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A Case of Conscience by James Blish
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A Case of Conscience (1958)

by James Blish

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1,119337,372 (3.35)40
  1. 50
    The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both of these books deal with the combined issues of first contact with aliens and religion, through the involvement of priests. Both leave open questions, and both are well-written.
  2. 10
    River of Gods by Ian McDonald (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Contact with an alien intelligence throws theological issues into relief; multiple human protagonists reflect scientific, authoritarian, and mystical/contemplative types; all in the context of credible extrapolation to a near-future society.
  3. 01
    That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made [Novelette] by Eric James Stone (bertilak)
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» See also 40 mentions

English (30)  Italian (2)  French (1)  All languages (33)
Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This is not literature, this is incomprehensible theology. This does not make sense. ( )
  StigE | Feb 22, 2014 |
Upon investigation, I discovered that this series isn’t surrounding a certain set of events or characters but instead is multiple books around a similar theme. The theme for the series is each book deals with some aspect of the price of knowledge. So each book works as a standalone as well. There is also some disagreement as to precisely what book is what number in the series. I have chosen to use the number used by GoodReads. I had previously read a scifi book with a Jesuit priest scientist visiting a newly found planet (The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell) and loved it, so I was excited to see a similar idea executed differently. Unfortunately, I found that this book lacked the nuance and subtlety that made The Sparrow such a lovely read.

Ruiz-Sanchez is a rather two-dimensional character who quickly turns into a bumbling priest trope. Very little attention is paid to his credentials as a scientist within the story, so instead of coming to know Ruiz-Sanchez the scientist, the man, and the priest, we only know him in his priest role. This prevents a connection or even a basic understanding of his rather bizarre concerns. Whereas in The Sparrow, the priest wonders how a new planet can be covered by salvation and has a meaningful crisis of faith, in A Case of Conscience, the priest is just busy seeing demons and Satan and the Anti-Christ everywhere in such a bizarre, unbelievable manner that he may as well be holding an end of the world sign on a street corner. It’s almost impossible to connect with him on this level unless the reader also has a tendency to see illusions of Satan and the end of the world everywhere they look.

The plot is fascinating, although it does jump around a lot. Essentially there’s the part on Lithia, which primarily consists of discourse between the scientists. Then there’s the development of the Lithian child into an adult who doesn’t fit anywhere, since he lacked the social training on Lithia and also is a reptilian humanoid on planet Earth. He then starts to incite rebellion among the youth. Meanwhile, Ruiz-Sanchez is told by the Pope that he committed an act of heresy and he must re-win favor by stopping the Anti-Christ aka the Lithian on Earth. All of the settings are fascinating, and the plot is certainly fast-paced. However, the plot is so far-fetched that it is difficult to properly suspend disbelief for it.

The settings are the strength of the book. Lithia is well-imagined, with uniqueness from Earth in everything from technology to how the Lithians handle child-rearing. The tech involves trees since they lack minerals, and the child-rearing is non-existent. The Lithians are simply birthed then allowed to develop on the planet, similar to turtles on Earth. Earth’s setting is interestingly imagined as well. The fear of nuclear weapons has driven humans to live underground for generations with only the elite living above ground, and the UN working hard to keep it that way. It’s a fun mix of alternate alien civilization and dystopia.

Essentially, the book has interesting world-building and what could be a promising plot that get derailed by two-dimensional characters and too many bizarre plot-twists and occurrences. It’s certainly an interesting read, particularly if you are interested in immersing yourself in this odd world Blish has created. However, readers should not expect to connect with the characters on an emotional level and should be prepared for a bizarre plot.

Check out my full review: http://wp.me/pp7vL-12P ( )
  gaialover | Dec 17, 2013 |
This novel, by James Blish, won the 1959 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel, and even now, over 50 years later, continues to appear on the lists of the greatest science fiction stories of all time. My science fiction club recently read it for a group discussion, and I enjoyed the opportunity to introduce myself to one of the classics. This novel feels like two stories that have been patched together, and that is literally the case. The first half of the novel (previously published on its own) features an exploratory team of scientists nearing the end of their visit to a distant populated planet, preparing their recommendation report to their superiors back on Earth, as to the planet's suitability for human interaction. The primary narrator is Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, a Jesuit priest who also happens to be a biologist. His discoveries among the intelligent reptilian natives (Lithians) of the planet leads him to a moral crisis of conscience: His strong Catholic belief structure lead him to the conclusion that the planet's entire existence is a Satan-created challenge to his faith. The second half of the novel is set on Earth, as Father Ramon brings a gestating example of the Lithian species back home, and we see the worst example of "nature vs nurture" development that could possibly occur, as the Lithian, separated from the natural environment that it would normally evolve in, becomes an ethical and moral challenge to human society. To be honest, I thought that this book felt a bit dated, but it is still a stellar example of 1950s-era science fiction.

Originally reviewed for my local library's website: http://www.lincolnlibraries.org/depts/bookguide/srec/staffrec13-02.htm ( )
  cannellfan | Jul 2, 2013 |
Have 1966 Ballantine ed. (U2251)
  Georges_T._Dodds | Mar 30, 2013 |
Reviews of past books:

This was one of the earliest science fiction novels I read (because of Blish's Star Trek novelizations, I began to read his other work as well). It was the first where religious reasoning played a major role. I read it at about the same time as Clarke's [b:Childhood's End|414999|Childhood's End|Arthur C. Clarke|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1320552628s/414999.jpg|209414], and because of the religious themes and evocative aliens, the two are somewhat linked in my mind. They prepared me for the later [Book:Te Sparrow]. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James Blishprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Foss, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sweet, Darrell K.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyrs, JacquesCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
I schal declare the disposcioun of rome fro hys first making; ... and the seconde part schal declare ye holynesse of ye same place fro hys first crystendom; I schal not write but that I fynde in auctores or ellis that I sey with eye.John Capgrave : The Solace of Pilgrims.
Man only thinks when you prevent him from acting. - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Man only creates when fulfilment of action increases his enigma. - Gerald Heard
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to Larry Shaw
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The stone door slammed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The novella "A Case of Conscience" is book one in the novel with the same name
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345438353, Paperback)

The citizens of the planet Lithia are some of the most ethical sentient beings Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez has ever encountered. True, they have no literature, no fine arts, and don't understand the concept of recreation, but neither do they understand the concepts of greed, envy, lust, or any of the sins and vices that plague humankind. Their world seems darned near perfect. And that is just what disturbs the good Father.

First published in 1959, James Blish's Hugo Award-winning A Case of Conscience is science fiction at its very best: a fast-paced, intelligent story that offers plenty of action while at the same time explores complex questions of values and ethics. In this case, Blish has taken on the age-old battle of good vs. evil. Lithia poses a theological question that lies at the heart of this book: is God necessary for a moral society? The Lithians are nothing if not moral. Not only do they lack the seven deadly sins, they also lack original sin. And without any sort of religious framework, they have created the Christian ideal world, one that humans would be eager to study and emulate. But is it too perfect? Is it in fact, as Father Ruiz-Sanchez suspects, the work of The Adversary? And what role does Egtverchi, the young Lithian raised on Earth, play? Is he an innocent victim of circumstance, or will he bring about the Dies Irae, the day of the wrath of God, upon the earth? The fate of two worlds hinges on the answers to these questions, and will lead to an ancient earth heresy that shakes the Jesuit priest's beliefs to their very core.

A Case of Conscience is a brilliant piece of storytelling, and it packs a lot into a scant 242 pages. Most readers will probably finish the book in one sitting, unable to stop until the spectacular denouement. But the questions posed by this little-known gem will stay with you for days afterward. --P.M. Atterberry

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:51:16 -0400)

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