(rating for the series overall)
The Space Trilogy (series), by C.S. Lewis
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Well, I read Lewis's "Chronicles of Narnia" series when I was quite young, and I liked it. (I need to reread that someday, and write up reviews.) Those books were published in the 1950s, though of course I wasn't born til 1975, so it must have been the 1980s when I read them. Anyway, "The Space Trilogy" was published between 1938 and 1945, though I suppose I mustn't have been aware of it til after "Narnia." It's hard to say when I first heard of it; perhaps I noticed it in a list of books by the author within the Narnia books themselves, though I don't recall whether or not I paid it any mind, if I did. What I do remember is, at some point years after reading the Narnia books, seeing "The Space Trilogy" in my church's little library (a few shelves in a back room, at the time, though later the building got an additional wing that included perhaps a slightly expanded library; it's still a relatively small place, though). In any event, I always wanted to read that series, but never got around to it. And many years later, my cousin happened to give me the first book in the series for Christmas (2009), and so I finally read it in 2010 (along with its two sequels, older printings from a different publisher, which I picked up at, I believe, two different used book stores).
Whereas "Narnia" was a fantasy series, "Space" is, of course, a science fiction series (though in the preface to his third "Space" book, Lewis calls it a "fairy-tale," and makes an interesting point about that). But it's interesting to see SF from back then. I suppose the genre first came to be truly recognized as such in the 1920s, though stories which might later have been considered SF had existed for several decades, at least, before that. However, I have a tendency to think of SF as really getting serious in the 1950s and 60s. I'm not terribly familiar with anything from prior to that era, though the "Space" books do rather feel something like Jules Verne's books, which came out in the last few decades of the 1800s (and Lewis himself references H. G. Wells, whose books came out over several decades beginning in the 1890s). I dunno, though, maybe beyond a certain point in the past, everything starts seeming the same to me (it's weird to think that I might not notice much difference between things that were written from the 1850s through the 1950s, whereas each decade after the 1950s has its own distinct feel, to me). This perceived "sameness" (whether accurate or not) is not just in regards to literary genre, but the way people actually thought, the way they went about their lives, the way they turned their phrases in everyday speech, as well as... the way writers like Lewis would have, you know, written. It all has rather a quaint, old-fashioned feel to it, you know? So that's kind of how I feel when I read these books... I'm trying to grasp how the world (and England in particular) was in the 1930s and 40s, to better understand the characters. It's a bit tricky, being so firmly ensconced in a more modern mindset (and mostly American, though probably with a more open-minded global perspective than most people had in the first half- or even first eight or nine tenths- of the 20th century), and being so used to the SF of the present. (I also can't help thinking that Lewis- clearly a good deal more learned than am I- may have been read differently even by people of his own time, of differing social classes; the main characters mostly seem to be of a more educated class than was necessarily typical of the time.)
Anyway, it's not made clear precisely when the books are set, but it does seem to be around the time they were each written. Still, there's much about these books that harkens back to medieval ideas of cosmology and theology. One thing about Lewis, his work is well known to have Christian leanings... the "Narnia" series is a pretty straightforward, if fantastical, allegory for various Christian stories. But the "Space" books are... not exactly "allegorical," but more like revisionist history (and speculative science). The series takes a rather different view of religion, definitely science-fictionalized (hence the genre). Anyway, I've always enjoyed the mixing of subjects like religion, science, fantasy, and so forth. So I definitely enjoyed these books. Not just because of the subject matter, but because they're so well written, so detailed, so fascinating, and also, now and then, there's a bit of dry wit that I find greatly appealing. And... I guess that's all I can think to say, by way of introduction to the series. On to the actual book reviews....
Out of the Silent Planet