What do you think that Science Fiction should do? Should it give you a flavour of strange worlds, warn you of possible futures or be a fantastic setting for exciting and risky adventures? Is it about the future on earth, about space travel to distant planets or about completely ‘other’ civilisations and ways of existence? Dune, Star Trek or Hunger Games?
I used to read a lot of Science Fiction, when I was a teenager. There aren’t many that I can remember now, but the ‘Cosmic Trilogy’ by C. S. Lewis has stayed in my memory: the images, the plots, the characters but most of all the overwhelming, coherent and glorious beauty of the worlds that he imagined.
The books are Christian in theme. They are about temptation, the rise of evil, the misuse of power, and in places they rise to awe-filled, numinous spirituality. However, I’m not going to give a full review of the three books. Instead I will talk about the images that have stayed with me for many many years, ever since I first read them. So, there are some plot spoilers!
Perelandra: this is the second in the trilogy but the first one I read. Venus: the colours, the scents, the turbulent floating islands on wild and dangerous seas, the bubble trees, the innocence. And then the creepy ‘Un-man’ with his long metallic nails, his cruelty, and the ominous battle of minds between him and the piebald man. The moment when the hero sees a terrifying, nauseating insect-like creature as it really is – simply another animal, different to him but not a horror.
Out of the Silent Planet: the first in the trilogy. Traditional sci-fi: men visit Mars and find strange creatures, other civilisations, canyons and mountains, clouds made of stone like gigantic pink cauliflowers. The tall feathery sorns, the gentle hrossi, the frog-like but creative pfifltriggi and the battle between the good man and the evil invaders with guns who are there to exploit and kill.
That Hideous Strength: the final one. Set on earth, and staring a decapitated but alive criminal’s head, Mr Bultitude the bear, Merlin, a wife called Jane (irritatingly, she is intelligent but is idle – a 1950s housewife, but you have to remember when it was written) and a foolish young man who is seduced into joining an ‘inner circle’ at a college and drawn into a very dark and demonic plot. This book is my favourite. The funny but at the same time disturbing scene at the meal when the gift of speech is withdrawn and sentences are corrupted into babel. The young man who realises, when lured by the crooked and perverse, that there is such a thing as straightness, as normality, as truth. The robing of the women at the end: the hint that there is, perhaps, somewhere, for us, the court dress that is made for each one of us, which is ours alone, made to show our glory.
Read ‘Perelandra’ if you love beauty. Read ‘Out of the Silent Planet’ if you love adventure. Read ‘That Hideous Strength’ if you love the battle between good and evil.