The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) secretly finance the exploration of Rakat, a newly discovered planet in Alpha Centauri. A motley crew of priests, agnostics, and a Jew travel to the planet and make contact with the residents. They encounter beauty and tragedy as they discover the two intelligent species who inhabit the planet. Only one priest returns to Earth forty years later to tell the story. Did God guide the explorers to the planet and their fates? That is the question asked throughout the book, structured with chapters alternating between the original trip and the priest's telling after his return.
This book is very densely written with lots of details about the characters and their lives before and during their trip to Rakat. Each person takes something unique in their experience and beliefs along on the trip. The story is gripping, but not a fast read due to the detail. The Ballentine Reader's Circle edition includes a reader's guide which includes a conversation with the author and reading group questions and topics for discussion. The sequel, Children of God, is available.
Reviewed by mb, 9/00. Other reviews by mb.