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A Case of Conscience (1958)

by James Blish

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: After Such Knowledge: Publication order (1), After Such Knowledge (3)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,666458,684 (3.35)70
Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez S.J., is a part of a four man scientific commission to the planet Lithia, there to study a harmonious society of aliens living on a planets which is a biologist's paradise. He soon finds himself troubled: how can these perfect beings, living in an apparent Eden, have no conception of sin or God? If such a sinless Eden has been created apart from God, then who is responsible?… (more)
Recently added by4Maya, private library, SaltyLIghtning, rushe, Jehan08
  1. 61
    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 70 mentions

English (40)  Italian (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (44)
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Readable, intelligent piece of sci-fi which introduces Manichean concepts into the story. The author shows serious scientific knowledge and a familiarity with Catholic theology.
  ivanfranko | May 5, 2022 |
What Is the Nature of Evil?

Can there be morality, equanimity, and unity with nature without God? Can these be innate traits in sentient beings like humans? Is there evil and if so, is it more Catholic/Augustinian, that is, succinctly, a free will choice, or Manichean, in other words, evil as an entity in opposition to God? Weighty questions, indeed, but these are concepts James Blish and his protagonist Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez address in A Case of Conscience, when Earth of the future (2049) encounters Lithia, a planet 50 million light years distant, where the predominant reptilian species lives in perfect harmony with itself and its world.

The novel, which won the 1958 Hugo and a Retrospective Hugo Award in 2004, opens with a commission of U.N. (the one-world governing body on Earth) representatives, on the eve of deciding whether Lithia should be open for interaction with Earth. The four persons of the commission each have different thoughts on the matter, with the two dominant being those of Cleaver, a physicist, and Ruiz-Sanchez, a biologist and Jesuit. Because the planet is rich in pegmatite (a source of lithium, rare on Earth, used in nuclear weapons) and he has little knowledge of or interest in Lithian culture, Cleaver votes to use the planet as a factory for building a nuclear arsenal, regardless of what the Lithians think. Ruiz-Sanchez strongly argues that the planet must be closed and off limits to humanity because it is an innately moral, peaceful, and balanced society. His reasoning centers on his Catholicism; that Lithia’s very nature is inimical to Church teachings and the morality of humanity. How can a society live in perfection, akin in so many ways to Eden before the fall, without the seeming handiwork of God, and without humanity exercising free will to strive for perfection. In his opinion, Satan created Lithia to separate humanity from God (here, think about the Augustinian concept of Evil as degrees of separation from God and the duality espoused by Mani). When the commission leaves, Chtexa, whom Ruiz-Sanchez has befriended, presents him with a gift, an amphora containing his offspring.

Back on Earth, two things develop. The offspring, named Egtverchi, grows rapidly to adolescence. Divorced from his traditional upbringing, Egtverchi grows into a questioning and rebellious youth, a charismatic being who captures the imagination of a discontented world, a world that has evolved into one that mostly lives underground. This Shelter economy began during the days when fear of nuclear annihilation drove nations to dig vast cities deep into the earth then transformed into the normal way of existence. Egtverchi campaigns actively against this existence and the very nature of authority. Turmoil and riots ensure and to avoid capture by authorities, Egtverchi manages to escape to Lithia. For Ruiz-Sanchez, this goes to the very heart of his concern, his reluctant embracing of the Manichean view of evil and God, a concern that forces his excommunication from the church and a mandate from the Pope to make things right by exorcising the entire planet of Lithia, thus demonstrating the superior power of God over evil; in other words, a disavowal of dualism.

Concomitant with these developments, secretly Cleaver has been authorized to begin building nuclear weapons on Lithia, an endeavor under full stream as Earth descends into strife and Ruiz-Sanchez sets about obeying the Pope’s directive. Suspected by some but unknown to Cleaver, the physicist has made an error in his calculations, a potentially fatal one that could set off a chain reaction that could destroy all of Lithia. At the very moment of Cleaver is starting his nuclear reactors that will be used to construct atomic weapons, Ruiz-Sanchez performs his exorcism, and Lithia blows up. Rational minds will attribute the destruction to Cleaver’s error, but others will believe it is the power of God to expel evil.

Thoughtful readers of all genres will find A Case of Conscience a rewarding experience not the least for the religious/philosophical questions it gives rise to.
( )
1 vote write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
What Is the Nature of Evil?

Can there be morality, equanimity, and unity with nature without God? Can these be innate traits in sentient beings like humans? Is there evil and if so, is it more Catholic/Augustinian, that is, succinctly, a free will choice, or Manichean, in other words, evil as an entity in opposition to God? Weighty questions, indeed, but these are concepts James Blish and his protagonist Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez address in A Case of Conscience, when Earth of the future (2049) encounters Lithia, a planet 50 million light years distant, where the predominant reptilian species lives in perfect harmony with itself and its world.

The novel, which won the 1958 Hugo and a Retrospective Hugo Award in 2004, opens with a commission of U.N. (the one-world governing body on Earth) representatives, on the eve of deciding whether Lithia should be open for interaction with Earth. The four persons of the commission each have different thoughts on the matter, with the two dominant being those of Cleaver, a physicist, and Ruiz-Sanchez, a biologist and Jesuit. Because the planet is rich in pegmatite (a source of lithium, rare on Earth, used in nuclear weapons) and he has little knowledge of or interest in Lithian culture, Cleaver votes to use the planet as a factory for building a nuclear arsenal, regardless of what the Lithians think. Ruiz-Sanchez strongly argues that the planet must be closed and off limits to humanity because it is an innately moral, peaceful, and balanced society. His reasoning centers on his Catholicism; that Lithia’s very nature is inimical to Church teachings and the morality of humanity. How can a society live in perfection, akin in so many ways to Eden before the fall, without the seeming handiwork of God, and without humanity exercising free will to strive for perfection. In his opinion, Satan created Lithia to separate humanity from God (here, think about the Augustinian concept of Evil as degrees of separation from God and the duality espoused by Mani). When the commission leaves, Chtexa, whom Ruiz-Sanchez has befriended, presents him with a gift, an amphora containing his offspring.

Back on Earth, two things develop. The offspring, named Egtverchi, grows rapidly to adolescence. Divorced from his traditional upbringing, Egtverchi grows into a questioning and rebellious youth, a charismatic being who captures the imagination of a discontented world, a world that has evolved into one that mostly lives underground. This Shelter economy began during the days when fear of nuclear annihilation drove nations to dig vast cities deep into the earth then transformed into the normal way of existence. Egtverchi campaigns actively against this existence and the very nature of authority. Turmoil and riots ensure and to avoid capture by authorities, Egtverchi manages to escape to Lithia. For Ruiz-Sanchez, this goes to the very heart of his concern, his reluctant embracing of the Manichean view of evil and God, a concern that forces his excommunication from the church and a mandate from the Pope to make things right by exorcising the entire planet of Lithia, thus demonstrating the superior power of God over evil; in other words, a disavowal of dualism.

Concomitant with these developments, secretly Cleaver has been authorized to begin building nuclear weapons on Lithia, an endeavor under full stream as Earth descends into strife and Ruiz-Sanchez sets about obeying the Pope’s directive. Suspected by some but unknown to Cleaver, the physicist has made an error in his calculations, a potentially fatal one that could set off a chain reaction that could destroy all of Lithia. At the very moment of Cleaver is starting his nuclear reactors that will be used to construct atomic weapons, Ruiz-Sanchez performs his exorcism, and Lithia blows up. Rational minds will attribute the destruction to Cleaver’s error, but others will believe it is the power of God to expel evil.

Thoughtful readers of all genres will find A Case of Conscience a rewarding experience not the least for the religious/philosophical questions it gives rise to.
( )
  write-review | Nov 4, 2021 |
This was the next book in my chronological reading of the SF Masterwork series and it took me by surprise. A few years ago I had read Blish's [Cities in Flight] series which had been aimed squarely at the youth pulp market, however the more thoughtful [A Case of Conscience] (1958) with its slow moving first part would have tested the resolve of many of those teen readers. Blish is not a writer to let science get in the way of his ideas and as this book moves along the science gets left behind. The two parts to the novel make for an uneven read, especially as the faster moving second section is in danger of leaving his readers scrambling to keep up, but it is satisfactorily if unsurprisingly resolved by the end.

In the first part four specialists are working on an inhabited planet with the task of deciding whether it can be opened up for human contact. Father Ruiz-Sanchez; one of the four is a biologist, but also a Jesuit priest and the arguments as to the suitability of the planet Lithia is told very much from his point of view. The giant race of Lithians are bipedal reptile like creatures with great intelligence and their society is everything that a Christian might wish to see: a veritable Utopia with no crime, no conflict, no ignorance and no wants, a world built on peace, logic and understanding of the natural world the only problem is: a complete absence of anything resembling a God. The planet also has an abundance of materials needed to fashion atomic bombs. The four specialists were not able to reach a conclusion with Father Ruiz-Sanchez convinced that the planet is the Devil's work. As the team are leaving the planet Ruiz-Sanchez is given a fertilised egg by one of the Lithians. The second part of the novel tells the story of the birth and development of the Lithian back on earth.

The mystery of the Lithian society and the arguments between the specialists and the challenge to the faith of Father Ruiz-Sanchez are well set out in the first part, along with an atmospheric description of the rain soaked planet. Blish manages to hold the readers interest: rehearsing his arguments that hold both mystery and wonder even if the Jesuit's thought processes can take some surprising turns. While the first part is thoughtful and assumes some knowledge of literature and religion, the second part hardly stops to take a breath. Somehow Blish makes it all work and I can see why his book has its admirers in the science fiction genre. 3.5 stars. ( )
1 vote baswood | May 17, 2021 |
While there is a lot to like in this theological science fiction novel from the late 1950s, I ultimately found it a bit of a slog. Blish starts us off on Lithia, a far-off planet inhabited by very large sentient lizard-like creatures that have a perfectly moral, crime-free society and yet no religion at all. The scientists from Earth that have been sent to review the planet for future exploration include biologist / Jesuit priest Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez. He is fascinated by the biology and sociology of this new world but has a break in his admiration for the planet when he is struck by the belief that the planet was created by Satan as a lure for humanity to turn away from the grace of God. I think. Honestly, the theological parts lost me a bit (sorry, Seminary friends!). When the men get ready to go back to Earth, one of the Lithians that Ruiz-Sanchez has befriended gives him a baby Lithian in a jar to raise on Earth. As this Lithian grows up severed from the moral compass of his home planet, he absorbs all the weird energy of an Earth that has retreated to an elaborate series of underground bunkers in fear of nuclear war, a decadent society of ultra-rich folks, and a growing number of viscerally discontented workers. Things come to a head when the young Lithian uses his charismatic popularity to call his discontented followers into an open rebellion against the government, ultimately leading to a rather neat solution to Father Ruiz-Sanchez's dilemma (and impending excommunication).

The best parts of this book are definitely the descriptions of Lithia and the extremely detailed exploration of the unique biology of the planet. The worst parts are the cringingly racist and sexist descriptions of the Asian scientist who helps raise the baby Lithian, and the Trump / Q-like influence of the Lithian on this future Earth (I just didn't have the energy for that -- ymmv). In between are the religious factors, which may or may not be your jam depending on how philosophical, theological, or Catholic you are. And if you know what Manichaeism is without having to look it up. ( )
  kristykay22 | May 8, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Blish, Jamesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bear, GregIntroductionsecondary authorsome 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
Zitzewitz, Hoot vonCover 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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Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez S.J., is a part of a four man scientific commission to the planet Lithia, there to study a harmonious society of aliens living on a planets which is a biologist's paradise. He soon finds himself troubled: how can these perfect beings, living in an apparent Eden, have no conception of sin or God? If such a sinless Eden has been created apart from God, then who is responsible?

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