Out of the Silent Planet

Sometime in the 1930s, C. S. Lewis and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien were complaining about the state of contemporary English fiction. “Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories”, Lewis said to Tolkien, “I am afraid we shall have to write some ourselves”. After some discussion on the subject, the two writers agreed that Tolkien would write a time travel story while Lewis would try his hand at a space travel story.

The results were typical of the very different styles and personalities of the two men. Tolkien was a perfectionist who was never satisfied with anything he wrote and his proposed story was never finished. Lewis was more energetic and managed to write the three novels that make up his “Space Trilogy” in less than a decade.
Out of the Silent Planet is the first book in the trilogy. The story begins when Elwin Ransom, a philologist who is spending his vacation walking around the English countryside, comes across two men, Weston and Devine, trying to force a retarded young man into some structure. Ransom rescues the young man, only to be taken himself on what turns out to be a space ship traveling to a planet called Malacandra, or Mars. Along the way, Ransom discovers that Weston and Devine intend to deliver him as a sort of human sacrifice to the Malacandrans and as soon as they land, he escapes.

Out of the Silent Planet
Out of the Silent Planet (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ransom quickly encounters the Malacandrans and learns that they are not the savage, primitive monsters he had been led to believe they were. There are three species of Malacandrans; the seal like Hrossa, the tall, wise Sorns, and the handy Pfifltriggi. A fourth race, the invisible Eldili live in space and are more like spirits or angels. All three races are unfallen and thus lack the inclination to evil that the inhabitants of our Earth or Thulcandra, the Silent Planet. The only word in the Malacandran language that Ransom can find to express the concept of evil is “bent”, perhaps the most apt word to describe the problems or humanity that I have ever heard.

 

There is not much action in Out of the Silent Planet, and there are slow places, but the plot is far from dull. I think the depictions of the extraterrestrials are among the best I have read in science fiction. The science is badly dated, though Lewis made the best use of contemporary theories and knowledge about Mars available at the time. In the climax, Ransom is brought before the ruling eldil of Malacandra, the Oyarsa. He discovers that the Oyarsa of Earth is bent and confined to Earth’s immediate region in space. As a result, Earth is inaccessible to the Eldil and is named Thulcandra, the Silent Planet. Ransom answers the Oyarsa’s questions about life on Thulcandra and affirms things are very bent indeed. Weston and Devine are brought forward, but they insist on treating the Malacandrans like ignorant savages, even speaking in a ridiculous pidgin. This scene is a send up of modern man’s pretensions of superiority over “primitives”, and Ransom’s translation of Weston’s speech asserting Human superiority over the Malacandrans is priceless.

 
Out of the Silent Planet seems to be a promising beginning to the Space Trilogy and can stand on its own. I am not sure if it can really be classed as properly science fiction so much as a theological fantasy, or an up to date medieval romance, but however you might classify it, it is worth the effort of reading.

 

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Stinkburgers

Last week, President Obama spoke in Ann Arbor Michigan. Among other things, he expressed support for raising the minimum wage and attack Republican policies. Here is an article from the Washington Post.

President Obama compared the Republican budget plan to a “stinkburger” or “meanwich” during a speech here Wednesday, using a series of zingers in an attempt to strike a contrast with the GOP on economic issues in an election year.

In a speech to an enthusiastic crowd of 1,400 at the University of Michigan, Obama repeatedly mocked Republican ideas about how to improve the economy, as he touted his own proposal to raise the minimum wage.

Obama, who visited the local Zingerman’s deli before the speech, said that Republican proposals to cut taxes for wealthier Americans and federal investments in education, as well as replace his federal health-care program, would harm the economy.

The GOP has proposed the same ideas so many times, Obama said, “It’s like that movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ except it’s not funny. If they tried to sell this sandwich at Zingerman’s, they’d have to call it the stinkburger or the meanwich.”

Obama’s appearance here was the latest in his bid to put pressure on Republicans to support his proposal to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Republicans have opposed the plan, citing federal estimates that it could eliminate up to 500,000 jobs, even as it raised wages for many more.

In the state that is home to the U.S. auto industry, the president cited the example of Henry Ford more than a century ago, who Obama said gave workers raises so they could “afford to buy the cars they were building.”

Setting the stage for a vote on the plan in Congress, Obama said the GOP will have to make clear whether they support paying the lowest-paid workers more money: “You’ve got a choice: You can give America the shaft, or you can give it a raise.”

Stinkburgers? Meanwiches? Has Mr. Obama been getting Malia and Sasha to write his speeches for him? I know what points he was trying to make he was trying to be humorous, but that just sounds silly. I am afraid that our political discourse has come a long way since the days of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

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