Out of the Silent Planet

out of the silent planet cover cs lewis
8.5 Overall Score

True science-fiction that deals with the wonder and philosophy of interplanetary travel

Creates action but then downplays it

 
Book Info

Book Title:  Out of the Silent Planet

Publisher:  John Lane

Writer:  C.S. Lewis

Release Date:  April 1, 1938

out of the silent planet cover first edition

First Edition

Linguist Dr. Ransom finds himself kidnapped and part of a desperate experiment by Dr. Weston and Dick Devine who are journeying into space. Escaping, Ransom is lost upon the planet and encounters the intelligent inhabitants the hross and the sorns. As he studies the beings on the planet they call Malacandra, he learns their language and their philosophies, but also begins to realize that Weston and Devine could still be a threat…and his only chance home!

Written by C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet is a science-fiction novel. It is the first entry in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy which followed with Perelandra (1943) and That Hideous Strength (1945).

I loved The Chronicles of Narnia books. I read and reread the entire series over and over again as a kid, but never dipped into Lewis’s other books until later. While the Space Trilogy and books like Out of the Silent Planet are more adult than The Chronicles of Narnia, you can still see a lot of Lewis in them.

Originally the novel was written as part of a plan by both Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien to elevate fiction and science-fiction which they felt was at a low point. Lewis created the Space Trilogy and Tolkien never finished his work (the parts he worked on were called “The Lost Road” and have been collected in some of his writings). Tolkien takes the approach of blending philosophy and religion into Out of the Silent Planet (much like he did with The Chronicles of Narnia) and as a result, the book has a deeper feel than most fantasy…which pushes it into the realm of true science fiction since it is about ideas and concepts.

out of the silent planet paperback cover macmillan

Macmillan Edition

Despite some dangers, I never feel that Ransom is in much danger. He feels more like a scientific observer. He watches and learns from aliens of Malacandra (which is Mars). He gets into philosophical discussions about the goals of man in society and as an individual and other ideas of humanity. The set-up feels more like a means to discuss theories and ideas than to propel the story.

Despite this, I feel a lot of what came before in science-fiction when I read Out of the Silent Planet. Though H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds is referenced, it feels more like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars adventures or more of a reaction to it. Like Ransom, Carter goes to Mars and meets aliens, but unlike Ransom, he fights the aliens and of course woos the very humanoid looking woman there. Here, Ransom is playing against the warring stereotype of humanity and embracing the differences between the species. He isn’t out to conquer (like the men who brought him to Malacandra), but he wants to learn from Malacandra (and therefore look into himself).

While I enjoy the swashbuckling type of adventure of John Carter maybe more, I realize that Out of the Silent Planet is a better book. It feels like there needs to be a slightly better mix of action in this science-fiction because since it contains action scenes, I wish they were a bit tenser or thrilling (for example heading back to Earth with only ninety days of oxygen seemed tense, but Lewis downplayed it in the very end…it might have served him better not to make this a plot point if he wasn’t going to play it up). Despite some slight criticisms, the novel is strong and fans of sci-fi or Lewis should seek it out. Lewis’s next Space Trilogy novel Perelandra focused on Venus.

Related Links:

The Chronicles of Narnia:  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

The Chronicles of Narnia:  Prince Caspian

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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