Mars but not as we know it

Out of the Silent Planet (Space Trilogy, #1)Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For a novel written about Mars in the modern age this book shows little awareness of the scientific data that had been gathered about the red planet by the time it was written. (When Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars was written, which looks like a major inspiration for this story, far less was known about Mars.) This puts Out of the Silent Planet in the realm of fantasy rather than science fiction. But that’s okay.

The story involves a character named Ransom, whose name is an obvious reference to his purpose, kidnapped by some evil space explorers from the English Home Counties to be a sacrifice get them “in” with the Martians. Understandably none too keen about this plan, Ransom escapes from them after landing on the red planet, and meets with the Martians, learning their language and immersing himself in their culture. This phase is really the meat of the book. It is also the reason that I felt the book was slow-moving, and could have cut to the chase much more briskly. Nevertheless, it was always interesting. Lewis did a great job of world building here. His Martian races, while having some wacky names, are certainly alien with reasonably alien motivations. Lewis does an excellent job of using their alien culture to comment on and sometimes make fun of ours. Their culture is mostly free of greed and vice, so when Ransom has to explain to them why his kidnappers want to kill their people and take over their planet, he has to use some pretty clever verbal dynamics to get those concepts across.

But these evil characters do want to take over the planet, and are willing to kill all the Martians to do so if they must. This story is very interesting, and would have been a very punchy and enjoyable read if the middle section hadn’t been so ponderous. If you understand, though, that this is philosophical science fiction, then you’ll be ready for this slowness and hopefully be able to enjoy it for what it is. But I recommend its sequels as more fast-moving and constantly developing stories.

Out of the Silent planet is an enjoyable book with vivid descriptions of things that don’t exist anywhere, demonstrating the able imagination of the man who is much more famous for the Chronicles of Narnia. I do recommend it, though with reservations only for its pace.

One reason I wanted to read this book was because I am a Christian, and I wanted to enjoy the theological subtexts of this series. (Of course, I also enjoy science-fiction, or else I wouldn’t have bothered with this.) However, apart from references to creatures that seem to parallel biblical angels and demons, I didn’t really see any Christian subtexts. They are much more clear in the other two books in this series. I simply found this to be an enjoyable science fantasy novel with more philosophical themes than I would normally look for in my reading of fiction. It certainly kept me interested enough to read the next two books in the series.

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