Introduction: Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis is the August selection for the local science fiction and fantasy book club that I lead. So that’s as good excuse as any to do a full review on it, right? 🙂
The Story: Out of the Silent Planet is the first novel in Lewis’ oft-overlooked Space Trilogy, which follows up with Perlandra and That Hideous Strength. In this opening work, we’re introduced to Dr. Ransom who falls into the clutches of two nefarious scientists, Weston and Devine. These men have successfully constructed a space vessel and intend to travel to the planet Malacandra to hand Ransom over to the aliens who live there. After they land, Ransom flees his Human captors but crosses paths with the same aliens he fears are out to do him harm – only quite the opposite is true. Ransom ends up assimilating into the alien culture and finds himself en route to meet Oyarsa, an omnipotent being who has been seeking Ransom all along. In the end, Ransom is given the choice to either stay on the tranquil world or return to Earth, which has become the domain of the evil Bent One, but his decision either way will have over-reaching consequences.
My Take: Out of the Silent Planet is a small book yet reads like a work twice its size. The plot is fairly basic though that’s certainly not meant as an insult. Essentially, this is similar in vein to the grand discovery tales penned by Father of Science Fiction himself, Jules Verne. The only difference is that where Verne concentrated on scientific concepts and technologies, Lewis focuses on the human (or should I also say alien?) aspect by exposing readers to an alien culture that bears some familiarity yet remains uniquely extraterrestrial.
It’s also no surprise that Out of the Silent Planet is a spiritual allegory though it certainly doesn’t preach. Ransom is transported by evil and sorely misguided men to another planet, assuming Ransom will meet his end there and they, in turn, can make a name for themselves. But things aren’t what they seem and it’s Ransom who turns out to discover what life and the universe truly mean. The philosophical musings towards the book’s latter chapters can be bit dense though they actually force you to think as opposed to just being deep for no good reason. This novel makes me curious to read the other two works in the Space Trilogy to see how the rest of Ransom’s journey plays out.
The various alien species on Malacandra are interesting and Lewis downplays the idea of an ugly-looking alien equating a hostile force. Instead, these aliens are more humane than the Human characters, Ransom aside. Their culture is rich and interesting to engage though the lack of variation in their language makes it tricky at times to keep terms straight. Again, that’s not a negative and the linguistical rules at play here never break, but some readers might find the constant use of alien terms a bit difficult to keep track of.
Character-wise, I wouldn’t call any of these figures in-depth but they’re not stock characters. Again, since this novel reads like an allegory, sometimes the qualities the character is supposed to represent and assume eclipse their development. Though I’m generally not a fan of allegory (and especially strict allegory), I take no issue with this novel though readers looking for characters they can sink their teeth into might find Ransom and Co. lacking just a bit.
Lastly, the ending holds a bit of a surprise and, all spoilers aside, shows the type of character Ransom is, proving he’s a likable protagonist. I was actually surprised by his choice but I’m glad Lewis wrote it that way. Otherwise, I don’t think the other two novels in the trilogy would have had much to work with.
Overall, Out of the Silent Planet is a quick read if you want to peruse it merely for time. But for folks wanting to delve into its deeper meanings and spiritual connections, there is a lot here to savor.
Writing Remarks: From a writing standpoint, Out of the Silent Planet is classic Lewis and, thus, poses no annoyances regarding its delivery or even vocabulary. It’s upfront about what’s going on but this isn’t your average fluffy read. Lewis may not pile on the prose but he weaves words in a way that you would be hard pressed to find in most modern fiction, including the speculative genres which, for the most part, recently trend as easy-to-digest and easy-to-read. There is nothing wrong with a fun, serious substance-lacking read once in a while, but for readers looking for something a little meatier, Out of the Silent Planet serves up a sizable portion despite its small size.
Content Breakdown: Out of the Silent Planet is a clean sci-fi tale with minimal issues:
Language – Next to none. There might have been a few minor PG-level profanities present but, if so, they were so infrequent that I missed them.
Violence – Minimal. There are some scenes of peril, such as the aftermath of an attack against members of an alien race, but nothing is described in gory detail.
Sexual Material – None. At one point, Ransom and his fellow space travelers remove their clothes in order to wear a zero gravity-correcting belt but nothing even remotely sexual occurs.
Thematic Content – Overcoming fear, compassion, understanding, and true loyalty are all themes that get discussed and depicted here with positive outcomes.
Recommended Reading Levels: In my opinion, I believe Out of the Silent Planet stacks up this way (note that just because a book isn’t recommended for a certain age group doesn’t make it “bad”):
Children – Not recommended. The novel’s general storyline would be of little interest to young children.
Independent Readers – Recommended. Older independent readers who like space stories, especially ones involving aliens, might enjoy this novel though some of the book’s more philosophical moments (especially in the ending chapters) might be a bit dry for them.
Young Adults – Recommended. Teens who like general space/alien stories or C.S. Lewis (probably thanks to the Chronicles of Narnia series) will probably like this novel.
Adults – Recommended. This is C. S. Lewis, so you can’t go wrong. There is much here, story-wise, to appeal to a wide science fiction audience base.
The Run-Down: Overall, Out of the Silent Planet is a weighty read despite its physical size. It deals with what it means to be human as well as tackles spiritual truths under the guise of science fiction. To be fair, the alien linguistics might not appeal to all tastes but Out of the Silent Planet is an impressive story that deserves to be engaged at least once, whether you love science fiction or C.S. Lewis or both.
Pleasantly pleased. Another C.S. Lewis gem…in the bag!