23/08/2011 Comments Off on Book Review
Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis
OSP feels like Lewis attempted to write a follow-up to The Pilgrim’s Regress, except in a less obviously allegorical manner. Unfortunately, this has the unfortunate effect of being thematically obtuse, which further requires either multiple readings or a considerably slower reading.
While the book is intriguing in some parts, its biggest flaw is its pacing and plot convenience. A considerable portion of the book is spent providing largely superfluous details of the presumed science behind the action and story, and gives the book a “look at me write science fiction” vibe. I suppose there are people who enjoy this sort of thing, but I am not among them.
In fact, I’m not much of a science fiction fan in general. I suppose this is due to having been introduced to science fiction through writers like Arthur C. Clarke, who I detest for his simplistic humanistic and rationalist philosophy. Most of the admittedly few Sci-Fi books I’ve read have been in this vein, and the underlying themes seem to have been written by eugenicists and Nazis who have a strong desire to make man in their image.
That aside, while Lewis adroitly manages to avoid these humanist pitfalls (how could he not?), the book still seems to be lacking from a literary standpoint. Having read the book through twice, the only question I had was: What was the point of this? OSP didn’t strike me as profound or insightful, nor did it strike as particularly entertaining. It is, of course, entirely possible that I missed the point of the book; in fact it’s more than likely that this is the case. Still, if a book is not going to be entertaining, it should at least be straightforward.
As noted before, part of the reason for the lack of entertainment value is that it is poorly paced. Lewis spends far too much time explaining how Ransom makes sense of the planet. I don’t care about the pink vegetation, and I don’t care why the trees are taller here than on the silent planet. I don’t even care that Ransom is a linguist, which is why he can pick up on the heretofore unheard language so quickly. Worse, after spending all this time discussing the boring details, Lewis then glances over the more interesting aspects of Ransom’s time on the planet, such as the time he spends with the hross, or the time he spends in the presence of Oyarsa.
Beyond that, Lewis has a knack for drawing a reader to every deus ex machina that enters the plot. I would not have considered it strange that Ransom learns the language of the hrossa so quickly had Lewis not drawn my attention to it. Obviously, every plot is going to have developments that are very convenient. A good author does not draw attention to these. In fact, he hides them in the background as unobtrusively as possible.
Overall, OSP has its intriguing moments, in spite of its shoddy narrating. The thematic obtuseness will probably be a problem for some, since the book isn’t entertaining enough to stand on its own. Thus, to use a phrase, people who like this sort of thing will find that they like this sort of thing.