A Case of Conscience Characters
by James Blish

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A Case of Conscience Characters

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although somewhat humorless, Father Ruiz-Sanchez is one of the more engaging protagonists in the science fiction of the 1950s, perhaps because the genre literature of that era contains so few sincere portrayals of characters who are both intelligent and religious. Despite James Blish's insistence that their moral code is too close to that of Christianity for coincidence, the Lithians are a nicely developed alien race and the one normal Lithian readers meet, Chtexa, the father of Egtverchi, comes across as a believable but distinctly alien individual, something much more than merely another human being in a funny costume. In Egtverchi, Blish attempts something particularly difficult, a sort of intellectual half breed. Egtverchi, although raised by humans, cannot, because of his genetic heritage, be fully human and, moreover, does not want to be. An absolute outsider, estranged from both Lithia and Humanity, he swings rather schizophrenically, but quite believably, from manic buffoon to bitter social critic. That the Lithian is a danger both to Earth and to his home planet seems clear. That he has also suffered from Earth's abuse, has been stunted in both mind and body, is also evident. The moral dilemma which Blish has placed on both his readers and Ruiz-Sanchez requires him to develop a character who can be read as either half-mad victim or skilled manipulator and, in Egtverchi, he succeeds brilliantly.