Out of the Silent Planet – Chapter Four

SUMMARY

Chapter 4 presents a conversation between Ransom and Weston, within which Weston begins to explain to him what is going on…

Ransom assails Weston with questions – why are we in space? why did you kidnap me? how is this even possible? Weston doubts Ransom’s non-scientific mind’s ability to even understand. “Unless you were one of the four or five real physicists now living you couldn’t understand: and if there were any chance of your understanding you certainly wouldn’t be told.”

However, Weston attempts to condescend to Ransom’s level and explains to Ransom they are on a mission to the planet Malacandra, which is the real name of one of the known planets that Weston won’t disclose. He calls Malacandra its “real” name because that is what the inhabitants call it. Yes, there are space people – he has visited them before. And it will take approximately 28 days to arrive.

Ransom expresses his indignation at having been kidnapped and taken on this mission. Weston shrugs off Ransom’s anger, saying “small claims must give way to great” meaning that they are doing the unimaginable – interplanetary travel – and that Ransom shouldn’t make a big deal about a relatively commonplace occurrence of kidnapping.

Weston then describes the ship – its roughly spherical. Gravity pulls them down toward the center of their ship (so the gravity they experienced is actually produced by the ship). The core of the ship is hollow and contains their supplies. All the other rooms are arranged around it. They also wore metal weighted clothes to give gravity a boost.

The sun provides a very bright and hot light which is energizing but almost unbearable in its intensity. Weston closes the conversation by saying the ship lacks the oxygen necessary to sustain the journey if it is filled with talking.

SCI-FI ASPECT

Quite a bit here to discuss. We’ll start with the gravity question. The ship has its own gravity (as does everything) and that’s what they rely on. This is somewhat disappointing, as a ship this size would certainly not produce enough gravity to hold a man still. Yet that does give us an answer.

They are traveling to Malacandra which  – spoiler alert and surely you already know – is Mars. He says that it will take 28 days to arrive. What is the distance between earth and Mars? It varies because both planets are in constant motion about the sun and do not travel in synchrony. Further discussion can be found here. Let us just say that the shortest possible distance would be 33 million miles. To arrive in 28 days they would have to average just under 50,000 miles per hour. Earth itself moves around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour. Our space shuttles traveled about 17,500 miles per hour with respect to earth. (But of course earth is moving relative to the sun and the sun is moving relative to the galaxy… speed in outer space can be confusing) They are a small fraction of the speed of light (Warp 1 on Star Trek), just in case you are wondering.

The shape of the ship is further explained though its power-source is left quite vague, “by exploiting the less observed properties of solar radiation.”

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

(What exactly is meant by ‘religious aspect.’ Well I will try to include all that deals with the nature of morality, the value and purpose of life, the nature of existence. It may very well be more philosophic than religious. It certainly is at this point.)

We have a rather interesting conversation and Weston’s take on morality in response to Ransom’s questioning: “You… are apparently carrying me off as a prisoner in this infernal thing. What have I done to you? What do you say for yourself?”

Weston answers thus:

We have learned how to jump off the speck of matter on which our species began; infinity, and therefore perhaps eternity, is being put into the hands of the human race. You cannot be so small-minded as to think that the rights or the life of an individual or of a million individuals are of the slightest importance in comparison with this.

There we have all humans serving science. It is for the scientific breakthrough that people must suffer and die if needs be. Some have termed this scientism. I would call it a form of idolatry. By saying that all eternity is in our hands – through science – he is taking on powers that belong only to God. In this, Weston’s endeavor has much in common with the Genesis 11 account of Babel. Man was trying to achieve what was rightfully God’s. Given Lewis’ religious beliefs, the ending of that account may shine a light on the overall direction of this little novel.

Ransom presses further, however, wanting to know why specifically a man, such as himself, should be kidnapped to Malacandra. To which Weston responds simply, “That I don’t know… We are only obeying orders.” Exactly who gave the orders remains unknown to Ransom and the reader.

Ransom draws out Weston’s philosophy further asking, “I suspect all that stuff about infinity and eternity means that you think you are justified in doing anything… on the off chance that some creatures or other descended from man as we know him may crawl about a few centuries longer in some part of the universe,” meaning, as I understand it, Weston thinks his advances will allow mankind to leave earth when we have depleted earth’s resources, and colonize another planet to live for several more generations.

Weston does not waver in his answer: “Yes – anything and everything… and all educated opinion – for I do not call classics and history and such trash education – is entirely on my side.”

MISCELLANY

I would like to add only that I have always taken to science-fiction as a genre. It stretches the nature of our knowledge of reality and, in doing so, lends itself very well to pondering the nature of life, of morality, existence. It can be very interesting indeed, even if a little “nerdy.”

PROPOSED CHAPTER TITLE

Babel

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