I listened to the Audible Frontiers audio book, well narrated by Jay Snyder. The book was written in 1958 and won a Hugo. The audio book includes an amusingly snippy foreword by Blish in which he defends the ways he chose to imagine how Catholic doctrine would change 100 years in the future.
Briefly the book is about a team of human experts who are studying a planet with intelligent life. They have to recommend whether to open the planet to human contact.
I really liked how Blish developed the characters of Ruiz-Sanchez and Egtverchi. The other human characters are more sketchy -- some just don't have much personality and some (e.g., Cleaver) are somewhat stereotyped. Liu, the xenobiologist, was particularly annoying -- although she is supposed to be a scientist, she really exists to provide someone for Mitchelis to get involved with, and she does nothing but fret and emote throughout the whole book. (And honestly, wouldn't any xenobiologist know that if you are going to try to raise a creature from another planet, you should at least try to simulate that planet's day/night cycle, rather than leaving the lights on 24/7? OK, that's the only nitpick I will allow myself for this review. :)
I also liked how Blish handled Ruiz-Sanchez's approach to religion. He treats questions of religious doctrine sort of as if they were jigsaw puzzles. I could really believe that a scientist-priest might behave that way.
The ending is disturbing, but true to the logic of the story in a number of ways. And it's disturbing in a way that makes me want to write a story "responding" to it, which is kind of a fun feeling to have.
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