Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

Case of Conscience 2000 cover A Case of Conscience (1958)
1959 Hugo Award Winner

Ballantine trade paperback
2000 - 242 pages (left)

original Ballantine paperback
1958 - 188 pages (right)
case of conscience 1950s cover

Amy's Summary
More A Case of Conscience covers
Our book ratings
Aaron's Commentary
James Blish bibliography

The beginning of this novel appeared in abridged form as "A Case of Conscience" in IF Worlds of Science Fiction in 1953

From the back cover of the 1970s Ballantine paperback:
       Father Ruiz-Sanchez was a dedicated man - a priest who was also a scientist, and a scientist who was also a human being.  He found no insoluble conflicts in his beliefs or in his ethics until he was sent to Lithia.  There he came upon a race of aliens - reptilian in form - who were admirable in every way except for their total reliance on cold reason: they were incapable of faith and belief.
       On Lithia, Father Ruiz-Sanchez also found a scientific riddle, and he was presented with an ethical problem that reached across two worlds!
       Father Ruiz-Sanchez was then torn in a struggle between the teachings of his faith, the teachings of his science and the inner promptings of his humanity.  There was only one solution.  He had to accept an ancient and unforgivable heresy - and in accepting that heresy, he risked the futures of both worlds!

From the back cover of the Arrow (UK) paperback:
       Lithia - an alien world and a biologist's paradise.  A four man team of scientists were investigating, among them Ruiz-Sanchez.  They were happy there at first - all of them.  But Ruiz-Sanchez: scientist was also Father Ruiz-Sanchez: Jesuit priest, and he was growing afraid. Afraid because he had realized that the extraordinary planet was more than a biologist's paradise.  It was a Paradise in all other respects as well.  He knew that this could only be a trap, but if he acknowledged that it was a trap, then he became a heretic, cast out and damned for eternity.

Read for group discussion on March 28, 2001

Amy's summary :  James Blish - A Case of Conscience

Fifty light years from Earth is the paradise like planet of Lithia.  Four scientists -- Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez a biologist and Jesuit priest, physicist Paul Cleaver, chemist Mike Michelis, and geologist Agronski -- are sent to study the planet, which is inhabited by tall reptilian kangaroo like aliens, and recommend interaction policy.

The alien Lithians are intelligent, logical beings.  They need no laws to compel them into doing what is right, and they are never beset by doubt.  Their scientific progress took a different path since their world lacks iron.  They created wooden machinery and the complex Message Tree.

The contingent of scientists are divided on the issue of opening the world.  Michelis favors contact because he feels we could learn from the Lithians.  Cleaver votes to close off Lithia and use it for a thermonuclear bomb arsenal.  Ruiz-Sanchez wants the planet quarantined because he has come to the heretical belief that Lithia is the work of the Devil.

When they are returning Earth, the Lithian Chtexa gives Ruiz-Sanchez a gift, a vase containing his embryonic child. Female laboratory chief Liu Meid, Michelis, and Ruiz-Sanchez try to raise the young Lithian.

Egtverchi grows up to be unlike other Lithians due to his unusual upbringing.  He finds no logic to the Shelter society of Earth in 2050, and has little respect for it.  He becomes a popular figure to the disillusioned masses, an agitator with his own 3-V program.  Chaos ensues.  The Pope suggests to Ruiz-Sanchez that Egtverchi and Lithia are sendings of the Adversary, and they can be banished by exorcism.

summary written by

More book covers: A Case of Conscience
Case of Conscience 1960s cover Case of Conscience 1970s cover Case of Conscience Arrow UK cover

Ballantine books paperback
1966 - 188 pages
Ballantine paperback
1975 - 188 pages
cover art by Darrell Sweet
Arrow books paperback (UK)
1972 - 207 pages

How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 7 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri 7 Barb 6
Aaron 6 Cynthia 6
Ron 4 Jackie -

Aaron's Commentary  James Blish - A Case of Conscience

This book is certainly worth reading, but in the end it disappointed me.  To my thinking, Blish didn't capitalize on the novel's strengths as well as he might have.

The strengths: The Lithians are a fascinating alien race, with an interesting life cycle, an intriguing culture, an unusual history of scientific development on their metal-poor planet, and cool artifacts like the Message Tree; Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a good protagonist, sincere and thoughtful yet fallible; the two moral dilemmas he confronts are unique in literature.

To play to those strengths, much more of the book should have been set on Lithia.  I would have liked a lot more on-stage interaction with the Lithians.  This would have allowed Ruiz-Sanchez to reach his conclusion about the true nature of Lithia gradually.  As presented, that conclusion came out of the blue and just seemed bizarre.

Part Two of the novel, back on Earth, felt disjointed to me.  The idea of casting Egtverchi in the role of Anti-Christ had potential, but it never really came together.  I was surprised that Blish didn't focus Part Two more on Ruiz-Sanchez's decision whether to "exorcise" Lithia.  Because Ruiz-Sanchez was not at the heart of the story through most of Part Two, and I never felt much connection with any of the other characters, I quickly lost interest in the story.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

James Blish (1921-1975) was a US writer.

1959 Hugo Award for Best Novel for A Case of Conscience

Some critics regard the "loosely connected" After Such Knowledge series as Blish's most important work.
-- A Case of Conscience (1958)
-- Doctor Mirabilis (1964)
-- Black Easter (1968)
-- The Day after Judgment (1971)
The last two books were published together as Black Easter and The Day after Judgment (1980), and also as The Devil's Day (1990).
All four books are collected in After Such Knowledge (1991 UK).

Cities in Flight (1970) is a omnibus edition of Blish's Okie series books, which feature flying cities moving through the Galaxy which are powered by antigravity devices called spindizzies. These novels by internal chronology are:
-- They Shall Have Stars (1956, also titled Year 2018!)
-- A Life for the Stars (1962)
-- Earthman, Come Home (1955)
-- The Triumph of Time (1958, UK version A Clash of Cymbals)

Other books are Jack of Eagles (1952, also titled ESP-er (1958)), tries to rationalize telepathy; The Warriors of Day (1953); The Seedling Stars (1957) which features biological themes is linked stories; The Frozen Year (1957, also titled Fallen Star); VOR (1958); Titan's Daughter (1961, expansion of story "Beanstalk"); The Night Shapes (1962); ..And All the Stars a Stage (1971); Midsummer Century (1972); and The Quincunx of Time (1973, expansion of story "Beep").

Story collections are Galactic Cluster (1959), So Close to Home (1961), Best Science Fiction of James Blish (1965, also titled The Testament of Andros), Anywhen (1970), The Best of James Blish (1979), Get Out of My Sky, and There Shall Be No Darkness (1980 UK), The Seedling Stars and Galactic Cluster (1983), A Work of Art and Other Stories (1993), A Dusk of Idols and Other Stories (1996). His poetry is collected in With All of Love - Selected Poems (1995).

James Blish also wrote, based on the original TV scripts, the first series of Star Trek books. Star Trek (1967), Star Trek 2 (1968), Star Trek 3 (1969), Star Trek 4 (1971), Star Trek 5 (1972), Star Trek 6 (1972), Star Trek 7 (1972), Star Trek 8 (1972), Star Trek 9 (1973), Star Trek 10 (1974), Star Trek 11 (1975), Star Trek 12 (1975). Books 11 and 12 contain adaptations completed by Judith Ann Lawrence. Blish's Spock Must Die (1970) is the first original Star Trek novel.

There are omnibus editions: The Star Trek Reader (1976, contains #2, #3 and #8), The Star Trek Reader II (1977, contains #1, #4 and #9), The Star Trek Reader III (1977, contains #5, #6 and #7), and The Star Trek Reader IV (1977, contains #10, #12 and Spock Must Die). These were reassembled as Star Trek the Classic Episodes #1 (1991, with J. A. Lawrence, 27 first season episodes), Star Trek the Classic Episodes #2 (1991, 25 second season episodes), and Star Trek the Classic Episodes #3 (1991, with J. A. Lawrence, 24 third season episodes).

Collaborations are The Duplicated Man (1959, with Robert A. W. Lowndes) and A Torrent of Faces (1967, with Norman L. Knight).

Juvenile novels written by Blish are The Star Dwellers (1961), Mission to the Heart Stars (1965), Welcome to Mars! (1967), and The Vanished Jet (1968).

Blish, under the pseudonym of William Atheling Jr., was an influential SF critic. Much of his criticism is collected in The Issue at Hand (1964), and More Issues at Hand (1970). Further essays are in the posthumous The Tale that Wags the God (1987).

Blish edited the anthologies New Dreams this Morning (1966), and Nebula Award Stories 5 (1970); and the collection Thirteen O'Clock (1972) containing short stories by C. M. Kornbluth.

James Blish - Wikipedia
Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews - James Blish
SciFi Weekly Classic Science Fiction Reviews - A Case of Conscience

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