A Case of Conscience by James BlishA Case of Conscience by James Blish

A Case of Conscience

byJames Blish

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 . . .
James Blish served in World War II as a medical technician, joined the Futurians--a group of science fiction writers, fans, editors, and publishers-- wrote more than twenty books, and won the Hugo Award for A Case of Conscience in 1959. He moved to England in 1968 and continued to write until his death in 1975. In later years, James Bl...
Title:A Case of ConscienceFormat:PaperbackDimensions:256 pages, 8.5 × 5.5 × 0.5 inPublished:September 5, 2000Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345438353

ISBN - 13:9780345438355

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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting, but unfocussed This is the story of a group of men sent to evaluate a new-found planet for suitability of use by Man. The planet already has a race of intellegent beings , who have a perfecly evolved society. There is no crime, no unemployment, no nations, etc. And there is no religion, which bothers one of the evaluation team, who is a Jesuit. By Catholic (and Jewish, Islamic, etc.) theology, perfection cannot be attained in the absence of God, so this raises a quandry for the priest - either God doesn't exist, or this planet is a trap set by the Devil. I thought this novel would primarily deal with how the aliens are reconciled to Catholicism. Instead, it follows the latter path, along the belief that the planet is an illusion created by the Adversary, and how the church must deal with it in that light. This is a brave, and somewhat unexpected path, and I applaud the author for taking it. Unfortunately, the setup is contrived artificially. By setting the novel 100 years (at the time it was written) into the future, Blish creates two worlds - the fictional future and the alien world of Lithia. Thus, the morality play takes place in an Earth that doesn't exist. This distracts the reader, and detracts from the value of the novel. Still, it's an interesting book, and I recommend it with the reservation that is seems contrived at times, in spite of the well-written prose.
Date published: 2001-05-21

Read from the Book

The stone door slammed. It was Cleaver's trade-mark: there had never beena door too heavy, complex, or cleverly tracked to prevent him from closingit with a sound like a clap of doom. And no planet in the universe couldpossess an air sufficiently thick and curtained with damp to muffle thatsound--not even Lithia.Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez, late of Peru, and always Clerk Regular of theSociety of Jesus, professed father of the four vows, continued to read. Itwould take Paul Cleaver's impatient fingers quite a while to free him fromhis jungle suit, and in the meantime the problem remained. It was acentury-old problem, first propounded in 1939, but the Church had nevercracked it. And it was diabolically complex (that adverb was official,precisely chosen, and intended to be taken literally.) Even the novelwhich had proposed the case was on the Index Expurgatorius, and FatherRuiz-Sanchez had spiritual access to it only by virtue of his Order.He turned the page, scarcely hearing the stamping and muttering in thehall. On and on the text ran, becoming more tangled, more evil, moreinsoluble with every word:. . . Magravius threatens to have Anita molested by Sulla, an orthodoxsavage (and leader of a band of twelve mercenaries, the Sullivani,) whodesires to procure Felicia for Gregorius, Leo Vitellius and Macdugalius,four excavators, if she will not yield to him and also deceive Honuphriusby rendering conjugal duty when demanded. Anita who claims to havediscovered incestuous temptations from Jeremias and Eugenius--There now, he was lost again. Jeremias and Eugenius were--? Oh, yes, the"philadelphians" or brotherly lovers (another crime hidden there, nodoubt) at the beginning of the case, consanguineous to the lowest degreewith both Felicia and Honuphrius--the latter the apparent prime villain andhusband of Anita. It was Magravius, who seemed to admire Honuphrius, whohad been urged by the slave Mauritius to solicit Anita, seemingly underthe aegis of Honuphrius himself. This, however, had come to Anita throughher tirewoman Fortissa, who was or at one time had been the common-lawwife of Mauritius and had borne him children--so that the whole story hadto be weighed with the utmost caution. And that entire initial confession of Honuphrius had come out under torture--voluntarily consented to, to be sure, but still torture. The Fortissa-Mauritius relationship was even more dubious, really only a  supposition of the commentator Father Ware--7"Ramon, give me a hand, will you?" Cleaver shouted suddenly. "I'm stuck,and--and I don't feel well."The Jesuit biologist arose in alarm, putting the novel aside. Such anadmission from Cleaver was unprecedented.The physicist was sitting on a pouf of woven rushes, stuffed with asphagnumlike moss, which was bulging at the equator under his weight. Hewas half-way out of his glass-fiber jungle suit, and his face was whiteand beaded with sweat, although his helmet was already off. His uncertain,stubby fingers tore at a jammed zipper."Paul! Why didn't you say you were ill in the first place? Here, let go ofthat; you're only making things worse. What happened?""Don't know exactly," Cleaver said, breathing heavily but relinquishingthe zipper. Ruiz-Sanchez knelt beside him and began to work it carefullyback onto its tracks. "Went a ways into the jungle to see if I could spotmore pegmatite lies. It's been in the back of my mind that a pilot-plantfor turning out tritium might locate here eventually--ought to be able toproduce on a prodigious scale.""God forbid," Ruiz-Sanchez said under his breath."Hm? Anyhow, I didn't see anything. A few lizards, hoppers, the usualthing. Then I ran up against a plant that looked a little like apineapple, and one of the spines jabbed right through my suit and nickedme. Didn't seem serious, but--""But we don't have the suits for nothing. Let's look at it. Here, put upyour feet and we'll haul those boots off. Where did you get the--oh. Well,it's angry-looking, I'll give it that. Any other symptoms?""My mouth feels raw," Cleaver complained."Open up," the Jesuit commanded. When Cleaver complied, it became evidentthat his complaint had been the understatement of the year. The mucosainside his mouth was nearly covered with ugly and undoubtedly painfululcers, their edges as sharply defined as though they had been cut with acookie punch.Ruiz-Sanchez made no comment, however, and deliberately changed hisexpression to one of carefully calculated dismissal. If the physicistneeded to minimize his ailments, that was all right with Ruiz-Sanchez. Analien planet is not a good place to strip a man of his inner defenses."Come into the lab," he said. "You've got some inflammation in there."Cleaver arose, a little unsteadily, and followed the Jesuit into thelaboratory. There Ruiz-Sanchez took smears from several of the ulcers ontomicroscope slides, and Gram-stained them. He filled the time consumed bythe staining process with the ritual of aiming the microscope's substagemirror out the window at a brilliant white cloud. When the timer's alarmwent off, he rinsed and flame-dried the first slide and slipped it underthe clips.As he had half-feared, he saw few of the mixed bacilli and spirocheteswhich would have indicated a case of ordinary, Earthly, Vincent'sangina--"trench mouth," which the clinical picture certainly suggested, andwhich he could have cured overnight with a spectrosigmin pastille.Cleaver's oral flora were normal, though on the increase because of allthe exposed tissue."I'm going to give you a shot," Ruiz-Sanchez said gently. "And then Ithink you'd better go to bed.""The hell with that," Cleaver said. "I've got nine times as much work todo as I can hope to clean up now, without any additional handicaps.""Illness is never convenient," Ruiz-Sanchez agreed. "But why worry aboutlosing a day or so, since you're in over your head anyhow?""What have I got?" Cleaver asked suspiciously."You haven't got anything," Ruiz-Sanchez said, almost regretfully. "Thatis, you aren't infected. But your 'pineapple' did you a bad turn. Mostplants of that family on Lithia bear thorns or leaves coated withpolysaccharides that are poisonous to us. The particular glucoside you ranup against today was evidently squill, or something closely related to it.It produces symptoms like those of trench mouth, but a lot harder to clearup."

From Our Editors

Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a priest, a scientist and a human being. His beliefs and ethics never conflict until he is sent to Lithia. He encounters a race of aliens admirable in all respects except one: they rely entirely on cold reason, without emotion, faith or belief. Father Ruiz-Sanchez faces a deeply disturbing scientific puzzle and ethical dilemma, caught between his faith, his science and his humanity. His only solution is to accept an ancient and unpardonable heresy, jeopardizing the futures of both worlds in James Blish’s extraordinary classic award-winning novel A Case of Conscience.