As part of the release of CS Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet in e-book format earlier this month, I was asked by the publisher and TLC Book Tours to review it as part of a blog tour. To see the rest of the tour stops, visit TLC Book Tours here.
Out of the Silent Planet
Sci-Fi / Aliens / Philosophy
Written during the dark hours immediately before and during the Second World War, C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy, of which Out of the Silent Planet is the first volume, stands alongside such works as Albert Camus's The Plague and George Orwell's 1984 as a timely parable that has become timeless, beloved by succeeding generations as much for the sheer wonder of its storytelling as for the significance of the moral concerns. For the trilogy's central figure, C. S. Lewis created perhaps the most memorable character of his career, the brilliant, clear-eyed, and fiercely brave philologist Dr. Elwin Ransom. Appropriately, Lewis modeled Dr. Ransom after his dear friend J. R. R. Tolkien, for in the scope of its imaginative achievement and the totality of its vision of not one but two imaginary worlds, the Space Trilogy is rivaled in this century only by Tolkien's trilogy The Lord of the Rings. Readers who fall in love with Lewis's fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia as children unfailingly cherish his Space Trilogy as adults; it, too, brings to life strange and magical realms in which epic battles are fought between the forces of light and those of darkness. But in the many layers of its allegory, and the sophistication and piercing brilliance of its insights into the human condition, it occupies a place among the English language's most extraordinary works for any age, and for all time.
Out of the Silent Planet introduces Dr. Ransom and chronicles his abduction by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice via space ship to the planet Malacandra. The two men are in need of a human sacrifice and Dr. Ransom would seem to fit the bill. Dr. Ransom escapes upon landing, though, and goes on the run, a stranger in a land that, like Jonathan Swift's Lilliput, is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity.
First of all there are no epic battles. If there were epic battles, they were so epic in their epicness that I didn’t see them. Instead there was an argument between a megalomaniacal scientist and a calm alien voice of reason that consisted of “Humans are the best! I will kill anything to allow the human race to continue!”, which was responded with (as it should be) “You’re kind of an idiot.” That was the epic battle. It did last for pages upon pages, but it was all about a pompous jerk blathering about his philosophical right to decimate other planets to ensure his species’ survival and the alien god-like creature saying, “What a douche. Get off my planet before I turn you into tiny little molecules of the nothingness that you are.” I’m paraphrasing of course.
I took this review request with a hint of hesitation. I never read the Narnia series when I was a child (or I did and don’t remember), and by the time I got around to it in college, I felt I was getting beaten over the head so much with the Christian proselytizing, the racism, and the general “I am a Christian male, therefore I am better than EVERYONE MUHAHAHAHA!”-ness of it all, that I was left with a bad taste. But those were children’s books, a ripe time for indoctrination! This was an adult science fiction book that had aliens and spaceships and people getting kidnapped. So I took a chance on it. And I came out really bored.
The plot of Out of the Silent Planet would fill about 30-40 actual pages. The description of the other world filled another 50-60 pages. The blathering on about philosophy, linguistics and how humanity is going to screw itself filled the other 100+ pages. The plot was basic enough that I don’t feel as though this would spoil anything: Smart guy gets kidnapped by other smart guys and taken on a spaceship to an alien world. Kidnappers have nefarious plans and kidnapped guy runs away, thinking the aliens want to eat him. Kidnapped guy falls in with other aliens, who are nice, gentle and obviously are intelligent. Kidnapped guy learns their language, culture and becomes part of their group. Kidnapped guy is sent on a journey to their sacred place to speak with the figurehead for their creator, stumbling upon the aliens he thought were going to eat him only to find out that they’re super smart and nice too. Kidnapped guy meets religious figurehead, stupid kidnappers also meet religious figurehead who threatens to kill them if they don’t get off the planet. They get off the planet.
And that’s the book. I was surprised at how long it took for religion to worm its way into the main plot and was pleasantly surprised when it was met with some skepticism and only believed when proof was laid at the main character’s feet. That was very much unlike my previous impressions of Lewis’ writing. I also found myself impressed with the world building though often times the spatial relationship between things were incredibly unclear to me, creating confusion and preventing me from getting a truly clear idea of the world Lewis was creating.
But based on the author, the time it was written and the subject matter, it wouldn't be fair to expect much other than what I received. Considering it was inspired by his friend JRR Tolkein, I understand why Lewis is so specific about his world building (it's sometimes an annoying flaw in Tolkein's work as well) and just wish more had happened within the world he created. Instead there's a lot of talk. And then more talk.
If you're into Lewis' other work and want to read something more targeted to an adult demographic, then Out of the Silent Planet is worth a try. At just over 200 pages, it was a very quick read, but dense in many of it's ideas. Just don't expect a fast-paced science fiction story.