Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hugo Winner Review: 1959 A Case of Conscience

James Blish
Read 2012, reviewed 4/22/2013, updated 9/25/2013
4 stars

This is one of my favorite types of SF: a study of religion/theology in a futuristic context.  A priest has to decide if a race of intelligent aliens have souls.  The beginning and end of this book deal specifically with this theme, and they are the best parts of the book. 

I loved the whole question of the religious establishment determining whether or not aliens are part of  God’s creation.  Are they also made in God’s image?  Are they washed in the same Original Sin as us?  Do they require redemption?  Does a Church have the right to determine this?  It made me think about pop SF films like the original film version of “War of the Worlds,” where a minister walks towards one of the Martian ships with a Bible in his hand ready to spread the Gospel.  It also called to mind the emphasis on God and the religious terrorist in “Contact.”  Is this how we’ll react when we finally find out we are not alone?

The middle part is odd.  One of the aliens becomes a new messiah who is just the toast of the town.  At one point, there’s a party for the alien with a roller coaster-type ride which is just plain weird.  It’s like a deconstruction of the Masque of the Red Death.  A group of decadent people are at a party, and there is a device to get us through a bunch of rooms with odd scenes.  I didn’t get it.  However, I loved the contradiction of a new messiah who may not have soul.  Does this mean he’s the Antichrist?  Could the Antichrist be an alien?

As much as I loved the book, I couldn’t give it 5 stars because of the weird middle, even though I was quite moved by the book in general.  I settled on 4.  In retrospect, this book was probably initially published in a magazine and the three parts were the issue divisions.  This book is on my reread list.  I’m hoping that a reread will make the parts I find incongruous a little clearer.  

It should also be noted that it is almost a year between my reading of the book and this review.  I’m responding mostly to memory of my reaction to the book.  I am trying to avoid relying too much on other people’s synopses and reviews and giving my opinion without outside influence.

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