I recently re-read the Space Trilogy (aka Cosmic Trilogy) by C. S. Lewis, consisting of Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.
My rather vague memories of my last reading some years back consisted mainly of the following.
- Out of the Silent Planet is notable for its coherent sci-fi account of a world in which there are multiple intelligent alien species, all ruled by the Christian God, and yet Jesus still incarnated as a human on Earth, not any of the other intelligent species on other planets.
- Perelandra is a deep exploration of the temptation of Eve (though in the book it’s a parallel situation Lewis specifically distinguishes from Eve’s temptation on Earth). What I found most notable was how much groundwork the tempter has to lay before the idea of disobedience is even a concept she can conceive enough to discuss and consider it.
- That Hideous Strength — Beyond the rather brilliant concept of ‘macrobes’ (a humanist/scientific term for newly-theorized organisms that are, in the end, just demons), I mainly remember this as containing some of the downright creepiest scenes I’ve ever read. I hate horror and some of the final scenes were honestly too much for me back when I read them. It’s extremely skillful—Lewis’s insight into the nature of evil is on masterful display as those who have given themselves over to pride, anti-truth, lust for power, etc. experience their endgame—but this is a subject where the mastery makes it even harder to take. I was determined (and curious) to revisit those half-remembered scenes on this re-read, but I was definitely reading the book like a kid watching a scary movie between his fingers.
Some highlights on this read-through:
- Out of the Silent Planet — I was impressed with how thoroughly Lewis “humanized” (person-ized?) the aliens, to the extent that the human antagonists start feeling alien—certainly monstrous—when they come back on the scene. Also sets up a solid start to what you might call the hyper-objectivity the eldila and oyeresu (analogous to or maybe synonymous with ruling angelic powers) carry with them. Every time they appear, there’s a strong sense of a deeper reality that casts an unflinching light on the humans’ perceptions and narratives, and fundamentally and inescapably reframes the situation.
- Perelandra — One thing that stood out this time was the way Lewis highlights the strange reality that individual callings matter. I was deeply struck by the scene(s) where Ransom wrestles with the absurdity of the fact that he, just a regular guy, has been chosen to battle the tempter in this new Eden. On the one hand it feels inevitable to him that he must win by some kind of divine intervention, because how could something this big actually depend on his puny efforts? On the other hand, he has to face with mounting dread the reality that maybe he is the divine intervention, and if he doesn’t step up and win the struggle, it won’t be won. It’s a stark reality to sit with, and reminded me sharply of an article I love called Shut Up and Do The Impossible.
- That Hideous Strength — The scary scenes at the end are still highly disturbing, but didn’t hit me quite as hard this time around. What surprised me, though, was how much creepier I found the whole book. The insidious (and ultimately demonic) organization NICE is so freaking unsettling. Maybe at this point in my life I’m more attuned to the subtler threats of toxic bureaucracy and organizational maneuvering. It’s amazing how incisive Lewis is in this portrayal. Every single person in NICE, each in their own distinct way, continuously offloads responsibility while fighting for status and undercutting everyone around them, including their allies. Logres, the small band of people resisting NICE, is exactly the opposite. The members are just as distinct, but they’re each willing in their own ways to question their own motives, trust one another’s, and take on sacrificial risks. It was particularly striking how NICE members are perpetually keeping things vague and subtextual, while their make things more specific. It’s a masterful study of authority handled rightly and wrongly. Authority is a subject near to my heart, but I’ll have to write about that one another time.
Yesterday I had the great good fun of appearing at Chesapeake High School in Pasadena, MD to give a talk with Bill on co-authoring to make a difference, where we read from our work, talked about our process and why we write, and answered questions from the students.
It was so lovely to meet creative, interesting, book-loving students and to share the fun (and, you know, the crippling insecurities and all) of writing. Thanks to Ms. Cvetic and the Book Club for all the time, energy, and heart you put into this event.
Last Thursday Bill and I took most of the day to work on a couple upcoming projects, including planning the overview of Hubris Towers Season 2. It was absolutely delightful – just the sort of day I hope will one day constitute my actual full-time job.
We spent the morning embroiled in a proof-of-concept of a project about which I am not yet able to say much, except that:
- The proof of concept definitely proved the concept. This project has legs. At this point I’m pretty confident that it will happen, and if/when it does, it’s going to be great.
- We had 2 nice-ish microphones and 3 computers of varying age and no combination of computer and mic worked. Tech. Fail. But the show must go on, and we found a way to do a thing anyway.
After that fiasco-slash-smashing-success, we went out and got yummy shawarma from a food cart and took a walk around a grassy park in the sun–a rather surprising amount of sun for a February day, really–and talked about our production schedule for Season 2.
Season 1 was eight episodes varying in length from about 12,500 words to over 20,000–I forget the exact numbers. We’ve decided to make Season 2 six episodes of roughly 20k each. That gives us room to develop a full story in each episode and keeps the production schedule from stretching out too long.
We talked about a couple refinements to our process, too: mainly getting me a full clean outline before I start writing (instead of overlapping Bill’s outlining and my writing, as we often did in Season 1) and alerting Bill sooner when I start to diverge from his outline (as will happen from time to time) so that he can account for the changes as he continues to plot.
In the afternoon we retired to my basement headquarters to schedule details and talk plot in broad strokes. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so without going into too much detail I’ll just say that the compact high-rise golf course mentioned late in Season 1 makes a reappearance, we have some great character arcs in store, and both of us laughed and laughed as we talked it out.
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is one of those books I keep coming back to. You always think a book like this is just going to be boring and religious and helpful in a vegetables kind of way, but this one’s about a clumsy monk who worked in the clangabang monastery kitchens with everyone shouting for this and that, and still found such a simple pleasure in being with God in the middle of it that the set prayer times were at best no better and at worst a bit of a redundant bother.
The language is old-fashioned and may be a slog for some–he lived centuries ago, after all–but this is a delightfully refreshing reminder that we can keep going back to God any time, and that, religious systems and mystical complications aside, in the end it all comes down to doing everything out of love for (and in love with) God.
There are effective and ineffective ways to go about this, of course, and it’s mentioned several times that it took Brother Lawrence ten years of steady practice before it became totally natural, but as one who has at least occasionally experienced, like him, the need to “take measures” to cover up how gleefully overwhelmed I am by the nearness and kindness of God lest I start to freak the people around me out, I can attest that it’s going to be worth it.
If I could add one book to the Bible, this would be it. For real. Check it out.
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