James Blish

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William Gibson – Zero History

This is the last book in the trilogy about Blue Ant which started with Pattern Recognition. While the first two books were only loosely connected, this final and third book is more like a continuation of Spook Country, with mostly the same characters. Gibson is very reliable and this book is as good as the others in this trilogy. If you’ve read the others and like the style, read this one too.

James Blish – A Case of Conscience

I had a project a few years ago to read all novels that have won the Hugo Award, but it failed because I couldn’t find two of the older books that were out of print. I finally got my hands on this novel by James Blish, which turned out to be a bit disappointing. I never really understood the case of conscience that gives the book its title, or I did understand it but simply didn’t find it interesting enough. Still well-written and interesting for other reasons, but perhaps a deeper knowledge of theology is a prerequisite to really like the book. Apparently, it was first published as a novella and later extended to a novel, perhaps it ought to have stayed in its shorter form.

William Gibson – Virtual Light
William Gibson – Idoru
William Gibson – All Tomorrow’s Parties

Having finished Zero History, I didn’t feel that I had read enough of William Gibson just yet. His style is refreshing, the characters interesting, the setting fascinating and… well, I could go on, but let’s just say I wanted more of Gibson. The setting of this trilogy is the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge after a devastating earthquake. The bridge has been abandoned by the authorities and replaced by a anarchic society of ordinary people, criminals and outcasts.

Chevette Washington, a bicycle messenger living on the Bridge, who gets into a lot of trouble for stealing a strange pair of high-tech googles (the young messenger girl feels very similar to Y.T. in Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, which was published two years before Virtual Light). Rent-a-cop Berry Rydell is at the same time hired to retrieve the very same glasses, but of course it turns out that much more powerful elements are involved.

In Idoru, the story moves on to the virtual (digital) Japanese superstar Rei Toei, who has recently made the headlines because rock star Rez wants to marry her. This doesn’t go down too well with the Rez fan club and Chia is sent to Japan to find out the truth about her idol.

The bigger plot is then wrapped up in All Tomorrow’s Parties as the story returns to the Bridge and Chevette and Rydell. Most of the loose threads are tied together, including the idoru (Rei Toei) and a Taoist philosopher-assassin.

Throughout the trilogy, Gibson shows that he was a competent writer two decades ago as well, even though I must say I think that he has developed a lot as an author and his later novels are better. This trilogy is still a great read, though. Gibson is really, really good at creating great settings and populate them with interesting characters. He’s also witty and a joy to read in general.

The only novels left now are The Difference Engine (1990) and The Peripheral (2014).

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Title: A Case of Conscience
Author: James Blish
Year: 1958

I generally enjoy religion as a theme in science fiction, counting A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr, as one of my favourite novels in this category. I often find it interesting to explore the religiosity of the main character in such novels, which made me happy when I began reading A Case of Conscience by James Blish. The story is about a Jesuit priest who is part of a scientific delegation of four people to the beautiful world of Lithia. Their mission is to investigate and provide enough information to be able to judge what status to ascribe Lithia and its population.

The other members of the group have fairly practical views of the aliens and their world, but father Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez has something completely different in mind. He has spent much time together with the Lithians and is convinced that this world is the work of Satan. The world and its society is perfect, yet there is no concept of God, sin and other religious themes. In short, it is Eden before the Fall of Man. Some things on Lithia do indeed seem strange and Ruiz-Sanchez asks questions which are hard to answer. Things are further complicated when Ruiz-Sanchez is offered a gift by the Lithians he hardly can refuse: a beautiful vessel containing a fertilised Lithian egg.

I feel that the basic concept of this story is adequate to write a novel, but perhaps the original novella is better. The novel consists of two parts, which feel a little bit disconnected, even though Ruiz-Sanchez’ moral and religious questions tie everything together. On the positive side, James Blish never lets go of the reader. He constantly bombards one with action, interesting philosophical points or interesting setting (such as the Shelter Economy of Earth, the sequel to the nuclear arms race of the Cold War). The language is adequate, but not excellent. In short, it is a novel which is, in many ways, entertaining to read, but lacks something genuinely outstanding. Three and a half snails to James Blish and his A Case of Conscience.

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