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A Case of Conscience (1958)

Tekijä: James Blish

JäseniäKirja-arvostelujaSuosituimmuussijaKeskimääräinen arvioMaininnat
1,819549,163 (3.36)84
Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez S.J., is a part of a four man scientific commission to the planet Lithia, there to study a harmonious society of aliens living on a planets which is a biologist's paradise. He soon finds himself troubled: how can these perfect beings, living in an apparent Eden, have no conception of sin or God? If such a sinless Eden has been created apart from God, then who is responsible?… (lisätietoja)
  1. 71
    The Sparrow (tekijä: Mary Doria Russell) (kevinashley)
    kevinashley: Both of these books deal with the combined issues of first contact with aliens and religion, through the involvement of priests. Both leave open questions, and both are well-written.
  2. 10
    River of Gods (tekijä: Ian McDonald) (paradoxosalpha)
    paradoxosalpha: Contact with an alien intelligence throws theological issues into relief; multiple human protagonists reflect scientific, authoritarian, and mystical/contemplative types; all in the context of credible extrapolation to a near-future society.
  3. 01
    That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made [Novelette] (tekijä: Eric James Stone) (bertilak)

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englanti (49)  italia (2)  espanja (1)  ranska (1)  Kaikki kielet (53)
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 53) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
The theological speculation that is central to the first part, and to the ending of the second part, is gross. The book does very little to temper this -- I believe there may be a single paragraph where Ruiz has a "what if I'm wrong" moment -- and the ending coincidence could be seen as a confirmation of this speculation. So the book itself is gross. ( )
  audient_void | Jan 22, 2024 |
A book literally of two halves, the first and better being originally published as a 1953 novella, and the second added to expand it to novel length in 1959, when it won the prestigious Hugo award. In Part 1, we have a setup rather like that in Black Easter, volume 2 of the After Such Knowledge sequence, of which A Case of Conscience forms the fourth and final part. Four men have been sent to Lithia, a planet 50 light years from Earth, to investigate and deliver a report to the United Nations as to how the planet should be exploited or whether it should be closed to humans. As in Black Easter, one of the men is a Catholic priest, a Jesuit, and also a biologist. Up to now, he has been an enthusiastic supporter of the planet and its sentient species, 12 foot tall marsupial reptiles, though puzzled as to how they maintain a society free of crime or conflict. Because of planetary differences, such as a lack of iron, the Lithians lack certain aspects of human technology and scientific knowledge, although they are far in advance with others, such as genetics.

Ruiz-Sanchez's colleagues have differing opinions. One, a chemist, admires the peaceful lifestyle of the Lithians and wants to open the planet for mutual trade and knowledge transfer. The geologist has no firm opinion and vacillates between those of his colleagues. The physicist turns out to want to turn the place into a bomb factory, with the Lithians forced into slave labour.

As book 1 develops and these opinions are expressed, Ruis-Sanchez drops a bombshell. For some reason, the revelation by a Lithian friend of his, that they lay eggs into the sea and that various lifeforms around their forested city are immature Lithians, makes him jump to what I found an irrational conclusion - that Satan must have created the planet as a temptation to humans because it seems to show that sentient beings can live harmoniously from pure reason alone, having no faith or religion. Apart from the chauvinism of a view that another world is only valid for its relationship and effect on humans, Lithians don't really live in a Utopia. They lack all creativity including art, writing, even simple story telling, and presumably also the serendipitous leaps of understanding that have led to so many scientific discoveries on Earth. And my own reaction to this revelation was that it demonstrated a callousness to their own young - these have to fend entirely for themselves, in danger from different predators at each stage of the life cycle, so that only the "fittest" survive, which struck me as eugenist and even Nazi in attitude.. For this reason, Father Ruis-Sanchez votes for quarantine, though aware that his recorded decision will land him in big trouble with the Vatican because it is the heresy of Manichaeism imputing equal creative power to Satan as to God. As the Earthmen prepare to leave at the end of Part 1, the priest's Lithian friend presents him with his own son in egg form to be a kind of ambassador.

Part 2 deals with the raising of the Lithian child or rather his misraising, as the Father goes off to Rome to face the music, leaving him with the chemist and a young woman scientist. Due to basic lack of common sense, they do not give him an environment anything like the one required, not even periods of darkness for sleep, and he grows up mentally as well as physically wrong, with no inbuilt moral compass, unlike the other Lithians. Although the chemist can speak Lithian, he doesn't bother to teach the child and gets him accepted as a citizen because he finds him odd and uncomfortable to be around, and wants to shrug off responsibility for him.

Most of Earth has been turned into huge underground shelters because of the now past threat of nuclear war, and as a result, many people are borderline or actual schizophrenics. The young Lithian grows quickly, ends up as a media celebrity and uses his TV show to incite civil disobedience, which rapidly escalates into major riots. He eventually escapes authority by stowing away on a ship back to Lithia despite stating earlier that he had no interest in the place or his people.

Meanwhile, the priest is not excommunicated but is instructed to exorcise Lithia, which he eventually gets a chance to do over a new superduper telescope which shows the planet in real time. The physicist has been backed by the UN to carry out nuclear experiments - and destroy the Lithians unique communications system, illogically -and it seems he ignores a message sent aboard the same ship used by the returning Lithian to stow away on, to warn him of a serious error in his calculations. At least, when the Father performs an exorcism over the telescope, Lithia blows up and it is left open as to the cause,: whether the physicist's faulty equipment did it or whether the priest is right to believe he has destroyed a whole planet which was truly the devil's snare.

Read as part of the After Such Knowledge omnibus and posted as an individual review as all the other GT reviews are under the individual books. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Part 1 is a tight, well-constructed and engaging novella. Part 2 feels like an unnecessary and poorly thought-out expansion on a previously self-contained story.

Part 1 deals with a dysfunctional team of scientists on a foreign planet as they weigh the pros and cons of opening an alien culture up for human habitation. The world is fascinating and our exploration of it is nicely balanced with a narrative where the reader is consistently kept in the dark. One character doubles as a priest as well as a scientist, and the story comes to a head when a revelation about the ecology of the world triggers a theological and ethical dilemma for him.

(spoiler warning)

Part 2 is set a short time after and deals with the aftermath of Part 1's closing moments. It feels like a hybrid of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land and Tevis' The Man Who Fell to Earth, as an alien child comes to experience Earth and is subsequently destroyed by humanity's paradoxical societal norms and toxic culture. It could well have been longer if the focus was on the right details, but it feels very unfocused and does not realise the full potential of the premise, dragging its feet and scuffling around in dry details. Blish will describe and develop things that barely serve the plot, and the experience of the alien child is almost entirely delivered to us second-hand through expository dialogue. You might even say the child is a "stranger in a strange story", where a funky apartment and a snobby butler get more attention than the "case of conscience", which does not rear its head until the end of the book. I can see an argument for some of this being part of the greater thematic, but I do not think it excuses the execution. The cultural experience of the alien child and the theological and ethical questions for the priest character are by far the most interesting aspects but are sorely neglected. They garner a lot more attention in the apocalyptic climax, which becomes a welcome change of pace, but is too overblown to provide redemption.

Part 1: 5/5
Part 2: 2/5 ( )
  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
Blish, James. A Case of Conscience. 1958. E-book, ed., Open Road, 2017.
A Case of Conscience is almost two different books. The first half explores what Star Trek would come to call the Prime Directive, in which human corporate technology is shown to be inferior to the stable non-technological culture of the Lithians. In the first paragraph, we meet a biologist with the symbolic name of Cleaver slamming a door in frustration because he has gotten something like trench mouth from a local fruit. His arrival interrupts Father Ramon’s Jesuitical musings on the nature of evil and innocence. Father Ramon is bothered by the apparent innocence of the Lithians. In the book’s second half, set on a dystopian Earth, he finally concludes that their innocence is Satanic. In the final scene, he commits the Manichean heresy by excommunicating the whole planet over FTL radio while a bumbling human engineer accidentally blows it up.
What are we to make out of this series of innocent and not-so-innocent mistakes that end in a nuclear explosion? One can only agree with Adam Roberts (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31568430-the-history-of-science-fiction) that the work continues the interrogation of the division between religion and science that gave birth to the genre. He is also right that it expresses the angst that made the 1950s the Age of Anxiety. ( )
  Tom-e | May 9, 2023 |
A solid and interesting first half is seriously weakened by a disjointed second half whose flow makes little sense, and whose ending leaves much to be desired. This is easier to understand when you learn that "A Case of Conscience" was originally a novella expanded into a novel later on. The first half of the book, the much stronger half, stands on its own as a interesting look at how three vastly different perspectives can interpret evidence that contradicts all existing presuppositions. The second half drags into theological debate and the inconsistencies inherent in Catholic dogma set over top a vague background of social unrest about inequality. While several of this book's weak points can be attributed to the age of the book (62 years at the time this review was written), they cannot all be explained away by mere circumstance of time.

The first half of the book sees 4 scientists sent to observe and study an alien world to determine if it is fit for human development and/or colonization. 3 of the scientists all reach different conclusions with vastly different implications, while the fourth listens to be swayed to one side. The debate does drag a bit as it is written very much in the style of a lot of science fiction writing from the 1950s and 1960s: long speeches from "men of intellect" who will break down their every argument into small bits so that even the most inexperienced reader can understand the ultimate conclusions. While that may be helpful for developing the arguments in the book, it does get burdensome to read page after page of philosophical/ethical/theological debate with little break for story or character development through action.

The arguments made are at least interesting to see discussed. While ultimately, Father Ruiz-Sanchez's theological argument becomes the focus of the remainder of the book, Michaelis's argument is the far more interesting one to myself and I suspect most modern readers. His arguments remain relevant today to discussions of de-colonial attitudes and efforts, examinations of the role of force in development and cultural/technological advancement, and the insistence on Western views of "progress" being the only valid measure of civilization.

The geologist Cleaver's ultimate argument reflects many of the attitudes prevalent in the Cold War era in which Blish wrote the novel. The ideas of an arms race remains his most steadfast conviction, even against a people who have no concept of war or weapons. As well, in an era in which many of the European colonies were gaining independence, Cleaver revives old colonial tropes and attitudes, much to the horror of most (I would hope) modern readers. While his arguments remain quite unpersuasive today, they serve as an excellent examination of the danger of colonial attitudes should mankind ever take to the stars for the purposes of expansion.

The second half of the book attempts to do some world building for the far off future of 2050, but it remains vague and unconvincing as a dystopian vision. The idea of social inequity is attempted to be presented as a major brewing crisis, but it never feels like a real danger until the moment is has to erupt to move the plot along. The provocateur of this social unrest comes across as entirely unbelievable at being a charismatic messiah to the masses, instead seeming aloof and entitled/condescending. His being of another world is used to reflect a mirror back onto human society, but it doesn't have the contrast that I think Blish hoped for.

Perhaps it is simply that this book comes from another era with themes and styles that aren't evergreen, but I do find this book to be the weakest of the Hugo Best Novel winners I have read so far. ( )
1 ääni James_Knupp | Jan 13, 2023 |
Näyttää 1-5 (yhteensä 53) (seuraava | näytä kaikki)
ei arvosteluja | lisää arvostelu

» Lisää muita tekijöitä (6 mahdollista)

Tekijän nimiRooliTekijän tyyppiKoskeeko teosta?Tila
Blish, Jamesensisijainen tekijäkaikki painoksetvahvistettu
Bear, GregJohdantomuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Broek, C.A.G. van denKääntäjämuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
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Powers, Richard M.Kansikuvataiteilijamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Sweet, Darrell K.Kansikuvataiteilijamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Wyrs, JacquesKansikuvataiteilijamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Zitzewitz, Hoot vonKansikuvataiteilijamuu tekijäeräät painoksetvahvistettu
Sinun täytyy kirjautua sisään voidaksesi muokata Yhteistä tietoa
Katso lisäohjeita Common Knowledge -sivuilta (englanniksi).
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Epigrafi (motto tai mietelause kirjan alussa)
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
I schal declare the disposcioun of rome fro hys first making; ... and the seconde part schal declare ye holynesse of ye same place fro hys first crystendom; I schal not write but that I fynde in auctores or ellis that I sey with eye. John Capgrave : The Solace of Pilgrims.
Man only thinks when you prevent him from acting. — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Man only creates when fulfilment of action increases his enigma. — Gerald Heard
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
to Larry Shaw
Ensimmäiset sanat
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The stone door slammed.
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(Napsauta nähdäksesi. Varoitus: voi sisältää juonipaljastuksia)
Tiedot englanninkielisestä Yhteisestä tiedosta. Muokkaa kotoistaaksesi se omalle kielellesi.
The novella "A Case of Conscience" is book one in the novel with the same name
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Englanninkielinen Wikipedia (1)

Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez S.J., is a part of a four man scientific commission to the planet Lithia, there to study a harmonious society of aliens living on a planets which is a biologist's paradise. He soon finds himself troubled: how can these perfect beings, living in an apparent Eden, have no conception of sin or God? If such a sinless Eden has been created apart from God, then who is responsible?

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