Book reviews / Science Fiction

Book review: Out of the Silent Planet

So after Dune I wanted something to read that was nice and short. Perusing my Goodreads list and despairing at the 600-1000 page behemouths that were the fantasy books, I decided to go with more sci-fi.

So Out of the Silent Planet was written by C. S. Lewis and published in 1938. It was a reasonably short 131 pages, which attracted me to it. It is ADORABLE. Adorable in the way that someone with no idea of orbital mechanics has written a book with space travel. Not that I have first hand knowledge but I’ve got more knowledge than C. S. Lewis had.

It basically reads like a jaunty space caper told by someone who would really be more comfortable on Gardeners’ Question time than hanging out with aliens on another planet. The main character, Dr. Ransom, reads like the most quintessential up-tight Englishman.

So. Plot. Ransom is kidnapped by Devine and Weston, who have a orb-like space ship that is travelling to a planet they call Malacandra. Ransom is to be offered up to some of the local residents but escapes! This is because Devine and Weston don’t want to go to the alien who asked to meet them. Being devious creeps, they think only evil intentions. Ransom, based on the overheard conversation of Weston and Devine, thinks that: “Out of this heaven, these happy climes, they were presently to descend – into what? Sorns, human sacrifice, loathsome sexless monsters. What was a sorn? His own role in the affair was now clear enough.”

For some reason, the dudes were also all naked on the ship. Apparently it was because it was hot. Sure we can build a spaceship, but no, we can’t have air conditioning.

Upon meeting the first intelligent species (there were no less than 4 on Malacandra) Ransom has this thought: “It was like a courtship -like the meeting of the first man and the first woman in the world; it was like something beyond that; so natural is the contact of sexes, so limited. the strangeness, so shallow the reticence, so mild the repugnance to be overcome, compared with the first tingling intercourse of two different, but rational, species.”

Most of my thought at this point was that Ransom totally needed to get laid. Or C. S. Lewis did.

Anyway, all the aliens it turned out were friendly to each other. The alien that wanted to talk to Devine and Weston was named Oyarsa and was a being made of light. It was entirely benevolent and Devine and Weston had entirely fabricated the devious potential intentions in their minds as they were devious and ‘bent’ (as evil was referred to by the aliens).

All turns out well, Oyarsa and Ransom have a chat about various things, Devine and Weston get captured (after shooting and killing Ryoi, the first alien that Ransom met), and they all get to go back to earth. Ransom opted to go back to Earth, rather than hang out with aliens. Pfft.

Malacandra turns out to be Mars. I think one of my favourite bits of the book, which shows how little C. S. Lewis knew (or 1938 chaps in general) was: “It is pretty plain that the great depressions which they inhabit are the old ocean-beds of Malacandra. Hrossa, who had visited them, described themselves as going down into deep forests over sand, ‘the bone-stones (fossils) of ancient wave-borers about them.’ No doubt these are the dark patches seen on the Martian disk from Earth.”

The dark areas are actually volcanic glass..

Anyway, it was adorable. The idea that there are 4 intelligent species living on Mars was adorable. Especially as some of them were apparently made of light. Actual light. There are some hilariously obvious religious overtones, though C. S. Lewis thought he was being subtle (so says Wikipedia. I’d love to see him not being subtle.

Should you read it? Maybe. I give it a 3/5 based on amusement. Deductions for it being so bizarre from a modern science point of view that you’re completely taken out of the story. Also C. S. Lewis making the characters naked on the ship and his odd analogies. Creepy!

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