Book Talk: 'Out of the Silent Planet' by C. S. Lewis - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad

Book Talk: 'Out of the Silent Planet' by C. S. Lewis

Alexander Wallace heads to Malacandra.
When people think of C. S. Lewis, they think of one thing and one thing only: The Chronicles of Narnia. With devout Christians, you may get a mention of The Screwtape Letters. What we all too often forget is that Lewis wrote science fiction, a whole trilogy, even! Today, we’re discussing the first book of that trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, published in 1938.

Those who read science fiction from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will notice several commonalities with other writers of the period, like H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, or John Jacob Astor. It is one of those older cosmologies where the Earth is far from the only inhabited planet in this solar system; this fact will provide to you, eventually, the meaning of the title of the novel.

Lewis acknowledges the debt to Wells, and those who have read much of the latter’s work will see a particular resemblance herein; Lewis’ introduction (at least in my edition) notes that any disparaging remarks made towards Wells in the course of his novel are dramatic license and not Lewis’ actual opinion. The inciting incident is the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, ending up on a spaceship bound for another planet under strange circumstances; you can see the influence of The War in the Air here, as well as The First Men in the Moon.
Lewis takes great care to flesh out the planet that Ransom finds himself on, which its inhabitants call Malacandra. It is a multi-species society with three main species with which Ransom interacts; you can see early premonitions of what would become the space opera of later in the century, perhaps even the cantina scene in the original Star Wars. Here, though, there is much more attention given to the social dynamics of those species, each with a different social role. Those who have read Cixin Liu’s novel The Cretaceous Past may recognize Out of the Silent Planet’s portrayal of such a dynamic, although Lewis takes a more optimistic tack than Liu on such things.

There is a moral preoccupation of this novel, one that is not the most obvious to the twenty-first century reader. Some of the humans in the novel are a representation of what Lewis called a form of nihilism, a faith in science that allegedly answered all of humanity’s questions. Lewis was a devout Christian; he does not openly preach to you, but one can see the influence, especially at the end (I think Lewis takes a similar position to such things that Cy Kellett Does in Ad Limina, discussed in one of my previous book talk articles). There’s a morality here that is actually quite agreeable, even if you are of little faith.

Out of the Silent Planet is perhaps the apex of its era of science fiction, with a spellbinding prose that leaves the plodding wordsmiths of other works (including, at times, Wells himself, loathe as I am to admit it) in the dust. Those who love his other work ought to read this post-haste, if they have not already.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad