Category Archives: science fiction

Session #33: November 24th, 2010

Autumn Stones
Autumn stones


Thank you very much to all of you who attended yesterday’s session. It was a very interesting discussion! We decided to have one more session on “Perelandra”, then we will read a new book, Wind, Sand and Stars (click the link to buy or to see the details of the book on Amazon Japan) by the French pilot and poet, Antoine de St Exupery. The Japanese translation is 人間の土地 (新潮文庫). (Click the link to buy or to see the details of the book on Amazon Japan.)

The December session will be on Dec. 8th at the usual time and place.

Here is a list of questions on “Perelandra” to focus on for the December session:

  1. What wound remains with Ransom even when the rest of his body has healed? How does Ransom finally kill the Un-man/Weston?
    1. Read Genesis 3:14 and 15. This passage is usually taken to mean the first promise of a saviour who will defeat sin and Satan and redeem humanity.
    2. List the similarities between the Genesis passage and C.S. Lewis’ story.
  2. The long and somewhat confusing dialogue at the end of the novel about the Great Dance might be summed up like this: “All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.”
    1. Read Job 38, Isaiah 40:12-31, 55:8-11. What do these passages say about God’s plan? Do you think Lewis was thinking of these passages when he wrote about the Great Dance?
  3. Read Genesis 2:4 – 3:7.
    1. List the similarities between the tempting of Eve and the tempting of the Green Lady.
    2. What differences are there?
  4. Science fiction is sometimes divided into two types: utopian and dystopian.
    1. Can you give examples of utopian and dystopian science fiction?
    2. Which category does “Perelandra” fit?
  5. Ransom (and presumably C.S. Lewis) believes it is sometimes necessary and justifiable to face evil physically with violence. Do you agree?  Give reasons for your answer.

Why not  make use of your knowledge of Perelandra, and write a review of the book on Amazon Japan?

Here are some reviews of Perelandra (Space Trilogy) by other readers. These reviews are mostly written by ordinary people, not by professional writers.

At the moment, there are only two reviews of the English version of Perelandra (Space Trilogy).  There are just 3 reviews of the Japanese translation ヴィーナスへの旅―ペレランドラ 金星編 (別世界物語).
Why not write your own review? I strongly recommend it! You don’t have to write a positive review. In fact, sometimes the negative reviews, if they are well written,  are more interesting and useful than the positive ones. When you write a review, try to keep in mind that you are writing for a reader. What information does a reader want? Why do people read the reviews on Amazon? Because they are thinking of buying the book, and they want to know what the book is about, and if they will enjoy reading it.  Here are my examples of badly written reviews. First a positive one, then a negative one. Try not to write a review  like these!

  1. This is a great book! You will enjoy it! It has many marvellous descriptions. The writer is a famous author. Once I started reading, I could not stop. Some parts were difficult, but it is worth reading.
  2. This is a terrible book! Don’t buy this book! It is a waste of time. The author is a very bad writer. I stopped reading this book after 50 pages. It is boring. The story is completely unbelievable! We know that Venus is nothing like how it is described in the book. Venus is full of poisonous gasses, therefore this story could never happen. Also, how Ransom gets to Venus is also completely nonsensical. Don’t waste your money on this book.

Session #32: October 20th, 2010

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...
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New Update:

Another theme we discussed in this session was that “reality” is not real! To be more specific, our everyday reality masks or hides a different reality which is hiding behind it.

The part of Perelandra which expresses this idea is in Chapter 2 where the character Lewis talks about the price we pay for our comfortable reality.

At the sesion, I mentioned a quotation from Lewis (the author) where he expressed a similar idea. It is from Lewis’ foreword to a fairy tale byGeorge MacDonald:

The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real university, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.

In this session we discussed the first few chapters of  C.S. Lewis‘ novel “Perelandra“, the second book in his science-fiction trilogy. Please write any comments about Perelandra after this blog entry. Comments are welcome in Japanese or in English.

At first, we discussed the details of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man, as described in the Book of Genesis and in  Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics). We recalled most of the details, but we were not sure exactly why Satan and the other angels rebelled against God: some of us thought it was a power struggle, others thought it was because Satan and the rebel angels wanted more freedom.

Then we began to discuss the book itself, starting with the Study Guide questions. However, the Study Guide questions were quite difficult, and we ended up discussing other topics. We did not get very far in the book or in the Study Guide!

One topic we discussed was about “being drawn in”: Lewis, at the beginning of the story, is afraid of being drawn in to something he will not like. He is afraid that already he is too much involved to retreat. One member asked how we can prevent ourselves from being drawn in to dangerous or unpleasant groups or activities. I suggested an essay by Lewis entitled “The Inner Ring”. I’m sure there exists a Japanese translation. Can you help me find it? Here is how one man, a Christian and a historian, describes this essay by Lewis:

Here is what C.S. Lewis wrote many decades ago. Take it to heart… This lecture, “The Inner Ring,” was the Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. By the time he gave it, he was famous. The inner rings wanted to get him in, so as to increase their prestige. He demurred.

He had the group he needed. His circle of friends — the Inklings — included authors J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. The “grunt” member, his brother Warnie, as an amateur historian eventually dwarfed them all in academia with his book on Louis XIV.

It was the high quality of the men in the group that served as a screening factor for their writings. They read their stories to each other. Their stories got better.

This opens up a very interesting possible path for future discussion:

  1. the meaning of temptation
  2. how to resist temptation

In fact, the Christian historian who wrote the paragraph about Lewis above,  has written a “curriculum” for young people to teach them how to resist temptation. He calls it “Providing your children with the will to resist”. It is a 10-week course. Week 3 is to read and discuss Lewis’s science fiction story That Hideous Strength.

Another way to say “being drawn in” might be “being tempted”. In his speech “The Inner Ring”, Lewis describes how this temptation will come. It is similar to the temptation of Eve in Paradise Lost, and of The Lady in Perelandra. A very subtle temptation, very difficult to protect oneself against. Only strong principles and a deep understanding of your own heart (it’s strengths and weaknesses) can help you:

And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig–the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”–and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve is not a story about something that happened a long time ago, but a story that is very relevant to us today.

We also discussed the character of Lewis in the novel. Lewis wrote the novel, but he also placed himself in it! Why? Why not just keep Ransom as the main character and narrator?

A possible answer is that Ransome, especially in book 2, becomes a rather special, even super, human being. It might be difficult for readers to relate to or identify with Ransome. So Lewis created an “ordinary person”  and called him “Lewis”! This person thinks, feels and acts very like ordinary people, like people who might read this novel. This makes it easier to read and to understand what is happening. Perhaps some people would not be afraid of meeting a real ghost or a real angel, but most people would be, just like Lewis.

It was a very interesting and wide-ranging discussion, and we all felt rather tired by the end of it.

Finally, we agreed to hold our next session on the last Wednesday in November, November 24th. In that session, we will continue our discussion of Perelandra. I don’t know whether we will finish it or not, but please try and finish reading the whole book by next session.

As well as reading the book itself, in both English and Japanese, I recommend that you read the relevant parts of the Book of Genesis, and a summary of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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Session #31: September 22nd, 2010

First edition cover
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In this session, we will finish answering the questions about “Out of the Silent Planet”, and begin reading the second book in this science fiction trilogy, Perelandra.  This story deals with several important matters regarding Christianity. Reading this story is a good way to learn about Christian values.

Anyone is welcome. In fact, as we will be starting a new book today, this session would be a good time to join or re-join our informal reading group. I will bring photocopies of the first chapter of Perelandra, for those who do not have their own copy of the book. (I will also bring extra copies of the worksheets for “Out of the Silent Planet“.)

I will bring worksheets for “Perelandra”. You will read the novel at home, in your own time. The worksheets are not compulsory, but I recommend them. The questions will help you

  • focus on the key points of the text,
  • get more out of reading the story.

We will discuss the novel in the next two or three sessions by discussing our answers to the worksheets. To answer some of these questions, you will need a Bible. A Japanese Bible should be sufficient. (The language in the English Bible, although beautiful, is very difficult, and should only be attempted by advanced learners of English.)

As always, the discussions will be in English, and in our sessions I will refer to the English version of the book (I will be using this paperback edition). However, it is perfectly ok to read the book  in Japanese. In fact, I encourage you to do so.

  1. Reading the book in Japanese only is better than not reading the book at all.
  2. Reading the book (any book) in both Japanese AND English is perhaps THE most powerful language-learning method of all.
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Session #30: September 8th, 2010

Update: Thank you to all of you who attended today. I was surprised to see so many people.

We went over the answers to the questions for “Out of the Silent Planet”, but we did not finish them: we did up to p. 22, question 8.

We decided to continue next time.

We also decided to read “Perelandra” as our next book. Other suggestions made were:

Future sessions:

  •  September 22nd (#31)
  • October 27th (#32)

Our next session will be September 8th, 3-5 pm.  We will discuss “Out of the Silent Planet” and go over the answers to the questions.

What shall we read next? I propose the next book in Lewis’ trilogy: “Perelandra”.  But I am open to any other suggestions. If you have other ideas, please bring them to the next session and/or email me.

金星への旅 (1979年)
ヴィーナスへの旅―ペレランドラ 金星編 (別世界物語) [単行本]

Mid-August post

Image by dibytes via Flickr

It’s over 30 degrees every day, but it’s even hotter in Moscow! And floods in Pakistan.

I hope you are all well and managing to stay cool (but not chilled) in these hot summer days.

It has been about a month since our last session, and our next session will be in about a month’s time. How are you getting on with “Out of the Silent Planet”? Post your thoughts, reactions, comments, questions, etc., here, in either English or Japanese.

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Session #29: July 14th, 2010

Bridge in use during the rainy season.
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Today is France’s Independence Day! Thank you to all of you who braved the pouring rain to attend today’s session, the last session before the summer “vacation”.

Today, we quickly read through chapters 3-6 and discussed some of the worksheet questions.

In particular, we discussed about Ransom’s and Weston’s philosophies of life, and their differences.

We also talked about how human beings are always trying to understand their world, partly out of curiosity and partly to escape from fear and anxiety; thus, Weston’s explanations help ease Ransom’s fears.

Another topic was rights: the fundamental right is the right to life, because while humans can take life away, they cannot give life. Related to this  is “the non-aggression principle“.

We also talked on some completely different topics: TOC, kanban, Ohno Taichi, and JiT (Just in Time). Because JiT and the kanban system were designed by Japanese, it is perhaps tempting to think that these systems are peculiarly Japanese, developed by and for the particular Japanese aesthetic. However, the truth is perhaps more prosaic: these systems are highly developed rational and logical systems and are dependent on an application of scientific methods.

I came across TOC quite by accident, while searching for examples of syllogisms online. What I discovered was this and his recommended reading list. (Here is the first TOC novel, The Goal, in Japanese).

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Session #27: June 9th, 2010

Soviet stamp, part of a 1967 series depicting ...
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First of all, a very big thank you to all of you who attended today. I know some members have suffered personal bereavements, and for that reason some were unable to attend today. My thoughts go to them.

Today, we read almost all of chapter 1 of C.S. Lewis‘ science-fiction story Out of the Silent Planet. It is a more challenging story than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is aimed at adults. However, I hope for these reasons it will also prove to be a more satisfying read.

The homework is to finish reading chapter 1, and also read chapters 2 and 3 before the next session, June 23rd. I would prefer not to spend much time actually reading the text in future sessions, and instead to spend more time talking about questions that you have and discussing the themes of the story.  The questions and difficulties that you have about the text always surprise me. That is one reason I enjoy our sessions together.

Feel free to write comments here about chapter 1-3 even before next session.

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Session #28: June 23rd, 2010

This is the cover to the January 1953 issue of...
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We had a good turnout today, despite the heavy rain in the morning. A big thank-you to all of you who attended today.

First, we discussed about the definition of science fiction, and the difference between science fiction and fantasy. We also talked about Lewis’ own ideas on science fiction. You can read more about his ideas in the essay “On Science Fiction” in “Of Other Worlds“. (I also recommend the first essay, “On Stories”.)

Then we discussed chapters 1-3.

  1. What do we learn about Ransom’s character?
  2. What do we learn about Devine and Weston?
  3. What is “social Darwinism“?
  4. What does Weston think of Harry and why?
  5. Why does Ransom ignore Weston’s “barefaced lie”?
  6. Why does C.S. Lewis put Ransom out in space?

The next session will be July 14th, and that will be our last session before the summer. There will be no sessions in August. We will meet again in September.

Finally, here’s C.S.  Lewis writing about fairy tales, but I think what he says is also relevant to science fiction ( I posted this earlier, too):

“It goes beyond the expression of things we have already felt. It arouses in us sensations we have never had before, never anticipated having, as though we had broken out of our normal mode of consciousness and “possessed joys not promised to our birth.”  It gets under our skin, hits us at a level deeper than our thoughts or even our passions, troubles oldest certainties till all questions are reopened, and in general shocks us more fully awake that we are for most of our lives.”

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