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48 & 49 of 50

  1. Alexander, Lloyd — The Black Cauldron
  2. Anthony, Piers — Letters to Jenny
  3. Cooper, Susan — Over Sea, Under Stone
  4. Proulx, Annie — Close Range: Wyoming Stories
  5. Kincaid, Jamaica — Lucy
  6. Christie, Agatha — The Unexpected Guest
  7. Dick, Philip K. — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
  8. Cooper, Susan — The Dark Is Rising
  9. Cooper, Susan — Greenwitch
  10. Shaffer, Peter — Amadeus
  11. Anonymous — Go Ask Alice
  12. Cooper, Susan — The Grey King
  13. Martin, Steve — Shopgirl
  14. Cooper, Susan — Silver on the Tree
  15. Gaiman, Neil — Stardust
  16. Gaiman, Neil — Coraline
  17. Le Guin, Ursula — A Wizard of Earthsea
  18. Le Guin, Ursula — The Tombs of Atuan
  19. Le Guin, Ursula — The Farthest Shore
  20. Le Guin, Ursula — Tehanu
  21. Merton, Thomas — The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith
  22. Alexander, Lloyd — The Castle of Llyr
  23. Zelazny, Roger — Lord of Light
  24. Card, Orson Scott — Ender's Game
  25. Clarke, Arthur C. — Childhood's End
  26. Grahame, Kenneth — The Wind in the Willows
  27. Dahl, Roald — James and the Giant Peach
  28. Lewis, C.S. — Out of the Silent Planet
  29. Lewis, C.S. — Perelandra
  30. Milne, A.A. — Winnie-the-Pooh
  31. Card, Orson Scott — Speaker for the Dead
  32. Bester, Alfred — The Stars My Destination
  33. Greene, Graham — The Power and the Glory
  34. Gaiman, Neil — Neverwhere
  35. Ballard, J.G. — The Drowned World
  36. Ballard, J.G. — Crash
  37. Joyce, James — The Dubliners
  38. Le Guin, Ursula — Tales from Earthsea
  39. Le Guin, Ursula — The Other Wind
  40. Asimov, Isaac — The Robots of Dawn
  41. Dick, Philip K. — A Scanner Darkly
  42. Stewart, George R. — Earth Abides
  43. du Bois, William Pène — The Twenty-One Balloons
  44. Wells, H.G. — The Time Machine
  45. Toole, John Kennedy — A Confederacy of Dunces
  46. Silverberg, Robert — The Book of Skulls
  47. Bradbury, Ray — Something Wicked This Way Comes
  48. Blish, James — A Case of Conscience
  49. Russell, Mary Doria — The Sparrow

Though the choice to read these two novels back-to-back was deliberate and planned, it was not my intent to blog about them in one post. I was simply too inundated by other things when I finished A Case of Conscience to write about it, and three days later I decided to wait until I had also finished The Sparrow. After all, the parallels between the two are striking. Both involve first contact with an alien race. Both missions to the alien planets feature prominently a Jesuit priest of Hispanic heritage (the Peruvian Ramon Ruiz-Sanchez in the former, and the Puerto Rican Emilio Sandoz in the latter). Both question the implications the existence of other sentient, rational creatures in the universe has on theology.

The action in A Case of Conscience begins on the alien planet of Lithia. A team of four scientists, featuring a biologist who simply happens to be a Jesuit, has been sent by the UN to Lithia to assess how Earth should regard this new planet. Towards the end of the team's survey, Ruiz-Sanchez learns some shocking truths about Lithian life that leads him to conclude that Lithia poses the greatest possible moral danger to Earth and ought to be blacklisted. His observations cause him to accept a heretical viewpoint, for which he must endure excommunication when he returns home. However, subsequent events seem to confirm his worst fears.

A Case of Conscience is lucidly written. Some of Blish's ideas are dated, having been written at the height of the Cold War, but that is merely periphery. The central theme about the roles of religion and science in society is brilliantly explored, the climactic ending of the novel giving concrete answers—and thus no real answer at all—to both sides of the debate. Blish gives us a wealth of ideas with an economy of plot and language.

Russell begins her novel with two separate plot lines, both beginning on Earth. The first begins after the Emilio Sandoz' return from Rakhat, forced to defend himself against horrible allegations. The second plot line introduces us to the main characters in the narrative as their lives converge before the discovery of alien life. Skillfully the two plots are drawn together as we piece together the details of the Jesuit mission. Where Blish is sparse, Russell is expansive, drawing richly on a background in linguistics, anthropology, and various other sciences to weave a vivid tapestry depicting the complex issues of first contact with an alien culture. Where The Sparrow really stands out, though, is in characters that seem fully real and vibrantly alive.

And how can one resist a novel that feels equally comfortable referencing opera and baseball and quoting from Star Trek and The Princess Bride!

(I was given my copy of The Sparrow by bitty a few years ago. She expressed at the time an interest in discussing it with me, to get my take as a "religious person." Those of you who are still in touch with her, feel free to let her know that I've read and enjoyed it, and that if she still wishes to discuss it she knows how to contact me.)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 22nd, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)
good lord man, are you trying to depress yourself into a catatonic torpor? Why not just read A Canticle for Leibowitz while you're at it?

I loved the Sparrow and found Case to be compelling and troubling, not from a badly written standpoint but in the person of the alien reared on Earth(Etregverchi?). He was horrifying and I kept thinking that I've rarely read a more truly amoral character than he.
Nov. 22nd, 2006 10:13 am (UTC)
Close. It's Egtverchi. And that's the whole point, isn't it, that he's amoral? Actually, I would say that Egtverchi is immoral, and his race, functioning solely on pure reason, is amoral, and that's what led Ruiz-Sanchez to his conclusion.

Why not just read A Canticle for Leibowitz while you're at it?

I intend to, and almost did a month or so back. It's on my bookshelf. ;)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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