Description: The "Lensman" series by 'Doc' E E Smith is one of the classics of the pulp era of science fiction. A battle between Impossible opposites, with whole civilizations as pawns and counters in the game. There are battles in space between fleets so large they dwarf whole solar systems, weapons so immense as to stagger the imagination, and criminal conspiracies that covered galaxies.
Yet at the center of the series was the battle between the supportive mental giants of the planet Arisia and the conquering Eddorians from another universe. The Arisians find the Eddorians too tough to take on themselves, but find their relentless philosophy of conquest unpalatible, and resolve to oppose them. To that end, the Arisians began a slow, millions of years long project to produce the mental power needed to finally eliminate the Eddorians.That tale, told in various stages, makes up the story line.
That story chronicles the rise of the Lensmen, the Galactic police force that can never be suborned primarily because of the Lens. The Lens is a mysterious device of the Arisians which is both an un-reproducible badge of office and a perfect translator. For those few Lensmen who understand its power, it is also a telepathic amplifier and facilitator.
The first book contains the origin and setting for the rest of the stories: the meeting between the Arisians and the Eddorians. The remaining stories tell of various events on Earth that comprise the history of the two family lines that will eventually be the focal point of the final battle. The second and third books detail the rise of the Galactic Patrol and the creation of the Lensmen. The fourth and fifth books are about Kimball Kinnison, a Lensman, and his actions that are in the core of the battle against the agents of the Eddorians. The last book mainly concerns the Kinnison children, the ultimate end of the millenia-long breeding program that is to finish the Eddorians forever.
Commentary: What makes it relevant here is that these stories are some of the first that really deal with the wide and various uses of such telepathic powers: not just mental communication and mind reading, but mind control (a re-occurring theme, used by both sides), telepathic illusions, memory modification and implatation, just about any conceivable use of it is displayed here. The Lensmen are the first and last defenders of the Galaxy and they have few scruples (but sometimes many regrets and hesitations) at using the awesome powers at their command. And not only the Lensmen: their opponents also have telepaths of equal ability and much fewer regrets and never any hesitation at using them.
I should also point out that although the Lens gives the Lensmen their authority, they are not portrayed as impossible heroes: Kinnison is braver and tougher than most (because of his heritage and training) but sometimes he comes up against stronger, more capable opponents, and he pays the price. He also puts himself at personal risk in his investigations: in one case, he takes on the persona of a space miner, complete with an authentic but rather benign drug addiction, and in another, he is captured and tortured to the point he suffers multiple amputations: fortunately Galactic medicine has created an experimental regeneration procedure.
The Lensman series is reflective of the times and its author, however, and can be seen as quite sexist. For one thing, there are few female characters, primarily Virgilia Samms and Clarissa McDougal, and Clarissa's four daughters, and no women will ever be awarded the Lens, with a few late exceptions. Virgilia is recommended for the Lens, given her impressive and exceptional psychological insight, plus being the daughter of the first Lensman, but she is refused by the Arisians. Clarissa was only made a Lensman because Kimbal needed her and someone like her for a special circumstance, plus she was destined as his mate by the Arisians and possessed a mind equal to his. The four daughters didn't need Lenses, being born as the replacements for the Arisians.
Recommendation: Very highly recommended. The stories are not the best of that era but they are still good reads and are solid stories, nonetheless. Of special interest is the wide variety of telepathic abilities described therein: very few (and I can't even think of them off-hand) are left out.
Note: Even though the term "space opera" would not be created (by Wilson Tucker) until many years later, 'Doc' Smith's series here is the epitome of the term. The interstellar scope and sweep of the novels, the boundless adjectives and the overuse of exclamation points, all are indicators of it.
Note: David Kyle, a friend of 'Doc' Smith, wrote a sequel series set after the last novels but it lacks the scope of the originals.
Note: There is an anime series loosely based on the 'Lensman' series, produced in 1984. It was not supported by the literary executor (at the time, 'Doc' Smith's daughter) but the television rights has apparently been sideways included as part of the publishing contracts. It shares a number of elements with the original books but also diverges considerably from many of the main elements of the series.