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A Case of Conscience Paperback – September 5, 2000
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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 . . .
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
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 . . .
- Publisher : Del Rey; 1st edition (September 5, 2000)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0345438353
- ISBN-13 : 978-0345438355
- Item Weight : 11 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.46 x 0.6 x 8.51 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #304,476 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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There is a very revealing dialogue at one point in the novel between the four scientists who are pivotal characters.Two of these men sound like complete idiots. One can not imagine these men being assigned to an interplanetary mission whose purpose is to decide a planets future.I realize not all scientists are cultural sophisticates but these two sound like they just fell off the turnip truck.One is a low rent Dr.Stangelove who has no curiousity about the fascinating creatures they have found on the planet, he just wants to get on with bulding bombs.The man is a cretin.Then there is a great mathemetician, who announces that outside his speciality he don't know from nothing.So what is he doing on this mission?Sorry but this is ridiculous.The other two scientists are a little more plausible in that they don't sound stupid or completly nuts.It's Ruiz-Sanchez who becomes the focal point of the novel.Sanchez is a Catholic priest and all around intellectual.Unfortunately he is also an extremely unsophisticated thinker.So while this dialoguge winds up raising any number of intersting issues, it doesn't do them justice because the characters are so superficial and muddled.
One might have expected Sanchez to be a serious exponent of Catholic thought.Instead he sounds like someone who might teach biology at Oral Roberts University.That is he sounds like a not especially learned creationist - fundamentalist.The notion that he's Jesuit intellectual is a joke.Someone of his training and background would likely have responded to what the men find on Lithia in two ways.One he could conclude that his Christian prejudices are basically bunk and the Lithians high moral strandards are proof that say John Stuart Mill had it right, you don't need to be a Christian to act like one.Two,more likely ,that the Lithians are proof of the existence of natural law which exists even where the incarnation has not taken place.Thus the Lithians are akin to virtuous pagans.Why he comes up with the cockamamie notion that these creatures are Satans spawn is not satisfactorily addressed.
The virtue of this novel is that it does get you thinking.The key problem is you wish James Blish had given you better food for thought.
I personally found the depth of philosophical discussion refreshing. Every action has ripple affects, which one can not control.
The writing style was brilliantly done by juxtaposing an alien world to the Garden of Eden, and the consequences of modifying the environment for raising children to be prepared and capable of maintaining a eutopia world.
If an alien world has no understanding of religion, yet has developed a eutopia society, does that disprove the deity of God? What would one do to an alien world, to save the need for belief in deity, in ones own world? These are the philosophies we see discussed when earth encounters alien life.
The main sci-fi focus is on alien life with a distinctive, "unhuman" lifestyle. Furthermore, the iron poor nature of the alien planet creates a scenario where civilization has flourished, but remains technologically limited. Growing social inequality on Earth, nurture by a ubiquitous, consumer driven media fuels dangerous societal tensions to their braking point. Finally, Blish presents an early perspective on alien life from an organized religion's viewpoint which clashes with traditional beliefs. Lastly, the juxtaposition of an exorcism and nuclear weapons research offers a stark image of an evil Satan to be banished.
Positives: The alien's society is well crafted, Good dialogue. Interesting characters. Somewhat of an unexpected climax.
Negatives: for a protestant person, I was unfamiliar with the heirarachy of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic readers may be better able to relate to some of the ecclesiastical orders and such better than I did. Nonetheless, the novel is an interesting read.
I did find the passages when the team come back to Earth, (trying to avoid spoliers here) less compelling than the interactions on the foreign planet.
My grade, a nice B novel. Worth the time and effort, but as I said, a Catholic reader will probably appreciate it more and have a better background for this novel.
Top reviews from other countries
The first half is frankly absurd at times with some unbelievable plot points and ludicrous character choices.
The second half is incoherent and leaves the reader wondering where in earth the story is going until the last couple of chapters.
The author is clearly trying to be too smart: you need a dictionary on hand all time time. You shouldn't have to have a degree in English to understand it.
Neither should you need a degree in biology. Blish seems at times to get bogged down with too much scientific gobbledegook.
Or an understanding of Catholic history as many passages refer vaguely to such events. As an atheist myself I found reading such passages quite irritating.
Much of the book reads more like a philosophical thesis rather than any kind of entertainment. Ultimately a book should be enjoyable. This one lacks a defined beginning, middle and end and reads more like an expanded philosophical theory padded out from a more suitable novella length with monotonous documentary-like detailing of the everyday life of the somewhat very under developed characters.
Oh and again, only 1 female character and didn't really contribute to the plot in any meaningful way other than a love interest - although she is a scientist.
So - why was it a Hugo winner?
Well on the plus side, after setting out it's implausible premise it does become quite thought provoking by the end. But that's the entirety of the entertainment and it comes pretty much from the last couple of chapters. Also - looking at the other nominees, it was probably a quiet year for quality sci-fi in general.
All in all, a difficult read, not recommended. Has encouraged me to read the other Hugo nominees for that year, just to see what it was up against.