Blish himself was an agnostic and a scientist by training—his entry into the literary field came when he was hired as science editor by the Pfizer pharmaceutical company—but he left us one of the great novels of religion of modern times. Some believers were less than pleased with the end result. A Case of Conscience begins with a familiar sci-fi scenario. A group of four space explorers have settled on a new planet where they encounter an intelligent life form. They need to assess the environment of Lithia, make a preliminary investigation of the dominant species, a large reptile akin to a talking dinosaur, and make recommendations on the potential for further settlement or study of the planet, located some 50 light years away from Earth.
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This essay first appeared at his blog, Breadtag Sagas. An age it seems where peer reviewed science can be debated as if there could be another side.
One can always drag up an extreme scientist or pseudo-scientist, not part of the mainstream, to help. Creationism or anti-evolution and climate science are good examples. The modern synthesis theory of evolution was formulated in the s. It has never been challenged but has been built on by the revolution in molecular biology and computer technology.
Most people are probably not abreast of recent developments. Take it from me anyone who doubts evolution now is on a hiding to nothing. Spoiler warning James Blish A Case of Conscience is an interesting example of the premise of faith versus science, but the contest never really happens in the book.
I give a spoiler warning tongue-in-cheek, but if you really want to read the book maybe read it first before proceeding. A Case of Conscience was the first book I re-read and I was underwhelmed. I did remember the Catholicism but the idea is not enough to save the book. A Case of Conscience was originally written as a novella in , then James Blish wrote the second part and it was published as a novel in It won a Hugo Award in and the original novella a belated Retrospective Hugo in In the Foreward James Blish describes how he had modified contemporary Catholic faith for the purposes of fiction in the future.
He says he generally found support from within the Catholic Church for his book but acknowledges that he himself is agnostic. The Story Book 1 A Jesuit priest, who is also a world-class biologist, is part of the four-man team sent to explore the world of Lithia.
One of the team wants to exploit the planet for its mineral wealth, but the priest feels they must place it in quarantine: the absence of God means it is the work of the devil. The egg matures quickly and the juvenile Lithian Ambassador quickly apprehends most human information and knowledge. Egtverchi the hatched egg is lonely and revolted by humanity his despair impels him to criticize society and to encourage riots amongst the mass of humans in the shelter cities.
The UN Government decides to arrest him but he smuggles himself aboard a ship home, arriving just in time for Armageddon. Robert Heinlein follows a similar trend at times but also can do better when he wants to. Podkayne of Mars one of my favourite Heinlein books is written in the voice of a feisty teenager Podkayne, with an appalling to her younger brother.
The planet of Lithia and the alien race are poorly described. When the four planetary commissioners get together to decide the fate of the planet, they behave like schoolboys. Cleaver, besides, feels free to do a side deal with the UN Government unbeknownst to the others. Cleaver the bad physicist, who wants to turn Lithia into a nuclear arsenal is too cardboard even for caricature.
Cleaver apparently ends by blowing Lithia up through incautious hurry and a poorly conceived experimental process. A romance and marriage between Michelis one of the four scientists and Liu, who look after the development of Egtverchi, is risible.
The behaviour of Liu as a woman is not credible. Egtverchi the alien is quite interesting as he grows up, but his persona is not well explained. His motivations are handled merely as a plot device. The Pope has promise as a character but his part is only a walk-on. The best idea in the book is that of the shelter cities growing out of the nuclear confrontation on Earth. The shelter race is like an arms race — reminiscent of Dr Strangelove where the ultimate advantage over the Russians comes down to the mineshaft gap.
The Corridor Riots of are also mentioned. Humanity as government, elite and masses is not shown in a good light in the book, nor is Catholicism. Today, how kindly would we accept a Jesuit priest who wanted to annihilate an alien planet because it is a tool of the devil?
Lithia and its population and the mad physicist Cleaver disappear in a nuclear conflagration, or is it an exorcism?
It deserves its place in the s SciFi pantheon, but not the place it was given in the lists I found as 18, 30 or 38 of the best SciFi books ever written.
The fourth list does not place it in the top Some are brilliant stories and novel showcases for ideas. I recently read Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank, which is one of the first apocalyptic novels of the nuclear age. It is set in a small town in mid-Florida and is almost as chilling now, as it must have seemed then.
And, we no longer believe that nuclear Armageddon hangs over us on a daily basis. Wonderful ideas, but in most cases terrible execution: for every novel or short story that succeeds, at least three are left butchered and bleeding by the side of the road…. So it should be no surprise that A Case of Conscience is more of the same. We have discovered a planet peopled by an apparently gentle and civilized race, the Lithians, who are gradually revealed as being literally a creation of the Devil, intended to delude and ensnare humanity.
The protagonist, a Jesuit priest, too late recognizes the Lithian ambassador to Earth for what he is, and is powerless to oppose him; this scenario, it occurs to me now, is rather like that in Black Easter.
And then, after what everyone here agrees is a fantastic buildup, the whole book falls apart, leaving the reader frustrated over yet another disappointment. Tony Stewart is a scientist biology and analyst by training. More recently he has been a volunteer involved in efforts to stop a dam and with and with the general issue of the poor treatment of displaced people in India. He was also a board member and ex-chair of PhotoAccess a community access facility for photography and multimedia.
He is also an avid fan of classic science fiction. Share this:.
A Case of Conscience
Dick , If: Worlds of Science Fiction, aprile , pag. Quinn, un editore di New York. Il primo numero di If era datato marzo , con Fairman come curatore ; conteneva storie di Richard S. Shaw, un attivo appassionato di fantascienza che aveva venduto qualche racconto. Il concorso era aperto a studenti del college che in precedenza non avevano mai venduto una storia. Giunsero contributi da scrittori che sarebbero divenuti in seguito famosi, tra i quali Harlan Ellison , Roger Zelazny e Andrew J.
Wonderful ideas, but in most cases terrible execution: for every novel or short story that succeeds, at least three are left butchered and bleeding by the side of the road. In his longest work, the four-volume Cities in Flight, Blish developed an even more grandiose and imaginative concept. The first volume depicts the Second Coming of Christ, and the concept is once again excellent. He delivers on His promise to give eternal life in the heavens to His people, but does so in an unexpected way, by diverting federal funding into research programs which result in faster than light travel and an immortality drug. Alas, this brilliant idea is again spoiled by poor writing.
This essay first appeared at his blog, Breadtag Sagas. An age it seems where peer reviewed science can be debated as if there could be another side. One can always drag up an extreme scientist or pseudo-scientist, not part of the mainstream, to help. Creationism or anti-evolution and climate science are good examples. The modern synthesis theory of evolution was formulated in the s. It has never been challenged but has been built on by the revolution in molecular biology and computer technology. Most people are probably not abreast of recent developments.
A Case of Conscience by James Blish
Part 1[ edit ] In , Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez of Peru , Clerk Regular of the Society of Jesus , is a member of a four-man team of scientists sent to the planet Lithia to determine if it can be opened to human contact. Ruiz-Sanchez is a biologist and biochemist, and he serves as the team doctor. However, as a Jesuit , he has religious concerns as well. The planet is inhabited by a race of intelligent bipedal reptile -like creatures, the Lithians. Ruiz-Sanchez has learned to speak their language to learn about them. While on a walking survey of the land, Cleaver, a physicist, is poisoned by a plant, despite a protective suit, and he suffers badly.