Review: A Case of Conscience

Hey all.  I’m still chipping away at my goal of reading every Hugo Award winner for best novel.  I just finished A Case of Conscience, and I’m excited to share my thoughts about it.

I went in with mixed feelings about reading this James Blish work.  I had read the blurb on the back of the book (which I don’t always do – I often like to read a book without knowing anything about it), and the premise sounded really cool.  But I’d heard pretty mixed reviews, and I was afraid that maybe the premise was cool but the execution wasn’t good.  So I was timid.

A Case of Conscience was a pleasant surprise.  The blurb I’d read described what it was about pretty well, but what I thought was going to happen in the book didn’t.  From what I’d read, I was expecting something similar to C.S Lewis’ Perelandra (which I LOVE), and while there were similarities between the two, they weren’t as similar as I thought they were going to be.  And that was okay.

This felt like a pretty typical science fiction piece from the era.  It was fast and under-developed in a few areas (world-building and characterization), but I think it shone as a thought experiment – as many of the pulp classics do.  Blish seems to have asked himself, “What if…?”, and then fleshed out the idea quite nicely.  The story raised some great questions of human nature, society, and theology.

As far as classic sci-fi goes, this is pretty middle of the road for me, but overall, I really enjoyed reading it.  Check it out if you’re looking for old-school science fiction that deals with religion as well.  Blish doesn’t dive in too deeply, but that makes A Case of Conscience that much more accessible.

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