Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One) Paperback – 2003
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The first book in C S Lewiss acclaimed Space Trilogy which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr Ransom Here that estimable man is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra The two men are in need of a human sacrifice and Dr Ransom would seem to fit the bill Once on the planet however Ransom eludes his captors risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity First published in 1943 Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force
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But Lewis was in his best form when he wrote his Space Trilogy, a sprawling H. G. Wells-inspired story about a philologist traveling between worlds and encountering increasingly strange life-forms. Unlike most sci-fi stories, Lewis manages to do double-duty with his focus -- the first volume, "Out of the Silent Plane,t" is a solid, dreamy slice of imaginative science fiction with deep philosophical underpinnings.
During a walking tour of England, philologist Dr. Ransom encounters an old despised schoolmate named Devine, who is busy trying to abduct a mentally handicapped teenager. Things take a nasty turn after Devine and his accomplice Weston drug Ransom, and load him onto a spaceship. Over the course of a month's interstellar travel, Ransom learns that they are traveling to the planet Malacandra (Mars) -- and worst, he's destined to be a human sacrifice.
After landing on Malacandra, Ransom manages to escape, and quickly finds himself alone on a strange alien world. But fortunately there is life on this world. He soon is taken in by the otterlike hrossa, and learns that there are three sentient species on Malacandra: the peaceful poetry-loving hrossa, the workaholic pfifltriggi, and intelligent seroni. When a hross friend of Ransom's is killed by the murderous humans, he sets out to find the mysterious, powerful Oyarsa, who might be able to help him and stop his kidnappers.
While it does have some interplanetary travel, "Out of the Silent Planet" feels less like your average space opera, and more like a novel by H. G. Wells (the spaceship journey) or Edgar Rice Burroughs (the detailed descriptions of the weirdness of Malacandra). Big fleshy plants, sentient otter-people, decreased gravity and petrified forests all give it the feeling of a truly alien world, as do the three species who populate it.
In fact, the aliens are perhaps the most alien you can find in fiction -- three dissimilar species, who work together and have no problems like war, starvation, lies, power-lust or any of the other problems that human beings have. It's underscored by Lewis's contemplative stretches of ethical and philosophical dialogue, and the thought-provoking approach to ideas like consciousness, cruelty, love and so on. And he takes some razor-sharp jabs at ideas such as the "white man's burden" or that people who "aren't useful" to society (such as the handicapped) being disposable.
Lewis' writing has a dreamlike, somber quality that lends the story an eeriness that really permeates the entire story. And while Lewis' Christian beliefs are on view, I wouldn't classify this as a religious book -- rather it's a science fiction tale as seen and perceived through the lens of a man of faith. For instance, the character of Oyarsa could be seen as an angelic figure, a nearly invisible shimmer of light and shadow that rules Malacandra, but others might just perceive him as an alien. Others might see him as both.
Lewis reportedly based Ransom on his close friend, fantasy author/philologist J. R. R. Tolkien, and there's an obvious affection for his protagonist even as he's kidnapped, sent into space and becomes a "stranger in a strange land." He almost goes bonkers once or twice, but always makes it through with steadfast morality and intellect. On the other hand, Weston and Devine are the kind of person you have probably encountered in many comment sections -- they pay lip service to great advances and high ideals, but they are cold cruel men who value science and self above compassion and humanity. The opposite of the Malacandrians, in fact.
"Out of the Silent Planet" is a spellbinding, vivid and beautifully written piece of science fiction, with the intelligence and open-mindedness to see that the limits between the scientific and the spiritual don't have to exist. Off to Mars!
There are three primary influences that caused Lewis to write OSP. The first is David Lindsay's VOYAGE TO ARCTURAS (a novel that famed literary critic Harold Bloom wrote a sequel too, called THE FLIGHT TO LUCIFER. This is Bloom's only published fiction, and he has longed disowned the novel). It was ARCTURAS that showed you could deal with high philosophical and theological matters in the guise of science fiction.
The second influence was the well-known conversation between Tolkien and Lewis in 1937 in which they lamented the state of current fiction and set out to write their own to help correct the matter. Tolkien was to write a time-travel story (his novel was abandoned and unfinished, published in HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH VOL 5, THE LOST ROAD AND OTHER WRITINGS). And Lewis wrote a space-travel story (this novel), the only real science fiction novel he ever wrote..
The third major influence is H. G. Wells. Lewis says in an intro note before the novel that even though there are certain slighting remarks about Wells in the novel, he hopes people don't think him too stupid to enjoy Wells. And it is obvious from reading OSP Lewis is very much a fan of Well's science fiction (though not necessarily the social critic Wells tried to reinvent himself as), as a lot of the novel reads like something a Wells fan would write.
While the series has overall been labeled as science fiction, this is rather a misnomer. OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET is really the only true science fiction in the trilogy. PERELANDRA is a religious track, and THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH is the hardest to classify of the three. You either love or hate it. Lewis called THS a fairy tale for adults, which is fine. But as this is a review of the first, lets keep to the first.
The best thing about this book is its interplanetary romance and its Christianity. You get to go see another world. Granted, the world Lewis describes is not the real Mars, but I have never held that against this book (some pervious reviewers have cited this as a fault). This is, after all, fiction, and does not need to be held in the confines of the real world. That is why I never understood people complaining of the science in this one. Still, there are some rather jarring slips, such as Ransom confusing the moon and the earth for one another, something that would never happen.
Elwin Ransom is kidnapped and taken onboard a spaceship to Mars. The novel opens with him on a walking holiday (something Lewis himself was rather famous for taking - Tolkien went on one of his hiking trips and soon found himself rather out of sorts with his body, and struck to shorter jaunts around Oxford with his dear friend). Ransom chances upon two men in an old house, one of which he knows. This is Dick Devine and Proffessor Weston. Originally they were going to kidnap a mentally challenged boy, but on second thought decide to take Ransom instead, to appease an alien species named the sorns in order to get more of the metal the sorn's call "sun's blood" (really gold). So they capture Ransom and travel to Mars in a spaceship of Weston's design.
Though he fears what he may find there, when Ransom lands he runs away from his kidnappers and ultimately finds himself in company with another alien species. Malacandra (so called there) is a wonderful place, with three distinct species called hnau (the Hrossa, the pfifletriggi, and the sorns). He spends most of his time with the Hrossa. Over the course of the novel, he is introduced to all three alien species, though he spends very little time with the pfifletriggi. All three are vastly different, but all are important to the Martian society. Though he begins in fear of the sorns, ultimately they prove to be powerful allies.
There are also other inhabitants in Mars as well. Ransom also learns of Eldils (angels), and also about the Oyarsa, which is the ruler of Mars, and is an archangel. The climax of the novel features Ransom meeting the Oyarsa, and it is the Oyarsa who meters out justice to Weston and Devine.
Lewis touches upon several major themes in this introductory novel. Being the Christian that he is, Lewis models the story's cosmology off of Christian theology. In fact, of the initial 60 reviews that OSP garnered when it was first published, only a handful picked up on the heavy Christian undercurrents running throughout the novel. Lewis realised you can smuggle any amount of idealogy under the guise of romance.
The other major theme he touches upon is Weston's desire to colonize other planets. To Weston, humanity's survival is the most important thing, and will exterminate other lifeforms to take over their planet. Weston's position of racial geonicide is drawn from Olaf Stapledon's FIRST AND LAST MEN, a novel in which men do kill other species to take over their planet, and Stapledon's obvious endorsement of this racial murder. Lewis was horrified when he read this novel, and so crafted OSP as a response to this novel.
The first book, OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, is the most SF of the three, and also the least satisfactory. The story is excellent, with Lewis using medieval influences to develop a Christian world view in a science fiction setting. Tolkien said in one of his letters (its in LETTERS OF J. R. R. TOLKIEN, one of the early ones), it is simply not long enough. It is a nice story of Ransom being kidnaped and then dealing with the Martian landscape. Yes, some of the science is dated but Lewis is more concerned with other themes to worry about "scientific credibility." Although some have said the characterization is flat, for those thirsty for SF this is the best of the three.
In several ways, OSP is a particular favorite yet also the most disappointing of the trilogy. Like Tolkien said, it's simply too short. Imaginatively, there are great scenes in the novel, any science fiction lover will find the novel richly rewarding. But as it's the only real science fiction Lewis wrote, I would like to see him have written a much longer novel.
Still, a great start for C. S. Lewis, the novelist.
This first book begins with our hero, Dr. Ransom, out for a walking tour in the countryside, dressed in that shabby way for which professors are renowned. His foes are his former schoolmates Devine and Weston. These men believe they need a human sacrifice, and by capturing Ransom they have their victim, for they have made a spaceship and are taking Ransom to Malacandra the red planet.
Once on Mars, Ransom escapes his captors, meets many species, and finds out that on Mars there has been no "fall" and Ransom from Earth or the Silent Planet is a bit of an oddity. People from earth are considered to be "bent" in nature, from the original sin of the fall.
Follow Ransom as he treks across a strange world, and must find the courage to risk it all to save not only an alien race, but also, possibly his own soul.
This is a first book in an amazing series. Try it - you won't be disappointed.
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