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Encyclopedia > A Case of Conscience
A Case of Conscience

Cover of first edition.

Author James Blish
Country United States
Language English
Series After Such Knowledge trilogy
Genre(s) Science fiction novel
Publisher Ballantine Books
Publication date 1958
Media type Print (Paperback)
Pages 192 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-345-43835-3 (later paperback printing)
Followed by Black Easter/The Day After Judgment

A Case of Conscience is a science fiction novel by James Blish, first published in 1958. It is the story of a Jesuit who investigates an alien race that has no religion; they are completely without any concept of God, an afterlife, or the idea of sin; and the species evolves through several forms through the course of its life cycle. The story was originally published as a novella in 1953, and later extended to novel-length, of which the first part is the original novella. The novel is the first part of Blish's thematic "After Such Knowledge" trilogy, followed by Black Easter/The Day After Judgment and Dr Mirabilis. James Benjamin Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 – Henley-on-Thames, July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. ... For other uses, see Country (disambiguation). ... The English language is a West Germanic language that originates in England. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... For other uses, see Novel (disambiguation). ... A publisher is a person or entity which engages in the act of publishing. ... Ballantine Books, founded in 1952 by Ian Ballantine, is a major book publisher and is currently owned by Random House. ... To meet Wikipedias quality standards, this article may require cleanup. ... ISBN redirects here. ... Hugo Award nominated fantasy novel by James Blish in which an arms dealer hires a black magacian to unleash all the Demons of Hell on earth for a single day. ... The Day After Judgment Is the second of a pair of books by James Blish. ... Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... James Benjamin Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 – Henley-on-Thames, July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. ... Jan. ... The Society of Jesus (Latin: Societas Iesu), commonly known as the Jesuits, is a Roman Catholic religious order. ... A novella is a narrative work of prose fiction somewhat longer than a short story but shorter than a novel. ... Hugo Award nominated fantasy novel by James Blish in which an arms dealer hires a black magacian to unleash all the Demons of Hell on earth for a single day. ... The Day After Judgment Is the second of a pair of books by James Blish. ...


The story is unusual in several respects. Few science fiction stories of the time attempted religious themes, and still fewer did this with Catholicism. Some of the first part is taken up with the Jesuit's attempt to solve a puzzle, a long description of scandalous intrigue between various pseudonymous characters. As he is about to leave for Earth, he realizes the puzzle is soluble. The puzzle is contained within the pages of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce. Science fiction is a form of speculative fiction principally dealing with the impact of imagined science and technology, or both, upon society and persons as individuals. ... For the street ballad which the novel is named after, see Finnegans Wake. ... This article is about the writer and poet. ...


Many reacted negatively to the story, but surprisingly few educated Catholics were among them. One even sent James Blish a copy of the actual Church guidelines for dealing with extra-terrestrials [1]These are not detailed, but merely suggest overall strategy based on whether the beings have souls or not, and if they have them, whether they are fallen like humans, or exist in a state of grace.

Contents

Plot summary

Part 1

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 the planet can be opened to contact with the rest of humanity. Ruiz-Sanchez is a biologist, biochemist, the team doctor, and a fair cook besides. However as a Jesuit, he has other concerns as well. The planet is inhabited by a race of intelligent bipedal reptilian-like creatures, the Lithians. Ruiz-Sanchez has learned to speak their language, the better to know them. Seal of the Society of Jesus. ... The Society of Jesus (Latin: Societas Iesu), commonly known as the Jesuits, is a Roman Catholic religious order. ...


As the story begins, he is alone in the house given to them by the Lithians. Two of the others are away on a field trip, and the remaining scientist, the physicist Cleaver, is just returning from a walking survey of the land. He has managed to pick up some poison from a local plant, despite a protective suit, and is in bad shape.


Ruiz-Sanchez treats him, leaves him sleeping, and leaves the house to send a message to the others, Michelis, a chemist, and Agronski, a geologist. To do this he travels to a tree atop a huge underground quartz crystal. Despite having no knowledge of electric current, the Lithians are masters of static electricity and use this crystal as a communicator. He is helped by Chtexa, a Lithian who he has befriended, who then invites him to his house. This is an incredible opportunity for Ruiz-Sanchez, which he cannot afford to pass up. No member of the team has been invited into the Lithian living places before. The Lithians seem to have an ideal society, a Utopia without crime, conflict, ignorance or want. Ruiz-Sanchez is more than a little in awe of them.


While Ruiz-Sanchez is absent, Michelis and Agronski, returning early, find Cleaver asleep with an obvious fever. They give him more anti-fever medicine, a mistake which will endanger his life. Ruiz-Sanchez returns in a state of some distress, but he puts his concerns aside to stabilize Cleaver. Then he and the other two compare notes on the Lithians.


Soon they will have to officially pronounce their verdict. Michelis is open-minded and sympathetic to the Lithians. He also has learned their language and some of their customs. Agronski is more insular in his outlook, but sees no reason to think the planet is dangerous.


Hours pass, and Cleaver revives. He asserts that he's ready to give his vote. He has found enough of the element lithium, comparatively rare on terrestrial planets, to turn the place into a tritium factory that can be used to supply Earth with nuclear weapons. He wants the place exploited, regardless of the Lithians' wishes. Michelis is for open trade. Agronski is indifferent. This article is about the chemical element. ... Tritium (symbol T or ³H) is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen. ...


Ruiz-Sanchez drops his bombshell - he wants maximum quarantine. The things Chtexa revealed to him, added to what he already knew, convinces him that Lithia is nothing less than the work of Satan, a place deliberately constructed to show peace, logic, and understanding in the complete absence of God or any other deity. Chtexa has shown him how the Lithians raise young, beginning with eggs that hatch in pouches and then are allowed to swim away in the sea, returning as lungfish, then developing through amphibious stages until they mature as warm-blooded reptiles, the Lithians. This is ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, an old (now discredited) theory put forward by a real scientist, Ernst Haeckel. For the band, see Lungfish (band). ... The theory of recapitulation, also called the biogenetic law or ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, is a theory in biology which attempts to explain apparent similarities between humans and other animals. ... Ernst Haeckel. ...


Point for point, Ruiz-Sanchez lists the facts about Lithia that directly attack Catholic teaching. Michelis is mystified, but does point out that all the Lithian science he has learned is perfectly logical but rests on highly questionable assumptions. It's as if it just came from nowhere.


In the end, the team can come to no agreement. Ruiz-Sanchez concludes that Cleaver will probably get his way, and Lithian society will be wiped out. Despite his conclusions about the planet, he has deep affection for the Lithians themselves.


As the team board their ship to leave, Chtexa gives Ruiz-Sanchez a gift - a sealed jar containing an egg. It is Chtexa's son, and he is to be raised on Earth and learn the ways of humans. Ruiz-Sanchez handles it as if it were a bomb.


Part 2

The egg hatches and eventually produces the individual Egtverchi. Like all Lithians, he inherits knowledge from Chtexa through his DNA. Earth society is based around the nuclear shelters of the 20th century, with most people living underground. Egtverchi is the proverbial firecracker in an anthill - he upends society and precipitates violence.


Ruiz-Sanchez has to go to Rome to face judgement. His conviction about Lithia is in fact heresy, since he now believes Satan has the power to create a planet. This is close to Manichaeism. He has an audience with the Pope himself to explain his beliefs. For other uses, see Heresy (disambiguation). ... Manichean priests, writing at their desk, with panel inscription in Sogdian. ...


The Pope, a logical and technically aware Norwegian ruling under the name Hadrian VIII, points out two things Ruiz-Sanchez missed. First, Lithia could have been a deception, not a creation. And second, Ruiz-Sanchez had the power to do something about it, namely perform an exorcism. Of course, exorcising a planet is not the first thing that comes to mind, especially if you are standing on it. He dismisses Ruiz-Sanchez to purge his own soul, and return to the Church when he can.


A violent mass riot breaks out, fomented by Egtverchi and made possible by the psychosis present in many of the citizens as a result of living in the 'shelter state' (an earlier reference to the corridor riots indicates that this is not the first time violence has burst out among the buried cities). During the riot, Agronski dies as a result of being stung by one (or more than one) of Liu Mied's polyploid (genetically modified) honeybees. Ruiz-Sanchez administers extreme unction, despite his almost faithless state. Egtverchi stows away on a ship to Lithia, Michelis and Ruiz-Sanchez are taken to the Moon where a new telescope has been set up. This scope is used in conjunction with a form of the Haertel overdrive to see Lithia in real-time, bypassing the delay caused by the speed of light. Cleaver is on Lithia setting up his reactors, but the physicist who invented the telescope technology believes he has found a fault in his reasoning. There is a chance that the work will set off a chain reaction in the planet's rocks and destroy it.


As they watch on the screen, Ruiz-Sanchez pronounces an exorcism. The planet explodes, taking Cleaver, Egtverchi, but also Chtexa and all the things Ruiz-Sanchez admired with it. The others leave him alone with his grief. Saint Francis exorcised demons in Arezzo, fresco of Giotto Exorcism (from Late Latin exorcismus, from Greek exorkizein - to adjure, correctly pronounced exercism) is the practice of evicting demons or other evil spiritual entities from a person or place which they are believed to have possessed (taken control of). ...


It is left to the reader to decide if the explosion of the planet, and the destruction of the Lithians, is a result of the exorcism purging the planet of the evil it contains (the will of god), or the result of faulty scientific reasoning (bad luck).


Awards and nominations

The novel won a Hugo Award in 1959. The original novella won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 2004. The 2005 Hugo Award with base designed by Deb Kosiba. ... The Hugo Award is given every year for the best science fiction or fantasy stories of the previous year, and for related areas in fandom, art and dramatic presentation. ...


References

  1. ^ Blish 1999, p.8.
  • Blish, James (1999). A Case of Conscience. Great Britain: Millennium. ISBN 1-85798-924-4. 
  • Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent, 28. ISBN 0-911682-20-1. 

James Benjamin Blish (East Orange, New Jersey, May 23, 1921 – Henley-on-Thames, July 30, 1975) was an American author of fantasy and science fiction. ... Author of A Handbook of Science Fiction and Fantasy. ... Advent: Publishers is a publishing house founded by Earl Kemp and other members of the University of Chicago Science Fiction Club in 1956, to publish criticism, history, and bibliography of the science fiction field, beginning with James Blishs The Issue at Hand. ...

External links

Preceded by
The Big Time
by Fritz Leiber
Hugo Award for Best Novel
1959
Succeeded by
Starship Troopers
by Robert A. Heinlein
The Internet Speculative Fiction Database is a database of bibliographic information on science fiction and related genres such as fantasy fiction and horror fiction. ... The Big Time (1957) is a short science fiction novel (or, arguably, novellette) by Fritz Leiber. ... Fritz Leiber portrait by Ed Emshwiller on July 1969 special issue devoted to Leiber. ... The Hugo Awards are given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works. ... See also: 1958 in literature, other events of 1959, 1960 in literature, list of years in literature. ... For other uses, see Starship Troopers (disambiguation). ... Robert Anson Heinlein (July 7, 1907 – May 8, 1988) was one of the most popular, influential, and controversial authors of hard science fiction. ...

  Results from FactBites:
 
Book: A Case of Conscience (Del Rey Impact) - UsingEnglish.com (392 words)
First published in 1959, James Blish's Hugo Award-winning A Case of Conscience is science fiction at its very best: a fast-paced, intelligent story that offers plenty of action while at the same time explores complex questions of values and ethics.
In this case, Blish has taken on the age-old battle of good vs. evil.
A Case of Conscience is a brilliant piece of storytelling, and it packs a lot into a scant 242 pages.
Case Western Reserve University (1758 words)
The case as presented or 'put' to the Court by one of the parties in a suit; hence, the sum of the grounds on which he rests his claim.
case of conscience: A practical question concerning which conscience may be in doubt; a question as to the application of recognized principles of faith and obedience to one's duty in a particular case or set of circumstances.
Case School of Applied Science, founded in 1880 by the terms of the trust established by Leonard Case, Jr., and renamed Case Institute of Technology in 1947.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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