The Literary Horizon: Out of the Silent Planet, The Sparrow

I feel I’ve been neglecting science fiction recently, which is saddening—it’s often the site of magnificent and new ideas in speculative fiction. All fiction focuses, more or less, on the human condition, but I love the way speculative fiction can get at essential truths through impossible situations. In light of that reason, we’re going to look at two science fiction novels dealing with strangers in strange lands.

Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis

The first book in C. S. Lewis’s acclaimed Space Trilogy, which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Ransom. Here, that estimable man is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra. The two men are in need of a human sacrifice, and Dr. Ransom would seem to fit the bill. Once on the planet, however, Ransom eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth, becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity. First published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force.

via Amazon

I initially thought I would tackle C. S. Lewis through his science fiction trilogy, but that fell through. Lewis wrote this on a dare with Tolkien; Tolkien was supposed to write a time-travel story, but never finished beyond a few fragments. (I seriously love their friendship. If y’all know of any good books about them, I would love to hear it.) I’m interested to see Lewis writing for an adult audience, I have to admit—maybe some of the patronizing tone from The Chronicles of Narnia will be blissfully absent.

Hope at Worthwhile Books liked it, enjoying how Lewis subtly wove in spirituality. (I hope this is true; you know how I feel about the spirituality towards the end of The Chronicles of Narnia.) Bogormen at bogormen enjoyed the exploration of religion on other planets and found it to be “brilliant“.

Out of the Silent Planet was published on April 1, 1938.

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow is a novel about a remarkable man, a living saint, a life-long celibate and Jesuit priest, who undergoes an experience so harrowing and profound that it makes him question the existence of God. This experience–the first contact between human beings and intelligent extraterrestrial life–begins with a small mistake and ends in a horrible catastrophe.

via Amazon

I can’t quite remember where the recommendation for The Sparrow came from, but after seeing it at a local independent bookstore recently, I want to read it more and more—this is exactly the kind of science fiction I’m feeling right now, if it turns out to deal with spirituality, the ultimate language barriers, and man’s tiny space in the universe.

Heather at Book Addiction loves this book; she considers it one of her most favorite books of all time and recommends it to everyone. Joe at Adventures in Reading also thoroughly enjoyed it, pointing out that the novel alternates between the aftermath of the failed mission and the failed mission itself.

The Sparrow was published on September 9, 1996.

9 thoughts on “The Literary Horizon: Out of the Silent Planet, The Sparrow

  1. I love both of these books! They’re great exemplars of how well science fiction can explore so many other issues. I’ll be really interested in what you think of the spirituality in the Space Trilogy. I don’t find it particularly subtle, especially in Perelandra, but it doesn’t feel as didactic as the Narnia books.
    I think Lewis’s most interesting novel is Till We Have Faces. It’s a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, told from the perspective of Psyche’s “ugly” sister. I think you’d like it.

  2. I love Lewis and Tolkein’s friendship too. The space trilogy is an interesting one, but I didn’t love it. I’ve been meaning to read The Sparrow for a long time though.

  3. I got ‘The Sparrow’ for my dad who’s a big fan of sci-fi, because it sounded really intriguing – I’ll have to ask him if he’s read it yet!

    I’ve not read Humphrey Carpenter’s biography ‘The Inklings’ which covers the Tolkien-Lewis friendship, as well as others in their group, so don’t know if it’s what you’d be looking for…

  4. How interesting — as I was reading Out of the Silent Planet, I couldn’t help but think about The Sparrow (which is one of my all-time faves). Like Theresa said above — they both show how science fiction can be used to explore myriad issues in a way that book set on regular old Earth cannot. 🙂

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