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A Case of Conscience (Del Rey Impact) Paperback – September 5, 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From the Inside Flap

Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a dedicated man--a priest who is also a scientist, and a scientist who is also a human being. He has found no insoluble conflicts in his beliefs or his ethics . . . until he is sent to Lithia. There he comes upon a race of aliens who are admirable in every way except for their total reliance on cold reason; they are incapable of faith or belief.
Confronted with a profound scientific riddle and ethical quandary, Father Ruiz-Sanchez soon finds himself torn between the teachings of his faith, the teachings of his science, and the inner promptings of his humanity. There is only one solution: He must accept an ancient and unforgivable heresy--and risk the futures of both worlds . . .

Product Details

  • Series: Del Rey Impact
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; 1 edition (September 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345438353
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345438355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,638 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is stationed on the planet Lithia as a biologist. Lithia is inhabited by perfectly rational and good natured reptile like creatures. They are peaceful and unselfish but they have no concept of God or faith and have no literature or art. Even though he admires the Lithians he does not feel comfortable with the situation, something is wrong. It does not make sense to Father Sanchez that creatures that have no concept of God are still perfectly ethical. Could they possibly be the creation of Satan? Then again, does Satan create anything?

One day the earth commission discovers something truly disturbing, something cruel and horrific related to Lithian child rearing. The Lithians maybe rational, they may not be "sinners", and they may not be driven by greed or lust of any kind, but they are still not ethical in a human sense. Father Sanchez wants to protect Earth from contact with Lithia (and vice versa) and as the turbulent story unfolds it turns out that his intuition is on target.

The focus of the book is the theological and philosophical consequences that arise from the comparison of the two worlds. Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is a good hearted religious man with a sharp mind. It is through his thoughts, doubts and theological tribulations that we experience this amazing story.

It does not matter whether you are a Christian, theist, atheist, or agnostic; your belief system will be challenged and most disturbingly your ethical value system will be challenged. Could it be that the Lithians are rational and lack the emotions that typically lead to "sin", but also lack a conscience (like a sociopath)? Or do they have a different ethical system but without a God? In the end I found the book to be sympathetic towards the Catholic belief system.
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Format: Paperback
I really wanted to like this book. As a science fiction fan who happens to be a minister, I was looking forward to how James Blish would explore the idea of religion in a sci fi setting. While I still like the idea, I had a hard time making it through this book. The book gets off to a good start on the planet Lithia as Sanchez and the others disvocer some surprising revelations and discuss whether or not to allow the planet to be opened up or to close it off to further contact. However, as soon as we get back to Earth, things slow down considerably and the book loses alot of momentum. I think the biggest problem is that I wasn't really sure what Blish was trying to say. What does it all mean. Of course, this could be a problem of my own ignorance and missing the point rather than a flaw in the book. If you like your sci fi novels plot driven and full of action, this is not the book for you. If you like your sci fi to be more thoughtful and character driven, this book might be worth your while to pick up just because it IS one of those classic sci fi novels that made an impact on the genre. Personally, this is not a book I regret reading, but not one I would want to read again either. Maybe I just wanted too badly to like it.
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Format: Paperback
I used to enjoy reading sci-fi but don't read many religious books anymore, but I enjoyed Blish's odd fusion of science fiction and theology. The central question here is an example of the heresy of Manichaeism, a heresy so serious that people were excommunicated at one time for it. That having been said, it's actually a very complex issue, I learned from this book (and other readings in theology), and basically relates to the the sin of attributing creative powers to the devil. In fact, I've read that Jesuits get a whole course in this at the Vatican so they don't accidently lapse into this forbidden and heretical doctrine.

The book paints the Catholic church and religion in general in a positive light, which is also interesting in that in so many science fiction novels, science has progressed to the point where most people simply take the scientific view and traditional religious views don't seem to matter much anymore. But the Jesuit father who is also the biologist and medical officer on the expedition is very well developed and a very sympathetic character. The physicist (unfortunately I don't recall his name) is a more hard-boiled and more logical and less emotional person compared to the Father, who truly agonizes over the question about whether the existence of Egtverchi's world means that God and traditional morality have no place in the universe.

I don't know of too many other sci-fi novels where religion takes center stage as the main theme, except for perhaps Walter Miller's A Canticle for Leibowitz, and Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, coincidently two other Hugo winners from first two decades of the Hugo award.

I also don't understand a couple of reader's comments that the writing style was difficult. Come on, were you raised on MTV or something?
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Format: Hardcover
I'm not all that deeply religious and this book made me think about this quite a bit. This book isn't for fans of action oriented SF, if you find yourself reading the Foundation books by Isaac Asimov over and over again this is probably more your speed, like those books (and most books by Asimov) there's little action (most of it being off stage anyway) and the plot mostly centers around people standing arguing over the central point. Here the point is whether we can grant the existence of original sin to a race of creatures that has no concept of faith or belief and who exist basically by reason alone. The priest protagonist has to worry about this and in the beginning you wonder what his problem is but Blish manages to snag you in if you're willing and unravel everything. His tone is measured and calm and he takes his time laying everything out and even if you go in with a certain point of view, he may not change your mind but he'll at least give you cause to stop and think for a moment about your beliefs, whether you're religious or an athiest. Desersedly a winner of the Hugo award a long time ago (this was published in the late fifties I think) these days it's no longer in print for whatever reason which is a shame because in these days of flashy adventure book, we need more novels based on solid ideas that take those ideas to logical ends and make the reader think along the way. If you thought all that James Blish did was those Star Trek books, stop here and see how much better he can be.
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