A book by C.S. Lewis< read all 8 reviews
Elwin Ransom, an Oxford don and an ardent philologist, is enjoying a solitary cross country ramble on his vacation when he encounters Professor Devine, a long-time acquaintance from his student days at Oxford, and Weston, a somewhat distracted and grumpy, reclusive individual. Weston is, in fact, a physicist who has secretly built a space craft in which he and Devine plan to return to Mars (Malacandra, in the native Martian populace's language) with nefarious ideas of plunder and planetary domination. As part of their plan, they drug and kidnap Ransom to take him along as a sacrificial peace offering to the native population.
On the face of it, a beautifully written Out of the Silent Planet has a simple classic sci-fi plot and can certainly be enjoyed at this level. But virtually every reader will recognize that Lewis' work probes far more deeply than that. His strongly held Christian beliefs, never far from that surface plot, are apparent in his criticism of human prejudice and greed. It is also clear that he holds extremely strong views against notions of eugenics and the then universally held belief in the natural supremacy of western white civilization as compared, for example, to aboriginal populations elsewhere in the world. Even though his allegorical tale goes so far as to include a version of angels and an archangel, the story never becomes preachy, odious or whiny.
Astute long-time readers of science fiction are always on the alert for errors of scientific fact. So Lewis may be mildly criticized for making a fundamental error in how gravity would work aboard a space craft but this certainly detracts in no way from the quality of his story. To the contrary, I thought he earned top marks and high praise for crafting, for example, a startlingly accurate description of the appearance of the sky in the transition zone from atmosphere to space at extremely high altitudes (at a time, of course, when space travel was at best a twinkle in scientists' eyes). I also noted a single quite astonishing comment that seemed to predict Einstein's work on cosmology, travel at light speed and relativity ... "But if the movement were faster still ... in the end, the moving thing would be in all places at once." His brief exposition on linguistics and the possibility of a universal syntactical structure of languages was also fascinating without being distracting or pedantic.
For fans of soft sci-fi, Out of the Silent Planet will provide a smorgasbord of delights - alien characters and personalities, philosophy, ethics, survival in a potentially hostile environment and descriptions of alien flora and fauna that are near poetic in their beauty and majesty. I'm looking forward to reading the next novels in his masterwork trilogy, "Voyage to Venus" and "That Hideous Strength".
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