SF Masterwork of the Week: A Case of Conscience

Our current Masterwork of the Week is James Blish’s seminal treatment of religion in SF, A Case of Conscience, which we are delighted to be publishing with a new introduction by Ken MacLeod, which is full of the insight and critical acumen one would expect from one of modern SF’s most rigorous thinkers:

Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit, and the biologist of a four-man team exploring Lithia, an extrasolar planet with intelligent alien inhabitants whose nature poses an agonising spiritual and intellectual problem for the priest. He has no problem with the fact that aliens exist – the Church was debating the plurality of worlds long before Galileo, and has more answers to that question than there are angels on a pinpoint . . .  No. Ruiz-Sanchez’s problem is that the Lithians are too good. They follow a moral code identical to that of Christianity, and they follow it flawlessly. They know nothing of money, nationality, government, or crime. They seem as innocent of sin as Adam and Eve were before the Fall. Yet they have no notion of God. They entertain no supernatural beliefs of any kind, and suffer no pangs of conscience. And that, to Ruiz-Sanchez, means they’re too good to be true.


Father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez S.J., is a part of a four man scientific commission to the planet Lithia, there to study a harmonious society of aliens living on a planets which is a biologist’s paradise. He soon finds himself troubled: how can these perfect beings, living in an apparent Eden, have no conception of sin or God? If such a sinless Eden has been created apart from God, then who is responsible?

Winner of the Hugo Award for best novel, 1959.


A Case of Conscience is available as an SF Masterworks paperback and an SF Gateway eBook.

You can find more of James Blish’s work via his Author page on the SF Gateway website, and read about him in his entry in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.