My life in outer space

The Best of EE ‘Doc’ Smith – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1975)

‘Few authors have made such an impact as EE ‘Doc’ Smith did at his first appearance in 1928, or have continued so long to delight a host of fans. Indeed, his novel ‘The Skylark of Space’ opened the door for the most extravagant excursions of super-science into the remotest regions and led the way for ‘space opera’. Even now the sweeping epics of ‘Skylark’ arte still relished for their sheer exuberance, their cosmic imagery and the rip-roaring adventure.’

Blurb from the 1975 Orbit paperback edition

To the Far Reaches of Space (from The Skylark of Space, 1928)
Robot Nemesis (Thrilling Wonder Stories 1939)
Pirates of Space (from Triplanetary)
The Vortex Blaster (from Vortex Blasters)
Tedric (Other Worlds Science Fiction Stories – Mar 1953)
Lord Tedric (Universe Science Fiction – Mar 1954)
Subspace Survivors (Astounding July 1960)
The Imperial Stars (from the Imperial Stars)

It was always likely to be a problem producing ‘Doc’s obligatory ‘Best Of..’ volume since although he published prodigiously in the usual American publications his writing was generally serialised and later ended up as various series of novels.
Thus the only piece of singular fiction here is ‘Robot Nemesis’.
Having said that, this volume is a fascinating overview of Smith’s work which is often disparaged by those who think that SF should be somewhat more intellectual, noble and ever-so-slightly sacred. Music fans hold generally the same prejudices, sneering at the work of Chuck Berry or Kraftwerk without knowing or caring that that had it not been for these people the music they currently enjoy might not exist, or would be at the very least, far less complex and diverse.
Ok, I have to confess I have a soft spot for Smith who gave me a whole universe to escape into during some very troubled teenage years, and I owe him for that, but in any case his legacy and influence was immense.
From 1928 when the Skylark first took flight he managed to open up the universe in a way that few writers of the time could manage (many don’t manage it today) and here is a selection of excerpts from most of his major works.
There is a wonderful introduction which gives an overview of Smith’s life. He was a man who suffered financial adversity at various times and who wasn’t afraid of physical work: a man who spent several years working on developing commercial doughnut mixes while all the time dreaming of his next scientifiction adventure story.
In a postscript Smith gives us his own account of how he goes about writing ‘space epics’ and very interesting it is too. It’s fascinating to discover for instance that when writing the Lensman series he used a group of SF fans as essentially a focus group, as well as some actual scientists and fellow SF writers.
Finally there is a very comprehensive bibliography which explains the rather complex publishing history and chronology of the Lensman saga in magazine terms which seemed to start in the middle, then go back to the beginning and was subsequently re-edited for book publication.
For today’s readers, the stilted dialogue and the wholesale transference of Nineteen Fifties American moral standards to Outer Space might seem either jarring or amusing, but the sense of wonder still holds, and I am surely not the only one who finds something very cosy and comforting about flitting out into the galaxy with Kim Kinnison into almost certain deadly peril.


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