Nightstand Books #9
Oh yeah, a whole lot of C.S. Lewis this month on the Nightstand. That’s always a good thing.
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Even though most of the books I’ve published so far fall into the science fiction category, when I count up the amount of actual science fiction books I’ve read, the list isn’t really all that long. Truth be told, I’m much more of a fantasy guy when it comes to reading. Perhaps that’s why, if you ask me what my favorite science fiction series is, it’s not hard for me to come up with an answer. And those are the books I’d like to talk about in this month’s edition of Nightstand Books.
Side Note: I usually try to feature books that I plan on reading in the near future in this series, but I’ve hit a run of bad reading availability in my schedule for, oh, I don’t know, say about the last year, so instead I’m choosing to pinch hit with books I’ve already read, but hope to read again one of these days!
The Space Trilogy was published from between 1938-1945 and was actually written as part of a deal struck between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. They were not happy with the de-humanizing science fiction (or, as Lewis referred to it “scientifiction”) being written during their time and so Tolkien was given the task of writing a “time travel” story and Lewis one of “space travel”. Unfortunately, Tolkien never kept up his end of the bargain, but the agreement was not a total loss as we were at least gifted with the wonderful Space Trilogy.
Space for the imagination
Lewis’ trilogy differs quite a bit from standard science fiction fare written today. First off, it makes little attempt at scientific accuracy and Lewis openly admitted that this was intentional. He was interested in telling a story about travel to other worlds via space. To that end, the worlds his characters end up visiting have more in common with Narnia than they do with Mars and Venus, the two planets featured in the first two books (the last is set on Earth). I for one am glad that we have his distinct imaginings of what these places might have been like. They are far more interesting as Lewis describes them than anything the astronomers have told us. For instance, the floating islands which ripple and rise with the waves from Perelandra are something which I shall never forget.
I’ve written a few thoughts on the first book, Out of the Silent Planet elsewhere, but it essentially traces the story of philologist, Elwin Ransom, on the planet Mars to stop the wicked designs of Dr. Weston. Though there are heaps of interesting characters in the first book, including the wise and angelic Oyarsa, in the second book, Perelandra, the cast is incredibly small. We essentially have a book length conversation between Ransom and Venus’ version of Eve before the fall. The main villain in this book is a satanic, possessed Dr. Weston. Perelandra is my favorite of the three. I could not put it down. It brings to the forefront the cosmic spiritual battle which underlies the entire trilogy and which appears to be Lewis’ main interest and reason for writing this series.
Big Brother’s Little Brother?
The final book, That Hideous Strength, is a story more about intrigue and mystery than science fiction, though there are otherworldly elements in the form of the angelic and demonic forces which are at work. If you’ve ever read any Charles Williams, you will see his influence on Lewis in this story (Williams was another good friend of Lewis). It does not flow as well with the first two, but it is none-the-less a fascinating read. The story revolves around the sort of controlling, all-powerful state organization featured in a book like 1984, if that story were told about what led up to the emergence of Big Brother.
As I said at the outset, these are my favorite science fiction books. More than any other works which I can think of, these stories had a strong influence on my series, The Chronotrace Sequence. I don’t think the spiritual struggle is as much in the forefront in my books as it is in Lewis’ series, but the meshing of the futuristic and scientific with the supernatural that I attempted to achieve was certainly inspired by his writing.
If you like stories with strong morals, involved in a supernatural struggle between good and evil, this is a series I would recommend you check out. It won’t wow you with any mid 20th century predictions on what space travel would be like, but it will help you see that the universe is a lot bigger than it seems when our paint brush is our imagination and humanity recognizes that it has both a body and a soul.