Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. LewisJune 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.
- 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