Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Wells, Lewis And Blish

As mentioned two posts ago, Haertel's "...breadboard rig..." (James Blish, Welcome To Mars, London, 1978, p. 19) works like Cavor's sphere: first, insulate the vessel against Terrestrial gravity; then, let it fall towards either the Moon or Mars. The two novels have similar titles: First Men In The Moon and Welcome To Mars.

As Haertel approaches Mars, he considers explanations of the "canals," including that they were "...made by intelligent life..." (p. 14). This Wellsian explanation is the one that Blish presents elsewhere - in his first Cities In Flight novel, his second Jack Loftus novel and the short story, "No Jokes On Mars," which, in every other respect, is consistent with Welcome To Mars.

I compared and contrasted Lewis and Blish in a much earlier post (here) so will merely summarize salient points here:

HG Wells was unique;
Olaf Stapledon was Wellsian and more;
CS Lewis was anti-Wellsian and anti-Stapledonian;
James Blish was Wellsian and post-Lewis;
Philip Pullman is anti-Lewis;
Lewis, Blish and Pullman in different ways refer to John Milton's Paradise Lost, an epic Classical in form but Biblical in content.

Lewis' character, Ransom, en route to Mars, directly experiences an invigorating influence from solar radiation, and the physicist Weston confirms the scientific basis of such an experience, whereas Haertel, on the same journey, is all too conscious of the deadly cosmic radiation surrounding his vessel;

later, Ransom travels to Venus in an angelically propelled coffin, Garrard experiences sensory deprivation and "psuedo-death" in a Haertel overdrive spaceship en route to Alpha Centauri and electromagnetic "Angels" enter and propel the Nernst generators of Haertel spaceships;

both Lewis' and Blish's characters encounter supernatural fallen angels, demons.

Blish's After Such Knowledge Trilogy overlaps by one and a half volumes with (what I call) his curious "post-Lewis trilogy." In the successive volumes of Lewis' Interplanetary or Ransom Trilogy:

Ransom visits Mars;
Ransom visits a sinless planet;
demons manifest on Earth -

- and in the "post-Lewis trilogy" formed by Welcome To Mars, A Case Of Conscience and Black Easter:

Haertel visits Mars;
Haertel's successors visit a sinless planet;
demons manifest on Earth.

Of course, the dissimilarities outweigh the parallels. For a start, Lewis, basing his science fiction on Biblical and Classical mythology, identified his sinless planet with Venus whereas Blish, basing his sf on science, located his sinless planet, Lithia, forty light years away. Further, Blish's sinless aliens are Godless and his demons win: two scenarios that were impossible for Lewis.

The Ransom series, which becomes a tetralogy if we include the unfinished and posthumously published "The Dark Tower," systematically addresses the four basic Wellsian themes of space travel, time travel, interplanetary invasion and future society, which Blish addresses in Welcome To Mars, "The City That Was The World," VOR and, for social change, a few other novels.

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