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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, Book One) » User review

Clever sci-fi AND a compelling allegory

  • Mar 25, 2010

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".

Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss

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February 10, 2011
I've never been able to get into this genre, but I do enjoy your reviews of books such as this. Nice work!
January 29, 2011
It's been ages since I read this story. I never did finish the entire trilogy. I wonder if I could find my copy of this book again. Excellent review, Paul! Truly stunning and looks at the read on multiple levels.
January 29, 2011
Thanks, Adrianna. All compliments gratefully accepted.
February 10, 2011
You're welcome. I like dolling out the compliments, but it's hard keeping up with the amount that everyone writes! I just choose what to read depending on my mood. :)
More Out of the Silent Planet (Spac... reviews
Quick Tip by . January 12, 2011
I didn't get hooked on this series till I read the last one, but now I love them all.
Quick Tip by . November 06, 2010
This book and series are very under appreciated. Even though they are contrary to our understanding of the planets, even Lewis knew this at the time that he wrote them.
Quick Tip by . August 08, 2010
good proto sci-fi, though hardly hard SF, with a touch of the Jules Verne, though not quite with the same spirit. More values-fic, or spiritual vision. Worth a read for the Biblical insight.
Quick Tip by . July 03, 2010
great for young adults. imaginative as usual for Lewis, along with deeper meanings to explore
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
Had to read this for a science fiction class, I ended up really liking it.
Quick Tip by . June 28, 2010
Absolutely loved this book! Lewis is faboosh!
Quick Tip by . June 22, 2010
The first book of my favorite fictional tale by Lewis. Gotta love those Sorns!!
About the reviewer
Paul Weiss ()
Ranked #15
   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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