This book first appeared in 1938 but became the first part in what is most commonly referred to as the Space Trilogy, with its sequels Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. Like virtually all of C.S. Lewis‘ writings, the book comes from a particular Christian point of view which frankly may seem odd even to other Christians, let alone non-Christians such as myself. Yet Out of the Silent Planet can be read as science fiction with social commentary throughout– as is frankly common in the genre and always has been. While some compare this work to Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, I would say that unlike that book this one is readable by those who want object to pedantic diatribes. Of course, this excludes to some extent the climactic scene in which the main character Ransom attempts to translate a speech by the villain Weston.
I would largely say that what we see in the plot of this book is the main character Ransom doing inititally things which seem in retrospect foolish but which nonetheless make sense for the character as he relies on social conventions which the villains flout. Thus he ends up kidnapped and taken to Mars where he is to be handed over to local creatures called sorns for reasons which are not known but presumed to be along the lines of human sacrifice.
Having learned of his captors’ intentions, Ransom escapes on Mars, which the locals call Malacandra, the only name by which the planet is identified to him. The locals turn out to be friendly and Ransom gets to know one particularly well. Yet eventually he is brought to the planetary leader and finds that no one ever had human sacrifice or any other kind of violence in mind except his fellow Earth-men.
In many ways, this book questions what Lewis in his preface which appears in some editions considers the underlying assumptions of most science fiction– that man can and should colonize other worlds particularly. As I have mentioned, I am not a Christian of any sort and so the theological arguments that are implied in the narrative mean little to me, but the question nonetheless is an intriguing one.