A Case of Conscience by James Blish
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
1959 Hugo winner.
Honestly, I expected to read something quite a bit different than the novel I did get. I almost expected something like a conversation novel between heavily logical Spock-like lizards and a man of the cloth from Earth.
What do I get, instead? A novel with startlingly awesome biology standards, very deep world-building, and a wonderfully surprising argument of Manichaeism. For those not in the know, it's the idea that there are two creators in the world, one is good and one is evil. Father Ruiz Sanchez is convinced that these perfectly rational and nearly Christ-like lizards who are living a perfect life without religion are, in fact, the most perfect trap to throw humanity into perfect chaos and perdition. After all, this is a case of perfection without God, and if the rest of humanity ever "got" it, then it would be the time of Satan's rule over the earth for real. The whole planet was, after all, a Creation of Evil.
How gorgeous is this? Sure, modern readers may or may not care for the religious argument bent, but it is concise and beautiful as hell and it's ONLY THE SETUP.
Move ahead, take the freely offered gift of one of the lizard young back to a future earth gone schizophrenic, living underground in perpetual fear of nuclear holocaust and ready to tear itself apart. Have one of these christ-like lizards grow up knowing nothing but the monstrosity that humanity has become, and because of the peculiar brilliance of his race and his deeply frustrated sense of being as much an outsider as practically everyone else living on Earth, he speaks and breaks all the rules and becomes a pundit much, much worse than anything Drumpf has to offer, sparking chaos on a truly amazing scale.
Is he the hand of the antichrist, indeed? Or is he only the corrupted reflection of ourselves? Brilliant. And of course, the end... but I won't refer to the end. It's also brilliant, but of a different kind of light.
I have a few issues with the writing, but far, far less than I might have guessed before picking up the text. It's very thoughtful, very smart, and it shifts us with awesome speed between dialectical discourse to the absolute insanity of modern media. Is this modern SF? No, it came out in '58. And yet, I was laughing along with the crazy inventions later on as if I were watching that classic movie The Network, back in the 70's. No, no one was yelling from the rooftops, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" But the sentiment was there and the chaos of the novel was perfect.
How come wonderful idea novels like this aren't hailed as beautiful representations of classic literature? Is it just because it is SF? So beautiful. :)
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