Tuesday, 21 August 2001

C.S. Lewis: Out of the Silent Planet (1938)

Edition: Pan, 1952 (Buy from Amazon)
Review number: 915

Out of the science fiction he admired - clearly discernible influences on this novel include H.G. Wells and David Lindsay - and ideas from Christian theology, Lewis created a truly original classic of science fiction in his adult trilogy.

The central character is Cambridge don Ransome, who is kidnapped while on a walking holiday during the long vacation, and forced to travel in a spaceship to an unknown destination, by brilliant but utterly heartless scientist Weston and sinister businessman Devine. Before they land on Malacandra (Mars), Ransom discovers that on their previous, first, visit to the planet, the two of them were ordered to bring back another human for, they assume, sacrifice.

At the first opportunity, then, Ransome runs away, and ends up befriending a group of Malacandrian natives, using his skills as a philologist to help learn their language. The theological theme comes in when Ransome is taken to speak to the Oyarsa, not so much ruler of the world as its guardian angel.

The strengths of Out of the Silent Planet are the depiction of the aliens and the way that Ransome's perception of them changes, and the contrast between Ransome, Devine and Weston. Weston is a perhaps now rather old fashioned portrayal of the amoral dedicated scientist, convinced that crimes committed in the name of progress are no crimes at all. At one point, he says of a young man who would nowadays be described as having learning difficulties that a sensible government would earmark him as a subject for research, the same chilling point of view which led to some of the most unpleasant actions of the doctors of the Third Reich.

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