Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club
A Case of Conscience (1958)
1959 Hugo Award Winner
Ballantine trade paperback
2000 - 242 pages (left)
original Ballantine paperback
1958 - 188 pages (right)
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|
Ballantine books paperback
1966 - 188 pages
1975 - 188 pages
cover art by Darrell Sweet
Arrow books paperback (UK)
1972 - 207 pages
10 Wow! Don't miss it
8-9 Highly 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
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