Monday, March 22, 2010

The Hugos: A Case of Conscience

It won the Hugo in 1959: James Blish's 'A Case of Conscience'. It's the tale of a Jesuit scientist and his exploration of the planet Lithia, populated by godless but happy and crime-free lizard-men.
Sometimes there are stories that are not dreadful, neither are they splendid. They are just O.K. For me, this is such a story. This makes them a bitch to review: I can't thumbs up with any enthusiasm or thumbs down with any kind of leg to stand on. I gave it a middle-of-the-road 2 stars out of four. Two stars because I agree with what may be the theme: human greed and human religious conflict have destroyed and will continue to destroy many perfectly nice people. Books where the message has stuck with me have worth even if the story itself isn't any fun. I don't recall LIKING any characters except perhaps the sensible and friendly Spock-like space-lizard Chtexa. It's a very poor showing for humanity overall. It may not be fair to mention it at this juncture (since it was written many years later) but if you want to read a first alien contact story with strong religious overtones 'Speaker For the Dead' by Orson Scott Card was much more impressive. It's quite moving. But it won a Hugo itself and I'm jumping the gun here. Like some plodding human mired in ancient superstition might do when confronted with pleasant but atheist reptiles.
Addendum: it may be fair to say that I judged this story with extra harshness because it beat out 'Have Spacesuit- Will Travel' by Robert Heinlein, the favorite book of my childhood and possibly of all time. Or I was overcompensating by being too nice to Blish. You, the reader, must decide. Or not. Your call.
This review brought to you by THE SPACE POPE.

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