them is to be ambiguous. That's a message. And this isn't a general rule, either - I don't hate the movie 2010, for example, just because it answers the questions that 2001 left open. In fact, I like 2010. It's a different, but still good, entity. This is not.
(And oh, by the way, when you're only dealing with four basic building blocks of DNA, of course you will find overlapping sections. It's not God; it's an odds game. Only if putting the DNA into a Tricorder and having it show you a video of someone telling you that you've been designed does it really imply design.)
The occasional references to things that have changed through history and Sandoz's pop culture references just got annoying. (The one exception was when Russell finally admitted that Nico was Luca Brasi on page 385.)
A couple of comments that I held in the back of my mind when I was reading:
SOCIAL CONTRACT ... IN ... SPACE! - Response to Sofia
page 346 - Only good page
(And the ever-frequent) Bullshit!
And the thing that annoyed me the most: "...the difference between God and science, that there were different ways - parallel ways - to think about the world." - page 259. This isn't true, though it's a convenient out if you don't want to be controversial. Science deals with everything that is empirically disprovable (Disprovable. That's why I loved Sandoz's line, that he "felt once more the strangely visceral thrill of trying to disprove a hypothesis he suspected was robust."-page 93 - that's the way you do it, goddamn it. That's the way you do it!). The God hypothesis itself is not disprovable, but that God is exerting influence is. Following Occam's Razor, nothing in either book happened because of God because that would be an unnecessarily complicated step in the causation. Everything can be explained the simpler way, equally well, so it should be.
And that quote that I nested in the parentheses is a great example of the wonder of knowledge that appears only a few times in the book. Scientists love to try to disprove theories. They are constantly thinking of ways to (dis)prove parts of Einstein's relativity. Just a few months ago (or maybe it was a year or more, I'm not sure), NASA sent up a satellite to test a part of relativity and it came back positive. But the point is, they don't take any part of relativity on faith; they are always testing, always looking for holes. And of course, they've found them, in the way that everything we understand breaks down at the quantum level. So they're working on ways to explain the mechanisms at work there. And then scientists will test the hell out of them, because that's the only way to prove whether they're right or wrong. Bringing this back out of the real world and back into a theology discussion, most organized religions (including the one in which the Jesuits ostensibly believe) believe in some kind of intervention or Providence. This can be disproven. So science and God are not parallel - not non-intersecting. They do.
Going back to our discussion on The Sparrow and if they could have known better: "The subsequent unexplained disappearance of the Magellan party suggests that they, too, fell prey to the near impossibility of avoiding fatal mistakes on Rakhat." - page 17 (emphasis mine).
And then there's the reference back to the beginning of The Sparrow: where that novel began, "It was predictable, in hindsight," this one contains the line, "It was absurd, in hindsight - the very idea that a handful of humans might have been able to do everything right the first time." - page 21. Again, my bullshit detector goes off as I think to myself, "NOT JUST IN HINDSIGHT! IT WAS ABSURD. PERIOD."