The “Lensman” Series by ‘Doc’ E E Smith

[amtap book:isbn=1568658044]

[amtap book:isbn=0739402625]

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.

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