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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
1,584428,410 (3.35)65
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? Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, 1959.… (more)
  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 65 mentions

English (38)  Italian (2)  French (1)  All languages (41)
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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 |
Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit biologist working on the planet Lithia as part of a commission to determine whether and how contact with the planet's indigenous intelligent life forms should be maintained. He comes to some disturbing conclusions.

I'm not sure I really followed all of the arguments but the basic concept was interesting. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Dec 31, 2020 |
1959 Hugo winner.

Honestly, I expected to read something quite a bit different than the novel I did get. I almost expected something like a conversation novel between heavily logical Spock-like lizards and a man of the cloth from Earth.

What do I get, instead? A novel with startlingly awesome biology standards, very deep world-building, and a wonderfully surprising argument of Manichaeism. For those not in the know, it's the idea that there are two creators in the world, one is good and one is evil. Father Ruiz Sanchez is convinced that these perfectly rational and nearly Christ-like lizards who are living a perfect life without religion are, in fact, the most perfect trap to throw humanity into perfect chaos and perdition. After all, this is a case of perfection without God, and if the rest of humanity ever "got" it, then it would be the time of Satan's rule over the earth for real. The whole planet was, after all, a Creation of Evil.

How gorgeous is this? Sure, modern readers may or may not care for the religious argument bent, but it is concise and beautiful as hell and it's ONLY THE SETUP.

Move ahead, take the freely offered gift of one of the lizard young back to a future earth gone schizophrenic, living underground in perpetual fear of nuclear holocaust and ready to tear itself apart. Have one of these christ-like lizards grow up knowing nothing but the monstrosity that humanity has become, and because of the peculiar brilliance of his race and his deeply frustrated sense of being as much an outsider as practically everyone else living on Earth, he speaks and breaks all the rules and becomes a pundit much, much worse than anything Trump has to offer, sparking chaos on a truly amazing scale.

Is he the hand of the antichrist, indeed? Or is he only the corrupted reflection of ourselves? Brilliant. And of course, the end... but I won't refer to the end. It's also brilliant, but of a different kind of light.

I have a few issues with the writing, but far, far less than I might have guessed before picking up the text. It's very thoughtful, very smart, and it shifts us with awesome speed between dialectical discourse to the absolute insanity of modern media. Is this modern SF? No, it came out in '58. And yet, I was laughing along with the crazy inventions later on as if I were watching that classic movie The Network, back in the 70's. No, no one was yelling from the rooftops, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" But the sentiment was there and the chaos of the novel was perfect.

How come wonderful idea novels like this aren't hailed as beautiful representations of classic literature? Is it just because it is SF? So beautiful. :)

( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
Winner of the Hugo Award in 1958, this book presents a moral dilemma confronting the four main characters. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 15, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (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
Dedication
to Larry Shaw
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The stone door slammed.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
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? Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, 1959.

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