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Literature / The Space Trilogy

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"The idea of other planets exercised upon me then a peculiar, heady attraction, which was quite different from any other of my literary interests. Most emphatically it was not the romantic spell of Das Ferne. "Joy" (in my technical sense) never darted from Mars or the Moon. ... I may add that my own planetary romances have been not so much the gratification of that fierce curiosity as its exorcism. The exorcism worked by reconciling it with, or subjecting it to, the other, the more elusive, and the genuinely imaginative, impulse."
C. S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy

Everybody and their dog knows about Narnia, and has probably read it. They also probably know about the likes of Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters. But if you ask them whether they realized that C. S. Lewis wrote science fiction, they'll look at you like you're from another planet. The Space Trilogy is the unofficial name of his series of Planetary Romance and Fantasy novels, mixing space travel with Medieval cosmology and Christian theology.

The trilogy chronicles the adventures of Dr. Elwin Ransom, an Oxbridge philologist who finds himself caught up in a space-travel experiment that turns out to be part of a cosmic battle between good and evil spiritual forces. Each volume is a stand-alone story, although they have a shared continuity and an elaborate universe.

  • Out of the Silent Planet: Ransom is kidnapped by a pair of evil scientists whose spaceship transports them to the world of Malacandra (Mars). There Ransom encounters the sapient creatures native to the planet, as well as Energy Beings called Eldila and an angelic spiritual ruler called Oyarsa.

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  • Perelandra: Ransom is transported by the Eldila on a Mission from God to the Edenic planet Perelandra (Venus), where he finds it's his job to try to prevent that world's Adam and Eve Plot from resulting in the same Fall that it did on our world.

  • That Hideous Strength: Back on Earth, in a Genre Shift, a young woman named Jane Studdock seeks Ransom's advice about a series of troubling premonitions that seem to involve her husband Mark. She discovers that her visions are connected to an organization of transhumanist scientists called the N.I.C.E., which is planning to work with diabolical spiritual powers to bring about the end of the world.

There is also an unfinished novel titled The Dark Tower (not to be confused with the Stephen King series of the same name) originally intended as a sequel to Out Of The Silent Planet, and abandoned in favor of Perelandra. The plot, in which Ransom was only a secondary character, involved an Alternate Universe rather than space travel. Walter Hooper, the executor of Lewis' literary estate, published the fragment posthumously. The scholar Kathryn Lindskoog challenged the authenticity of The Dark Tower, and accused Hooper of forging it—though this seems to be the minority view among scholars of Lewis.


The Space Trilogy as a whole provides examples of: note 

  • Alien Geometries:
    • In Perelandra, the mere presence of an eldil may cause one to see the world as slanted on an axis as part of their multi-dimensional perception leaks into the human mind. It is this trait that likely leads to Ransom seeing one of their kind as an endless wave of sinister heptagons flying through darkness.
    • Ironically, on Earth. The N.I.C.E. attempts to break Mark Studdock's mind by placing him in a room whose every proportion is off just enough to be noticeable but not enough to be obvious.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: The celestial hosts stay outside Earth's atmosphere, because it's the claimed and conquered property of a darker kind of angel.
    • At least until that darker angel sends two of his minions (and one hostage) outside the Moon's orbit, freeing the celestial hosts to react to this incursion.
  • Always Chaotic Evil:
    • Out of the Silent Planet: Ransom assumes the sorns are exclusively malicious tricksters after being chased through a forest. It turns out that none of the sorn are evil and the ones who chased Ransom only wanted to introduce him to the Oyarsa.
    • Perelandra: At some point, any creature can become so disfigured by pleasure-seeking and egotism that they might as well be a walking corpse. The Un-man is the greatest illustration of this, as an alien inhabiting the body of a Satanist. Ransom recognizes in the Un-man's smile such a sincere, untainted evil that he believes the Un-man must ignore goodness, and all being like him, "to the point of annihilation."
  • Angelic Abomination: The eldila are rather unsettling and bizarre angels (or at least comrades of the angels), even the good ones. Their very presence causes men to feel the speed and angle of the Earth hurdling through space, and if they choose to manifest more clearly to people, they may take forms of great horror or absurdity through ignorance of what men find aesthetically pleasing.
  • Apocalypse How: Thanks to the injuries dealt by the Bent One, Malacandra suffered a Class 1 (killing most multicellular life outside the handramits) that is slowly inching towards a Class 6 (complete extinction of all life on the planet), and Sulva caught a Class 0 (with the "light side" of the moon being wiped almost clean of all life, populated by hideously corrupt transhumans who are waging a genocidal war against the inhabitants of the "dark side" and winning) that will eventually end in the destruction of all organic life on the planet. Then, in the last days, reinforcements from Perelandra will blow Sulva apart in a Class X, marking the beginning of the end of the long siege of the Earth.
  • Author Avatar: C.S. Lewis appears as the close friend and ghost-writer of the trilogy's hero, Ransom. In the second book, he fights a lunar demon and helps Ransom get abducted to Venus.
  • Author Tract: The novels are as much philosophical exercises as they are stories. Again, par for the course when reading Lewis.
    • Out Of The Silent Planet is a fictionalized version of Lewis' essay "Religion and Rocketry", describing how extraterrestrial life could be reconciled with Christian theology. It is also a deconstruction of the colonial ideals often found in sci-fi of the time through the "judgement scene," where Weston has to attempt to justify his worldview to an angel that doesn't speak his language. He needs to resort to the interpretive services of Ransom, who can only convey his speech very simplistically, and who is not necessarily sympathetic to many of his opinions. The obvious point is that, stripped of rhetorical flourish, many of Weston's seemingly high-minded ideals start to sound almost barbaric.
    • Perelandra transplants the Garden of Eden to Venus, and raises the question of why the Forbidden Fruit was forbidden in the first place.
    • That Hideous Strength is a fictionalized version of Lewis' The Abolition Of Man, arguing against Philosophical Naturalism masquerading as Scientific Progress.
  • Barefoot Sage: Merlin.
  • Bizarre Alien Sexes: In a bizarre case overlapping with No Biological Sex, there are apparently seven genders in this fantasy universe, two of which correspond both to the human sexes and to the genders of the Oyarsu controlling Mercury, Venus, and Mars. The rulers of those three planets have genders, but also have No Biological Sex. When the Oyarsu of Jupiter and Saturn show up, their genders are neither masculine or feminine, which contributes to their already-formidible case of You Cannot Grasp the True Form.
  • Call a Rabbit a "Smeerp": Maleldil, i.e. Space Jesus.
  • Conlang: The Space Trilogy has Old Solar, the interplanetary language spoken throughout the Solar System, which was completely constructed from scratch for the first book. There are two reason why it no longer exists on Earth (Thulcandra): firstly, because Thulcandra is "bent", i.e., corrupt and cut off from Maleldil, and secondly, because of the Tower of Babel.
  • Crapsack World: Sulva, aka the Moon. The part of it that faces towards us, and thus is part of our Fallen world, is a transhumanist dystopia. The other half is apparently pretty wonderful, but if the villains are to be believed it shrinks every year as it loses ground against a genocidal enemy. Apparently, a major sign of the end will be its shattering.
  • Crossover Cosmology: The Classical gods show up as subordinates to the Abrahamic one, and all live on their own planets in our solar system. The third book gets into the dynamics of it: Merlin knows full well about God/Maleldil's existence, but when he was alive worshiping pagan gods (and practicing magic) was apparently more acceptable, and he is still permitted to do both of these things in modern times without being an Evil Sorcerer.
  • Cunning Linguist: Ransom is an academic philologist by profession, and as such he's able to pick up the local planetary language very quickly and even extrapolate its linguistic history backward to learn Old Solar. This is also how he makes First Contact with the Hross, as he hears one vocalizing and realizes it is in fact a sentient being because it has a language (Ransom was modeled after Lewis's philologist friend and colleague, none other than J. R. R. Tolkien).
  • Darker and Edgier: Perelandra has a considerably darker plot than Out of the Silent Planet, with more at stake. That Hideous Strength is even darker.
  • Deconstruction: Lewis deconstructs various popular human fears as found in science fiction. For instance, the notion that aliens — particularly aliens stronger and smarter than us — must necessarily have natures antithetical to and hostile towards human beings. In point of fact, each alien species is more similar to humankind than they are different — even the Energy Beings, who are the most different and powerful by far, love humans more than humans love each other. If there are legions of fallen eldil who plague humanity, it's simply because they choose not to live in peace with us.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The first two-thirds the Ransom novels are based on the premise that Lewis is the ghostwriter for the "real" Doctor Ransom, whose name has been changed but whose bizarre interplanetary adventures are true. (In real Real Life, Ransom was based on Lewis's good friend J. R. R. Tolkien.) Out of the Silent Planet even ends with a chapter explaining how the Lewis came to learn of the story from Ransom, and why they decided to publish the story in the guise of fiction: to avoid reprisals from the Real Life counterparts of the villains, and because the events were simply too outrageous to be believed if they were published as nonfiction. This is then followed by a letter from Ransom pointing out all the details of the adventure that Lewis got wrong or were simply too esoteric to convey in writing. The next novel, Perelandra continues with the Agent Hypothesis in the text, but includes a preface stating that all the human characters are fictitious and non-allegorical. The final novel, That Hideous Strength, drops all pretense, and in fact events in the book flatly contradict actual then-current political history.
  • Due to the Dead: In Perelandra, Ransom carves a memorial to Weston in Old Solar (albeit with Roman letters).
  • Earth Drift: Outside of all the aliens, the history of Earth is basically the same as any Christian would expect, angels and demons included. That Hideous Strength delves straight into fantasy and mythology by confirming that the pagan gods all existed, Merlin was a true wizard who began a millennia long-legacy of Arthurian successors, and that a transhumanist conspiracy controlled the course of post-war Britian only to be covered-up by the media.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Even meeting the good Energy Beings can be unsettling, but the evil ones certainly count. The fact is even pointed out that meeting a good Eldil is even worse than meeting a bad one. When faced with evil, one can still hope for the good to save you — what do you do when a good Eldil is still terrifying?
  • Energy Beings: The eldila are essentially Christian angels, and some of them (the ones associated with a specific planet) are also the basis for the Olympian pantheon. They are imperceptible energy beings whose forms exist on a radically different wavelength than ours — for them, gaseous matter doesn't exist, and liquids and solids are gaseous, so the planets of the Solar system are just clouds. To them, light itself is the water through which they swim, and the Sun is their wellspring. "Visiting" a planet means moving into one of those moving clouds and then keeping pace with its orbit to maintain the appearance of standing still, while using some sort of projection to interact with wispy, ephemeral creatures they cannot fully see (ie: us).
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Played straight with both Professor Weston and the Belbury people, in their assesments of which Christians are most dangerous to them - they peg those most "efficient" and similar to themselves as ones to look out for, and completely neglect the humble doctor Dimble, the only one who actually has the information they need.
  • Evil Is Petty:
    • In Out of the Silent Planet, while Weston and Devine are both evil, Weston is a deconstruction of the Well-Intentioned Extremist who justifies his evil actions as necessary for the survival of the human race. Devine is only there for the gold; and Oyarsa describes him as a "broken" man whose only motivation is greed. As Lord Feverstone in That Hideous Strength he's aware of the true nature of the NICE, but isn't interested in the supernatural aspects, his only motivation being personal power.
    • The Un-man in Perelandra is capable of making very eloquent arguments to tempt his subject towards evil; but when he's unable to do anything more profoundly evil, he spends his time torturing small animals and playing childish pranks on Ransom. His most frequent pastime is standing by Ransom as he tries to sleep and repeating his name ad infinitum until Ransom responds. Then he starts again.
    • Oyarsa actually remarks in the first book that if it were up to him he would honestly attempt to cure Weston, but would simply destroy Devine, as any humanity in him died a long time ago.
  • Evil Overlord: From Perelandra on, the Bent One is referred to as the Dark Lord of Earth. He rules not by force, but through turning the hearts of men away from their original goodness and towards self-love so extreme it becomes hatred. With the armies of invisible eldila serving him, the minds of Earth must be extremely dedicated to avoid being dominated by the armies of the Black Archon.
  • Evilutionary Biologist: Professor Weston develops interplanetary travel so humanity and their descendants (whatever they evolve into) could go out into the stars and survive throughout the cosmos. However, Weston doesn't care that this plan may involve wiping out other intelligent life (in the second book, he abandons this goal in favor of a New Age-y philosophy he dubs "Spiritual Evolution", which has nothing to do with this trope). The trope is taken further in the third book, where the N.I.C.E. plans to improve organic life by mechanizing it to an unprecedented degree, removing all those annoying biological and psychological barriers to progress — like free will. This was the mindset that was politically correct at the time.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel:
    • The sorns of Mars explain how the Oyarsa is invisible and untouchable by saying that their "bodies" are swift as light and made of something like light. To them, photons are calm waters and solid things are as thin as clouds, all of which they see with some substance so much faster than light that physical beings absolutely cannot detect it.
    • What's moving faster-than-light in That Hideous Strength isn't any type of ship, but the raw energy coming off Perelandra, the Oyarsa of Venus. In her the most powerful force of the universe is put off more than in any human imitation of it, for she is Charity itself and projects love in those around with more speed and force than the Sun ever could with its photons.
  • Fictionary: The Old Solar tongue.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: In Perelandra Malacandra and Perelandra make three attempts at this. The first attempt is sensory overload, the second is dull, but the third works.
  • God: Ransom learns the Martians worship a being called Maleldil in Out of the Silent Planet. There is no dispute that Maleldil is on Mars, although the intellectual sorns have a more abstract understanding of him than the more artistic hrossa. They all agree he is a spirit without a body or parts (which the sorns attribute to an extreme form of Faster-Than-Light Travel) that created everything in the world and assigned the Oyeresu to watch over the planets. Ransom realizes with time that Maleldil is who on Earth is called Jesus and learns in Perelandra that the people of Venus know He is one with his Father and "the Third One."
  • Heaven Above: Ransom finds the old myth about the gods dwelling in the heavens to be quite true literally and figuratively. His first trip through space teaches him that the planets are only disturbances in a great sea of light and life; his second trip is facilitated by the collective of invisible consciousnesses that dwell in the Deep Heavens and guide all planetary affairs according to the will of their king on Jupiter.
  • Hell on Earth: Earth is known as the Silent Planet because it has been cut off from the Solar System and taken over by malevolent, multi-dimensional beings. Ransom is astonished to learn this, only to figure that Jesus says something like this when referring to the Devil as "the prince of this world." The Devil is very much real, and has been responsible for cutting humanity from the original language, eternal life, and the love of Maleldil the Young.
  • Homage: Over in the DC Universe, the Martian word for "Mars" is "Ma'aleca'andra" as an homage to this trilogy.
  • Human Aliens: Since God became human at one point, every sapient race that develops/is created (Pr. Lewis actually argued that there's no need to draw a distinction between the two in other works) from that point in time onward will now, unfortunately, look exactly like humans (although if we were to take this train of thought to it's logical conclusion, it would mean not only that all individual humans should have the same facial structure as Jesus, but also that all sapient races who developed before that point should be Human Aliens as well, since Pr. Lewis was well aware that Christian Theology holds God to be Atemporal).
  • Humans Are Flawed: Humans are the only intelligent species in the Solar System to be "bent", i.e. have a sin-tainted nature. This doesn't mean that humans are universally puppy-kicking-bad, but in spite of our technological superiority we don't have anything in particular to offer to the other people of the Solar System. They're all quite happy with their lives, and do not lie to, cheat, or murder each other. Residents of Malacandra have the occasional "bent" individual, but these are few and far between because the planet's Oyarsa — the angelic ruler — is still good. On Earth, not only are the people bent, the Oyarsa (Satan) is as well, so sin is unchecked.
  • Humans Need Aliens: Humans are so bent by Greed, Pride, and misdirected love that their only hope for goodness is the interplanetary eldila and their master healing their minds from beyond. Thankfully, the Oyarsa hints that rescue mission may have already begun in secret.
  • If Jesus, Then Aliens: Explored in many ways. Both Jesus and aliens appear, but belief in the two is not necessarily linked. Aliens simply exist, and the protagonist meets them on social ground - he knows aliens exists and doesn't need to "believe" in them. That said, he does also meet actual angels, so he doesn't actually need to believe in Jesus, either.
  • Interspecies Friendship:
    • In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom befriends Hyoi the hross.
    • In That Hideous Strength, friendship between she-cat and bear (rather normal ones) is shown.
  • Kick the Dog:
    • The Un-Man, in its spare time, tortures small animals For the Evulz.
    • The N.I.C.E. vivisects any animal it gets its hands on, as preparation for the day when they finally get to vivisect humans.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ransom, whom Maleldil compares to Himself, as He is "the ransom of the world". An interesting twist: Ransom, being a linguist, knows that his name isn't actually related to the word "ransom" — but it still seems to be no accident that it is his name—and it is never stated but still obvious that Maleldil knows (and ultimately controls) every linguistic sound shift on every world ever.
    • The protagonist's last name is "Elwin" means "elf-friend" in the Anglo-Saxon. Considering how much of JRRT's writings in the Inklings affected the Space Trilogy. At one point in-universe it's noted that "Elwin" means "eldil-friend", implying that, like his surname, his given name is no coincidence either.
    • Don't forget Frost and Wither, whose names reflect the effects of the N.I.C.E.'s psychological training and exposure to dark eldila on their personalities. Frost's mind was made cold, hard, and sharp, like ice. Wither, on the other hand, just sort of "withered" away. There's also Dr. Winter and Devine's title is Lord Feverstone. Pretty much everyone at N.I.C.E. has a name that suggest the failure, absence or corruption of organic life ("Hardcastle" is possibly meant as another one).
  • Messiah Creep: In the first book, Ransom is a kind of Joe Everyman having very-personal adventures on Mars. In the second book, he is tasked with saving the entire world of Perelandra from the influence of cosmic forces of evil. By the third book, he has become the Pendragon, leader of the new Round Table, suffers for the sins of the Earth, regains man's legendary authority over the animals, and leaves for another world, vowing to one day return and save humanity.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: It's certainly no accident that Oxbridge don C. S. Lewis made his main character an academic philologist, and most of the other characters are scholars or writers of various stripes.note 
  • National Geographic Nudity: The Perelandrians, in keeping with the Adam and Eve Plot.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: Everything seems to be edible on both Malacandra and Perelandra. It may be a subtle implication that Earth having poisonous vegetation is one result of its occupation by evil eldila.
  • No Biological Sex: In these books' universe, the Oyarsa are sexless, as one would expect from incorporeal spirits that predate the concept of biology itself, but they are not genderless. The Oyarsa of Perelandra (Venus) is feminine, and the Oyarsu of Malacandra (Mars) and Viritrilbia (Mercury) are masculine.
  • No Such Thing as Space Jesus: Inverted. This is C.S. Lewis, after all. The whole series is pretty much about Space Jesus.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Ransom in the first book. This was retconned in the remaining two books to be his actual name.
  • Our Angels Are Different: Angels are a "military caste" of an alien species that neither breathes nor breeds. They act as guardians over humanity from evil members of this species, although the books never show an actual angel. Instead, the books show us other sub-sets and species of spirits serving God like the six Oyérsu and the solar eldila. These aliens are often compared to pagan gods, but Lewis describes them with angelic images from Ezekiel and St. John that are often forgotten today.
    "A tornado of sheer monstrosities seemed to be pouring over Ransom. Darting pillars filled with eyes, lightning pulsations of flame, talons and beaks and billowy masses of what suggested snow, volleyed through cubes and heptagons into an infinite black void. 'Stop it... stop it,' he yelled, and the scene cleared. He gazed round blinking on the fields of lilies, and presently gave the eldila to understand that this kind of appearance was not suited to human sensations."
  • Our Gods Are Different: The gods are in truth incorporeal Reality Warpers serving under the invisible Evil Overlord of Earth, with each of his servants being a counterpart to The Good Kings of the other planets in the Solar System. Men encountered these corrupted powers over the centuries and created their mythologies (Roman, Norse, and Egyptian in particular) around them, never knowing these are only shadows of the true gods (Oyeresu in Old Solar) who continue to serve their Creator with love. What Lewis has done here is combined the Christian tradition that gods are just white-washed devils with his view that all religions at least hint towards the Truth, however poorly.
  • Planetary Romance: Described by the author as such in the page quote.
  • Puny Earthlings: Men are the only species in the solar system who don't have regular contact with the eldila, the invisible species that keep order and justice. Ransom doesn't understand this until he wonders if the eldila are the gods, fae, or ghosts dismissed on Earth as mere mythology.
  • Scenery Porn: In Out of the Silent Planet, during the long journeys across the alien and beautiful surface of Mars, and all the time in Perelandra, especially the mountain towards the end.
  • Science Is Bad: Some critics accused Lewis of arguing this, but Word of God clarifies that the villains are actually people who use the guise of science to promote inhuman philosophies. Notably, in That Hideous Strength the "real" scientist Hingest joined the N.I.C.E. because he believed it had something to do with science, and resigned and got murdered for it as soon as he found it out it didn't. And in both books he appears in, Weston's tremendous scientific genius is always held in esteem. It is his barbaric philosophies that are attacked.
  • Shared Universe: That Hideous Strength suggests that the series is set in the same continuity as The Lord of the Rings — Numinor/Númenor is part of the mythology, and at one point the world is referred to as "Middle Earth".
  • Shout-Out: Númenor gets mentioned several times in That Hideous Strength, based apparently on some discussions that Lewis had with Tolkien (Lewis apparently never saw a manuscript, since he invariably spells it "Numinor").
  • Solar System Neighbors: A number of planets are inhabited. The Earth is cut off from them because of they are tainted by sin. The other worlds inhabitants are Human Aliens.
  • Take That!:
    • H.G. Wells. Lewis was very much a fan of Wells' earlier fiction (he used the opening pages of the first book to essentially say that anyone who refuses to read War of the Worlds or The First Men in the Moon is being a snob), but was quite critical of the much more political and less well-remembered utopian novels Wells wrote later in life (elsewhere, Lewis compared Wells to Esau, saying that while Esau had sold his birthright for a mess of pottage, Wells had hocked his talent for a pot of message). Hence, Horace Jules, the clueless pompous twit who is the figurehead Director of the NICE, looks and talks like a Wells parody.
    • J.B.S. Haldane, with whom Lewis carried on an open debate, is also targeted. Some of Weston's philosophy is almost word-for-word quotes of statements by Haldane. Haldane, in turn, wrote a rather scathing criticism of The Space Trilogy (which Lewis replied to in the posthumously published essay "A Reply to Professor Haldane").
    • Last and First Men gets hit, especially the way it portrays colonizing Mars. Notably, Professor Weston is an outspoken proponent of this idea, and it's deliberately contrasted with the Malacandrans, who choose to die with their planet despite having the technology to cross space and colonize Earth.
  • Uncanny Valley: Described in-universe.
    • Ransom is initially horrified by the appearance of the séroni, because they're very elongated humanoids. The other two species of hnau on Malacandra resemble animals, so Ransom is able to accept them much sooner.
    • He decides that thinking of the hrossa as anthropomorphic animals is a lot less unsettling than thinking of them as animalistic men.
    • Subverted with the Queen of Perelandra. After he first sees her at a distance, Ransom briefly wonders if she's merely an animal that happens to look humanoid, a thought which disturbs him greatly. He soon finds out she's fully sapient.
    • The "UnMan" looks human, but his behavior and mannerisms are just enough off to creep Ransom the hell out.
  • War God: Earth's war gods are all based on a single evil eldil (psychic inter-planetary alien) that is meant to be the Earth's counterpart to the eldil known as Malacandra, the guardian of the peoples of Mars. Mere proximity to Malacandra can cause even the most boring of men to feel a burning desire to die gloriously for the good of others and to love those around him as if they were all to be destroyed in the moment.
  • Wizards from Outer Space: Mars is run by the War God who Mars and Tyr are based on, Venus has an Underworld crawling with monsters, and the astronaut who visited both becomes the successor to King Arthur before hunting down the last practitioner of Atlantean magic. If it's unclear, Lewis' love for Classical Mythology and English folklore is not at all segregated from his love for H.G. Wells.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Eldila, being angels, are like this to humans, although apparently Hrossa and Sorns can see them just fine. Most of the time they just look like a vague shimmer of light; other attempts have produced wheels rolling on distant hills, a painful impact of colors (described as being like the "true sensation" of being hit in the eye by a rock), and (most successfully) a pair of otherworldly humanoids.

Alternative Title(s): Space Trilogy


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