Archive for the ‘C.S. Lewis’ Category

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That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups by C.S. Lewis

September 1, 2010

The Book: That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups by C.S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1945, the edition read was published by MacMillan after 1965.

The Setting: England, more or less after WWII

The Story: A husband and wife find themselves on opposite sides of a show down between the forces of good and evil.  Featuring: Tame bears, talking heads, bureaucracy, Merlin, and an institute.  It’s complicated.  Short version: Man and wife aren’t all that in love.  Man wants to be in circles of power, wife wants… something else.  He pursues new job at the Institute.  She has… bad dreams.  He gets embroiled at the Institute (it’s evil, by the way) and she wanders over to Camelot where Ransom from the previous books is the Pendragon.  Both get deeper at their places, then it all explodes, and they are re-united happily.  Not as boring as I made it sound.  I swear.

The Science: The Institute has taken a decapitated head, stuck it in a tank with some tubes, and made it live again!  It’s like a Frankenstein’s monster, but with less tedious mucking about in the graveyard.  Fortunately, such a thing should be impossible.  Sure, you could pump blood and air into a dead head, but the brain is really all about the synapses and the neat little electrochemical signals running around in there.  And those?  Those end when you die.  And there’s no bringing ‘em back.  Not for 10 more years, anyway.  It doesn’t really work out for the Institute anyway.

Besides, this book mostly deals with straight up magic.  Not so much with the science.

The Reaction: Man, I had a hard time getting into this book.  Whether it was because of summer being glorious or the flashbacks to meetings I’ve sat in or the references to a woman being obedient to her husband, it took a while to get rolling.  By the final third of the book, I was getting into it, but it all came to a head so quickly that I didn’t really feel satisfied.  I mean, it’s a fine story and a very nice book, but I enjoyed the first two books far more.

The Cover: No credit for the cover, but it’s signed BES.  The cover is a grab bag of literal things from the book and representations of others.  Like the building.  That’s in there.  And the chess pieces are more about the action in the book.  The hole face thing with the spinny colors?  I don’t know what that’s about.  To lend an air of the supernatural/extraterrestrial, I guess.   The cover is ridiculous.

Next Up: “Chrysalis” by Ray Bradbury.

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Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

July 17, 2010

The Book: Perelandra by C. S. Lewis.  Originally published in 1943, the edition read was published in 1975 by Macmillan Publishing.

The Setting: Venus

The Story: Ransom, hero of Out of the Silent Planet, is sent to Venus to do… something.  He encounters a watery world of floating islands with only a very few instances of fixed land.  And on them, all manner of spectacular and wonderful things.  Not least among these is the green woman who he encounters and who is the first woman on Venus.  Ransom and the woman converse.  Then Weston, villain of Out of the Silent Plant, shows up.  But he’s possessed by the devil.  Or a force of evil so pure that it doesn’t really matter what its name is.  Anyway, ex-Weston attempts to corrupt the woman by talking to her.  A lot.  And Ransom, representative of the good forces, tries to counter his arguments.  This continues for some time.  Then Ransom says, the hell with it, and proceeds to kick the shit out of ex-Weston and get his own shit kicked in the process.  They fight across the planet, ending up in a cave where Ransom chokes the ex-Weston.  Ransom climbs out of the cave which turns out to be inside a volcano, more or less, and is followed by ex-Weston, who’s not quite dead yet.  Ransom disposes of him, finds his way down the mountain, praises God (for PAGES) and heads back to earth.  The end.

The Science: The point of this book is not so much science, but theology.  Theology, however, is not our concern.  So let’s talk a little bit about what science supposes Venus to be like.  In the book, Venus is a world mostly of water, with floating mats of vegetation which can be quite massive and support a wide variety of plant and animal life.  The fixed land portions of the planet seem to be mostly very tall and mountain-y.  Light is diffused by a cloud barrier.  Lewis wrote this book during a time when science knew that Venus was covered in clouds, but not what lay beneath.  Turns out, Ransom would die of asphyxiation pretty quickly on the rocky surface, since the atmosphere is mostly carbon dioxide.  It’s supposed that Venus may have once been covered in oceans, but those evaporated and the hydrogen flew out in to space.  Or that’s what Wikipedia told me, anyway.  Lewis had some decent guesses, based on the science of his day, but it wouldn’t work out well based in today’s science.

The Reaction: I really like most of this book.  Ransom is having a grand old time discovering a world which hasn’t fallen from grace, then he has to stop it fall from grace, then there’s a nerd fight.  Then there’s a perilous journey.  The part that I didn’t like was the four page praising of the force of good.  Maybe it’s because it’s tedious, or maybe I was just really tired and wanted to go to bed.  But it’s well worth reading, even if you need to gloss over a couple bits.

The Cover: Cover painting by Bernard Symancyk.  The cover depicts a rocky landscape with a hand thrusting up through the ground.  The hand has long nails, painted red, and is holding an apple.  The hand and apple are inside a gazebo, presumably facing the gazebo alone.  Above the gazebo is a pink circle with a pink circle with a female figure in it and a green circle with a male figure in it to the right and left of first pink circle, respectively.  These side circles are inside lines of white which give the impression of being ovaries.  Pretty much…  wtf?  This cover is an artistic rendering of the theme of the novel, plus a gazebo.  I mean…  wtf?  Giant hand, apple, ovaries, gazebo, rocky landscape – none of these things are a part of the book.

Next Up: “Plague” by Murray Leinster

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Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

June 18, 2010

The Book: Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis.  First published in 1938, the edition read was published by MacMillan in 1975.

The Setting: Earth, but mostly Mars (Malacandra)

The Story: A philologist is kidnapped by a physicist and an opportunist.  Kidnapped to MARS! He learns he is to be handed over to the inhabitants of Mars (sorns), presumably so he can be eaten by their leader.  Sensibly, he runs away after they land.  He encounters a hrossa, a sort of tall skinny intelligent otter, goes to live with them, and learns their language.  He is accepted by them, but is told by invisible voices that he needs to go see Oyarsa, who runs Malacandra.  He goes, encountering a sorn along the way.  He does not get eaten.  Anyway, he talks to the invisible Oyarsa, learns that earth is run by a demented version of Oyarsa (and thus “silent” cut off from the rest of the planets), sees how pitiful and broken mankind is, and goes back to earth where he is tasked to make sure the physicist never leaves again to cause interstellar trouble.

The Science:

  • Lessened gravity and the natural world:  Mars has less gravity than earth.  In other books, it makes the earth men seem like supermen.  Here, it has less an effect on the earth men, than working a change on the biology and the natural world.  Both the sorns and the hrossa are tall and thin.  The sorns especially so.  The mountain peaks are tall and needle like.  The trees are enormously tall and wave like stalks of corn.  Basically the idea is less gravity leads to taller and thinner shapes in the natural world.  Which, on the surface, seems to make perfect sense.  Nature meets less resistance as it moves up, so it moves up further.  But evolution on Mars would face a series of different challenges than life on earth, so would there be this sort of generalizable difference in the worlds?  Honestly, I don’t know.
  • Hot in space: We love some space travel.  Once again, the vehicle of choice is a sphere.  Because the main character is drugged when it takes off, we never get a really clear idea of how the space ship is supposed to operate, only that it does.   The individuals in the ship go from being desperately hot to almost unbearably cold.  Why?  Because of where they are in relation to the sun.  Space itself has no temperature, but objects in space are subject to radiation from the sun.  So when the sun hits the craft, it gets really hot.  When the craft is further from the sun, or the sun is blocked by a different body, it gets really cold.  Here’s an explanation from someone who seems to be a real scientist.  So the experience in the book seems reasonably accurate!  Which is neat.

The Reaction: This is a book.  This is literature.  This is someone who can really write and write well.  And the story is interesting and novel.  There are familiar elements: kidnapping, a journey, Mars – but they are reconfigured in such a way as to be novel from earlier incarnations.  And it’s C.S. Lewis, so you know it’s good, and probably a little theological.  But a neat story, even if you don’t go in for the theology so much.  Recommended.

The Cover: Cover painting by Bernard Symancyk.  First off, the cover painting is awesome.  I mean…  look at that spaceship… those spacey bubbles… that spacey spaceman.  There are quibbles with accuracy – the landscape doesn’t seem quite right, there were no spacesuits, I don’t think the spacecraft was painted.  But mostly, it’s pretty sweet.

Next Up: “The Day Is Done” by Lester Del Ray

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