An enjoyable, easy-to-follow plot. As with many SF books written in this era, ESP gets a fair bit of the spotlight. I'll read another Nourse book base...moreAn enjoyable, easy-to-follow plot. As with many SF books written in this era, ESP gets a fair bit of the spotlight. I'll read another Nourse book based on the experience I had with this one.(less)
**spoiler alert** This fits under the genre of Bildungsroman - coming of age. It's classified as a juvenile because it's based on a neat idea, but has...more**spoiler alert** This fits under the genre of Bildungsroman - coming of age. It's classified as a juvenile because it's based on a neat idea, but has no very little science behind it, despite an MD being involved in the story. Rather than itemize the plot, I'll just give some observations:
- Would the Hunter have had a more interesting time in a women's body? Could a book with that concept have been published in 1949?
- The shift from third person limited to third person omniscient is a little unnerving. We start to hear the thoughts of one boy towards the other boys. This can't be the Hunter or Bob's POV, so it must be Clement telling us stuff that he thinks pertains to the story. The trouble is that these views don't impact the 'find-the-quarry' plot, so all it ended up doing was confusing me. After all, you don't normally peek inside other people's heads to learn what they're thinking, right?
- I thought the initial idea was clever and the ending provided a nice resolution of the conflict. I didn't care much for the middle, though.(less)
**spoiler alert** We haven't met ET yet, but when we finally do, we assume we'll be able to share certain fields with universal application: mathemati...more**spoiler alert** We haven't met ET yet, but when we finally do, we assume we'll be able to share certain fields with universal application: mathematics, physics and chemistry, maybe biology. But what kind of overlap will be possible for religion? That's a key element in Blish's A Case of Conscience.
If we compared notes with an alien race, would we find that God has given their world a different lesson from us? Some cite the Bible's reference to “other flocks” for this. But if God is a universal God, does His message work consistently everywhere? Catholics would wonder if The Fall/Original Sin happened everywhere?
First Part: Lithia The story starts with 4 experts from Earth on the planet Lithia, weighing in on whether Earth will have relations with this planet. I found it odd that these people with such a critical job are so mismatched.
Lithians have learned alternate routes to scientific discoveries and have engineered a pretty advanced society. The Lithians never discovered magnetism and electricity, but have created technology based on static electricity, and pushed the limits of biology further than we have.
The priest, Ruiz-Sanchez, has deep affection for the Lithians themselves; but he's flabbergasted that they have no religion at all, despite the fact that they're already living, naturally, in a way that is in harmony with Christian morality. Ruiz can't accept that this would organically arise, he thinks Lithia was deliberately constructed as a godless planet. There's only one explanation: the whole thing must be a trap - a trap set by Satan to convince humans that they don't need religion! If this is known about on earth it becomes a threat to the church.
When the team is reassembled, they compare notes on the Lithians. Ruiz-Sanchez really likes them, but he feels that they must not have souls. He drops the bombshell that he wants maximum quarantine. The others want to restrict Lithia-Earth interactions, but largely because Lithia has military usefulness to them.
I found Part 2 to be utterly forgettable, so I'll skip it here.
Third Part: On the Moon and on Lithia After the UN ratifies the decision and earth gets to meet a Lithian, there's a chase back to the planet. Ruiz & a companion don't get back to the planet, but they land on the moon where they watch it through a mega-telescope that can see it in real-time. Because he believes that the planet is Satan's doing, Ruiz-Sanchez pronounces an exorcism. At that same moment, Earthlings are starting the Lithium reactors, but they may have made a mistake in their formulas which could set off a chain reaction in the planet's rocks.
As they watch on the telescope screen, the planet explodes, taking one of his teammates and the whole Lithian race with it. It is left unclear whether the extinction of the Lithians is a result of Ruiz-Sanchez's prayer or his teammate's erroneous calculations – there are two completely different ways to view it. The whole book is clearly designed to strike that balance.
I think Blish was showing how the Catholic Church's preconceptions could wreak havoc with an off-planet encounter. Ruiz-Sanchez believed good & evil existed throughout the universe. What is he supposed to conclude when he finds a planet with neither? that his whole religion is a lie? Or that this is just a trick by the church's super-villain? Remember, the Catholic Church is EVERYTHING to him. He has nothing else in his life at all. Seeing the ending through the religious beliefs, the whole planet is just an illusion. So when he perform an exorcism, and,... pop goes the illusion and any guilt he feels over the incident! The pope told Ruiz that he hadn't killed the Lithians by exorcizing them – they were illusions created to test him. This sounded like Satan's testing of Christ in the wilderness (see Milton's Paradise Regained). But if the pope allows that God creates illusions then anything goes. Theologians claim we have free will, but if God based illusions are allowed, free will can’t exist. Everything becomes one big hallucination.
I was mad at the lack of reaction to Lithia's demise. None of the characters showed sorrow or contrition for having destroyed the only alien race that humans had ever encountered. A planet of gentle, content people that got along infinitely better than earthlings - a great loss! I suppose Blish was trying to make me dislike humanity even more by doing this, or keep the balanced tone that let's the reader interpret every part of the ending one of two ways.
James Blish's handling of A Case of Conscience does raise intriguing possibilities. If God is supreme, then the Earth can't be the only place He holds sway, so if there are other societies that don't believe in Him, are theyand the rest of the universe just pawns in a lesson designed to teach us about God’s word? (less)
This is a sequel to the Caves of Steel, though I didn't feel I was missing anything as I hadn't read the first book.
Elijah Baley, the earthman detective, is sent to the outlier planet Solaria to investigate the murder of a scientist, Dr. Rikaine. His partner, an android, acts as a liaison to the Solarians, always playing the good cop to Bailey's bad cop style. As this is an Asimov book, most narrative happens as conversation, so when Baley's at his worst, he grills interviewees, who buckle under pressure, coughing up juicy evidence.
There are only 20,000 Solarians, each served by 10,000 robots. The people have evolved to living most of their lives in solitude on spacious estates (procreation being a loathsome exception). The Naked Sun goes on too much about the aversion of Solarians to meeting in person. I can see how people would opt for private dwellings, but they're repulsed by the physical presence of other people. This taboo against seeing people in person was overdone - I feel this goes against too much of our evolutionary makeup.
Much time is spent on the 3 laws of robotics, the wrinkle here being that Solarians are convincing robots that only they are human; earthlings don't quite measure up (think of how Nazis characterized Jews). Without totally spoiling it, the person who murdered Rikaine was at the center of this brainwashing. He'd also engineered a computer-controlled spaceship that wouldn't apply first law when shooting on Earth/earthships, as well as robots whose limbs could be removed (hunt: no obvious murder weapon was left at the scene). Bailey reveals who the murderer is with a nice Q.E.D. and the myster is neatly wrapped up.
On returning to Earth, Baley's CO debriefs him. I liked this last chapter where the sociology of both Earth and Solaria was examined. It zoomed up to a macro level, explaining that a conflict between the two was inevitable. I wish more of the book were devoted to this large-scale conflict.(less)
**spoiler alert** PLOT: Humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but they can't venture farther, so over the centuries the House of Isher has...more**spoiler alert** PLOT: Humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but they can't venture farther, so over the centuries the House of Isher has governed...make that controlled, mankind. In opposition to them stood the Weapon Makers, who sell common citizens weapons whose design baffles imperial scientists. The weapons can only be used in self-defense, but they effectively hold the Empire's power in check. The Weapon Shops go beyond guns to other dazzling technology (I especially liked the Rings they could activate - reminded me of the way phones were used in the Matrix).
Our protagonist is Robert Hedrock, whom the Empress tries to assassinate and then whom the Weapon Makers rescue...only to put him on trial for sharing their secrets with the Empress. Hedrock's on the run for most of the book, working to keep both sides occupied while he schemes bigger schemes. Turns out that he is immortal who has been a consort to the last 13 Empresses while also being a central player among the Weapon Makers. He's been keeping them in balance, playing for time while he waits for two technologies to end this power struggle. An interstellar drive has been invented by the Empire and he's trying to expose their secret. He's also taken it upon himself to understand how he became immortal and release this innovation to benefit mankind. Of course, both organizations want to maintain the status quo, so Hedrock works alone to create a richer and more level playing field.
COMMENTS: This is a pretty good book. For a story from 1946, it has really held up. Several things could have been the central crux of the book: - Hedrock's immortality, concealed by clever diguises and alibis - conflict between the Empire, the Weapon Shops and Hedrock - Spider creatures evaluating humanity (e.g. telepathic bond between twins) - Conflict with other star systems because of the interstellar drive ...but the book doesn't focus on any one of them; it tries to focus on all of them. This leaves the plot a bit leaky; don't expect all the loose ends to be tied up at the end. But I'll forgive that because it's his second book its good elements offset the bad.
I was bewildered by a few story developments and at times felt I was being yanked around so Van Vogt could slide in a new idea, but I think this I'm using a 21st century lens. If I instead imagined what impressed a reader in the 1940s, it would be the volume of awe-inspiring ideas and settings. By that measure, this book makes a nice melange in which the reader can lose themselves for a while.
OK, just finished this and I'll say that it is well-written. I still have to score it low, must just not be my type of book. If classifying, I'd say i...moreOK, just finished this and I'll say that it is well-written. I still have to score it low, must just not be my type of book. If classifying, I'd say it goes under mystery or mysticism.
I'm going to rejoin the stack of SF books that are waiting to be read.(less)
**spoiler alert** Plot summary: Rod Walker, a 17-year-old student living in a time when you must pass high school to take certain jobs or live on certa...more**spoiler alert** Plot summary: Rod Walker, a 17-year-old student living in a time when you must pass high school to take certain jobs or live on certain planets. Earth is getting very crowded and Rod wants to live on an Outland planet and so he's taken the school's survival course. To pass the course, each student must provide for and protect themselves on a test planet chosen by their instructor.
Instead of taking rockets to get there, they use a technology called Ramsbotham Gate, which provides stable portals into other worlds.
Once he arrives in a place like the African savannah, he begins heading to the appointed place for the pickup 2 weeks hence. When the pickup time comes and goes, he switches his focus onto long-term survival. He begins finding and banding together with others students. Their group grows to several dozen and group dynamics become unweildy. An older student takes charge and Rod finds himself relegated to being a lieutenant. Still, he does his duty and watches out for his comrades, even scouting out a new location when their current site is outgrown. While his ideas are always good, he discovers that others don't automatically warm to them; people want to be included in the process. Government s established and the leaders even have a few advisors (Rod has 2 male & 2 female confidants). The group of 70 becomes very pleased with their accomplishments, some couples begin families and all profess that they'd never leave 'Cowpertown.'
Eventually found by the Terran folks that engineer the gates, they hear that a supernova threw off the space-time path that the gate relied on. This leads all the colonists, except Rod, to the bittersweet conclusion that they want to go back home. Rod wants to stick it out, but his old teacher & his sister persuade him that he can leverage this experience better by going back and becoming certified as an Outland pioneer. The book ends with Rod leading a band of Earth emigrants to a new frontier.
Comments: This is a good retelling of classic survival stories like "Robinson Crusoe" and "Lord of the Flies," though unlike Golding's story, its message about man's ability to self-organize is mostly positive. We get to see the little group divvy up tasks and start to industrialize, much more than happened in RAH's Starman Jones. I also like the fact that Rod isn't a superhuman born-leader, but we sense that his M.O. is to serve his community.
I disliked a few things here, but they're refrains I find in most of Heinlein's books. First off, he overdoes the all-party meetings these teenagers have, with full Robert's Rules. Secondly, I'd like a bit more science fiction in the story. The coolest technology is the gate, but its limits could have been better explained. So we're told the connection with the outer planet was broken by a supernova, but there are still rockets in existence and we're not told why they could've been used to get to the planet, instead of waiting 2 years for the star's interference to pass before they erected a gate.
I won't criticize RAH for views that are politically incorrect now, such as the role of women, but I think any younger readers should have the context behind this. Finally, the marriage of his Survival teacher, Deacon and hs sister Helen at the end seemed a little convenient, there wasn't even a hint that they knew each other before then. (less)