A huge fan of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, I recently purchased the first in his “adult” sci-fi trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. It’s comparable to H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, who wrote a few decades earlier than Lewis. But I found I didn’t care for this one as much as the work I’ve read by either of those authors.
In this space travel book, Ransom, “a philologist and fellow of a Cambridge college” (so a figure rather like Lewis himself), is kidnapped and wakes to find himself aboard a spacecraft. Eventually, he finds out he is bound for is Mars, or Malacandra to the locals. Convinced he is about to be sacrificed to aliens, he flees his captors and falls in with another alien race, and intelligent animal-like species. He learns their language and discovers there are three intelligent species on Malacandra, each living in harmony with each other and beneath the deity-like Oyarsa. Slowly, he comes to realize that Earth is the only planet in the solar system that suffers from selfishness, greed, hatred, and a lust for power. I’ll let you find out if he ever makes it home or if he chooses to stay on the peaceful Malacandra.
While Malacandra was really cool, and the races unique, distinct, and interesting, I have found that I don’t absorb worlds that are vastly different than Earth (Thulcandra) very well, which takes me out of the running for many sci-fi books. Out of the Silent Planet has scads of diehard followers. It’s a pretty huge name in the sci-fi crowd. But the story did not resonate with me like Narnia. The characters weren’t as loveable, and the plot not as compelling. And Lewis’s theology, which I agree with, that is so unobtrusive and beautifully rendered in Narnia was a little more abstract and obvious in this one.
Don’t get me wrong. Lewis has plenty of deep and wonderful and beautiful moments. (“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered.” “It would be a strange but not an inconceivable world; heroism and poetry at the bottom, cold scientific intellect above it, and overtopping all, some dark superstition which scientific intellect, helpless against the revenge of the emotional depths it had ignored, had neither will nor power to remove.”) I love children’s lit over sci-fi. If you’re a diehard sci-fi fan, maybe you’ll benefit from this review from a sci-fi lover who hated Narnia. 🙂 We balance each other.
What about kids reading this adult book? As is the case with many classics, the story is perfectly fine for kids other than a few mild profanities and an occasional mild sexual reference (ie. the shape of an island is compare to a breast). But the ideology behind the plot is challenging. Kids will most likely miss it. But I’d have no problem handing this one off to a twelve-year-old fan of Jules Verne.
Out of the Silent Planet is four bucks on Kindle.