Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I’ve liked and disliked several of C.S. Lewis’s works over the years and if I remember correctly, I read his space trilogy as a young boy, but remember nothing of it. So my wife picked up Out of the Silent Planet at a used bookstore for me just for the heck of it and it was an interesting read. Talk about old school sci fi, this was OLD school! Published in 1938, I believe, I had a hard time reminding myself that there was no realistic way Lewis could have known anything about spaceflight or Mars, the main locations in the novel, so it’s unbelievably dated, but it’s not really his fault.
In this book, Dr. Elwin Ransom, a Cambridge philology professor, is kidnapped by two greedy snobs who have a spaceship and have traveled to outer space before. Ransom is taken to a planet called Malacandra by the alien species that live there, though we later learn it is actually Mars. As Mars, it is not red and deserted and dusty. It is bright and sunny, with oceans and streams, plenty of vegetation, jungles, mountains that get increasingly colder the higher you climb, dangerous animals, and several sentient alien species. He is completely enchanted by the beautiful scenery, escapes his captors, meets these aliens who are nothing like humans in appearance or action (for the most part), learns about the origin of these species on Malacandra and Earth (the silent planet) and, ultimately, reflects on the broken nature of humanity. The climactic scene leads him to the final show down which proves to be a meeting with the angelic “god” of the planet where Ransom’s linguistic abilities allow him to act as translator for the two other humans who see Malacandra as simply a stepping stone in humanity’s ongoing greatness and evolution into the stars. We see Ransom struggling with the challenge of expressing some of the more bizarre elements of his kidnappers’ philosophies in a way that will make sense to the Malacandrians. It never really does and ultimately, it doesn’t to Ransom either.
The book is short and, generally, entertaining, if a bit lightweight. It drags at times, quite a bit actually, but the dialogue can be quite good at times and the philosophies discussed are intriguing. I was worried that Lewis, a devout Christian, would go all “religious” on me, but he didn’t proselytize, for which I was grateful. I suppose, however, if one wanted religious symbolism, one could find it. Lewis was himself an academic and not a scientist at that. The thought that he could write “serious” science fiction in the 1930s is rather humorous. Nonetheless, this is a valiant effort and worth a read, especially as it’s so short. Three stars.