I don't read a lot of science fiction, but a friend whose taste I trust told me I absolutely had to read this. I was surprised upon reading the description, to learn that a number of the characters within are Jesuits. I'm not particularly religious, but I don't have an aversion to reading about it, either. At any rate, this is not something I would have chosen without a personal recommendation.
Immediately going in, I am given to understand that I'm about to read a tragic story. It begins when Emilio Sandoz returns to earth, the sole survivor of their mission to the planet Rakhat. The story goes back and forth between Emilio's present, and his past, the events leading up to the mission, and the mission itself. I almost thought I'd prefer to read it chronologically, and not know what to expect, but I changed my mind when I realized that the things that were revealed after the mission only made me really want to know what happened to cause those events. Why did everyone but Emilio die? Why did he do the things he was accused of doing? So, I have to admit, the format worked.
All of the characters were extremely poignant, and I loved them all. They were so complex, and thus very human, very believable. The love they have for one another is incredibly touching. The early portions of the book had humor in them that surprised and delighted me.
I find it interesting, reading a science fiction book with such a strong focus on the spiritual. I feel like a lot of sci fi gets rather lost in the technology, at the expense of depth and character development. Feel free to correct me with recommendations that demonstrate the contrary if you like. That is what generally keeps me away from the genre.
Despite knowing from the very beginning that a number of tragic events were going to occur, I was not expecting the way things played out. It was very hard to read. And honestly, there are a lot of people to whom I could not recommend this, because of just how awful some of the events are. If you want something light that's going to leave you feeling happy, this is not for you. If you are easily triggered, skip this book. If you enjoy reading a book that explores some very difficult concepts, of Game of Thrones proportions but with far more introspection, then do not pass this one up.