A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay
Some essays by CS Lewis on science fiction mentioned this book as a "classic" of the genre, so I picked up a copy at a recent binge at Eighth Day Books down in Wichita, and it happened to be the first one I felt ready to crack. It was to be a prelude to a re-reading of Lewis' Space Trilogy, so I was ready for some similarities. Here's what I found: whatever imaginative vision Lindsay was given managed to be at the expense of his ability to tell a good story, develop characters, and write dialogue. A third of the way through, I had basically formulated my final opinion of the book, and what crossed my lips was probably the very idea that got Lewis to write his Space Trilogy in the first place: "Even *I* could do better than this." That Lewis was far more justified in saying it is beside the point.
In Lindsay's favor, I did stick with it to the end--though, on the other hand, I don't know that I would have if I was not curious about how it might have exerted some inspirational influence on Lewis' own work that would follow it a few decades later. Lindsay seems to lack the kind of totality that lends credibility to a story and promotes the suspension of disbelief; the whole thing seems like a poorly concealed vehicle for philosophical speculation. Quite honestly, I've had similar reactions to another of Lewis' favorites, George MacDonald, whose books Lillith and Phantastes managed to lose me after a few chapters. I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and ascribe my lack of appreciation to an impoverished imagination, but there it is.
One of the most frustrating elements of the book is the author's complete lack of ear for names. Obviously, his intention was to create the impression of a wild and interstellar reality, but his formulaic attepmts at doing so just sound ridiculous, as if simply juxtaposing some discordant Anglo-Saxon or Welsh words is enough to startle the reader into extraterrestrial fantasy. Nightspore? Spadevil? Wombflash? You've got--GOT--to be kidding me! Combined with the fact that the main character (Maskull. Seriously.) only has a sequence of encounters with wandering individuals far from any kind of society makes the whole story feel far, far too contrived.
That being said, there are some good moments of imaginative creativity that felt something like insight, and even a couple of scenes in which the bizarre landscape can take your breath away (I'm thinking of the underground world experienced alongside Corpang). Having chewed through Lewis' Space Trilogy once again, I suppose I'm grateful to Lindsay for having written this book and influenced what came later, but I've no reluctance to throw away the rind in favor of the fruit!
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