My life in outer space

Smith – EE ‘Doc’

Skylark Duquesne – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1966)

Skylark DuQuesne (Skylark #4)

When last we saw DuQuesne in The Skylark of Valeron, he had been transformed into a being of pure mind by the other bodiless minds. They had all, in any case, been imprisoned in a vessel from which they could not escape and fired in a direction far away from the First Galaxy.
Seaton’s new alien friends, The Norlaminian minds, having thought things through, now realise that the vessel is likely to smash itself apart if it encounters any dense particles of matter at such an incalculable speed, and that DuQuesne is therefore likely to escape and return.
Seaton, thinking of Earth’s defence against such an outcome, enlists his alien friends to send out a specific thought, aimed at high powered minds who may have technology more advanced than currently known.
This is picked up by some of the humanoids in a far distant galaxy who are slaves of the Llurdians, a monstrous but ruthlessly logical race.
Some of the Fenachrone have also survived, and both DuQuesne and Seaton are ultimately forced to work together to battle an entire galaxy of evil Chlorans
Structurally it’s a bit of a mess. but its problems run deeper than that. The preceding volumes were all written in the Nineteen Twenties and Thirties and were, to give Smith his due, cutting edge SF at the time.
Thirty years on, SF had changed a great deal and Smith had to produce a sequel that matched the original trilogy stylistically and with a consistent internal logic.
Smith himself was obviously much older and writing erratically. In ‘The Galaxy Primes‘ he introduced sexual themes which were of course being explored by other writers of the time. In Smith’s hands, however, they come over as being a little creepy.
In the Skylark universe it seems, many aliens wander about naked. So, being neighbourly and all, Seaton decides that he, Crane, Crane’s wife and Dottie should be naked too, as well as Hiro the space-chef and and his new ninja-assassin wife Lotus Blossom. Of course, they’re all perfectly happy with this notion.
DuQuesne gets his kit off too, in an odd encounter on board the ship of a new humanoid race. DuQuesne is considered suitable material for breeding and so is paired up with a willing woman who takes him off to extract his sperm in what one presumes is the usual way.
Genocide is still Smith’s preferred solution to any difficulties one may be having with truculent aliens, and wipes the Chlorans from the face of their galaxy.
Smith is retreading old ground here, resurrecting both the Fenachrone and the Chlorans, rather than creating new enemies to confront. There are in fact a surfeit of enemies, which results in people flitting hither and thither and yon, to very little effect.
Smith had never been overly concerned about relativity or indeed physics in general. Here Seaton (and indeed DuQuesne, the Fenachrone, and the human slaves of the LLurdians) is zipping about from galaxy to galaxy without any ill-effects or serious time-dilation issues.
The denouement also, is a little strange since DuQuesne decides he is going to set up his own Empire in which a form of eugenics will become part of social custom.
The Skylark series should, in all honesty, have been left as trilogy. This late addition adds nothing to the experience and comes as something of an anti-climax.

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Skylark of Valeron – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1934)

Skylark of Valeron (Skylark, #3)

‘Valeron’ takes us more or less straight on from the end of Skylark Three, although we see the denouement from the perspective of Duquesne, who has captured a Fenachrone war-vessel and is hiding among their fleet. Thus, he witnesses the destruction of the entire Fenachrone race. While Seaton and his chums are racing off to pursue the final Fenachrone ship (which is attempting to flee to another galaxy) Duquesne returns to Earth and takes control of the planet.
We then rejoin Seaton, Martin, Dorothy and Margaret as they continue their adventures. Having destroyed the last of the Fenachrone, they then encounter the pure intellectuals, beings composed of energy and, in order to escape them, rotate themselves into the Fourth Dimension.
They are there captured by a fourth-dimensional civilisation. Unable to communicate, they are forced to escape. Seaton manages to rotate them back into our universe in the nick of time but finds that they are so far from their own galaxy, they are lost.
In a nearby galaxy however, they discover the planet Valeron, peopled by nice white humanoid types and currently under siege by the Chlorans, green amoeboid type beasties from a neighbouring planet.
Smith is pretty much repeating plotlines continuously but does so, it has to be said, in a very entertaining manner, despite his rather casual attitude to genocide, which he is happy to carry out with gay abandon in most of his work. He also quite cleverly interweaves what appears to be logical scientific theory and laws of physics with complete techno-nonsense, such as the convenient headsets that one can don to assimilate all the knowledge and expertise of a friendly scientist chum.
It’s juvenile hokum that is typical of – but generally far superior to – most of the contemporaneous work that was being published in the mid Nineteen Thirties.

The tale was first serialised in ‘Astounding’ in 1934 and published as a novel in 1949.


Subspace Encounter – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1983)

Subspace Encounter (Panther Bks.)

This is a novel left unfinished by Smith and subsequently completed by LA Eshbach with the help of Smith’s notes and an additional manuscript which Smith had sent to Frederik Pohl, and one which did not see publication until almost twenty years after Smith’s death. It’s a sequel to ‘Subspace Explorers’ set in a future where many humans have developed their ‘psionic’ powers and are termed psiontists. Humanity has spread out into the galaxy due to the discovery of ‘subspace’.
Meanwhile, in a neighbouring dimension, another race of humans has founded an interplanetary civilisation, but one in which a communistic dictatorship is in charge.
‘Psiontists’ are treated as witches and charlatans here and any with psionic powers have to keep the fact a secret. An underground organisation of psiontists are working toward a revolutionary end.
In our universe, a group of psiontists aboard a fortified ship are investigating unexplained explosions and danger to ships (something that also appears to be happening in the second universe). Andrews, the leader of the team, has deduced that there is a psionic supermind at work somewhere, and while in rapport with his wife very briefly experiences the presence of the supermind which shows him the office of the dictator of Slaar, the evil empire of the other universe.
Smith appears, as he grew older, to have become more preoccupied with sex, or perhaps the more permissive publishers of the sixties permitted him liberties he could not take in the pulp magazines of the thirties and forties. Certainly in ‘Galaxy Primes’ we see a marked shift toward eroticism, where previously he would have restricted himself to describing a woman as a ‘Seven Sector Call Out’ and left it at that.
There was a certain chasteness in the Lensman saga that is done away with here. When Rodnar and Starrlah (psiontists of the Second Universe) first meet each other they grapple with such reckless abandon that he bursts the stitches of a wound he incurred in a gladiatorial battle.
There’s also a peculiar (and somewhat paradoxical) attitude to race. All the main protagonists are fit, young white Anglo Saxon types. The women are blonde for the most part. Smith points out that the differently skin-toned humans in the Second Universe all have their own worlds, and seldom marry or interbreed. The supreme tyrant, who is white, is considered by the protagonists of both universes to be, on the whole, not a bad egg, despite the fact he has been feeding his citizens to caged giant eagles for most of his career.
It later becomes evident that the worst aspects of this tyrannical civilisation are displayed by the dark skinned hook-nosed residents of Gharsh.
It’s a curious throwback to the pulp SF of the 1930s and before, such as Ray Cummings ‘The White Invaders’ in which dark-skinned brutes from another dimension invade earth to slake their desire for white Earth women. Indeed, the Gharshian whom Rodnar defeated in the arena and from whom he obtained his wound, had set his sights on Starrlah, to her horror and dismay.
There is no defence of this. Clearly there was no need to have included the background detail of racial segregation or to have made the Gharshians basically Arabic.
Smith was never a practitioner of decent dialogue either. He attempts to impose a form of hippy ‘right on daddio’ Sixties linguistics to his protagonists which is both stilted and confusing (see also van Vogt’s ‘Children of Tomorrow’). Added to this, when the Second Universe psiontists go undercover on the planet Gharsh, they adopt a local dialect and things get a bit surreal when they start talking about ‘whankers’.
The psiontists of both universes eventually meet up and unite, finding common ground in the language of science.
As is explained in the introduction, this novel was completed by LA Eshbach from drafts of manuscripts left by Smith and may well have been a different beast had Smith lived to finish it himself. Given the final publication date, it is something that would be of interest to Smith completists and SF historians rather than those seeking quality SF in the early Nineteen Eighties, although no doubt the publishers were hoping to cash in on the resurgence of interest in Smith in the Seventies when his Lensman series experienced an unexpected revival.
One of Smith’s great talents was for making the vastness of space real. One got a sense of the immensity of the universe, the vast empty distances that lie between one star and another. There is little of that here, which pains me somewhat.
If there can be such a thing as a pulp-fiction masterpiece then his Skylark, and certainly his Lensman series were unquestionably that; great stonking Space Opera sagas that still evoke that sense of wonder, or at least a vestige of it.
There are occasional flashes of the old ‘Doc’ here, but the moments are too few and far between.


Children of The Lens – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1948)

Children of the Lens (The Lensman Series, #6)

Probably the quintessential Space Opera of its time, the Lensman series has dated – although not so badly as the work of some of his contemporaries – due mainly, in my opinion, to Smith’s rather one-dimensional characterisation, his dialogue and his depiction of female roles. Paradoxically, given the rather limited characterisation of the humans his aliens are sometimes truly alien. Indeed, the mindsets of some of the non-human protagonists are often far more skilfully depicted than their human counterparts.
Despite that, provided one bears in mind the social climate in which this was written and reads the novel in context, they can still be hugely enjoyable.
The term ‘Space Opera’ is actually used within the text at one point when Kim Kinnison – the hero of the series – goes undercover posing as a writer of the genre. Whether the alter ego was based on anyone in particular is not known.
This is the finale to Smith’s six volume saga. Smith was an early forerunner of today’s ‘Big Concept’ writers such as Greg Bear and Stephen Baxter, and though some of his scientific fabulations seem somewhat preposterous by today’s standards it was Smith and writers like him who created that ‘sense of wonder’ for many readers, not only when this was published as a magazine serial in the Nineteen Forties, but when republished in book form in the fifties and (for reasons unknown) enjoying an unexpected renaissance in the mid-seventies. The series has recently been republished by an independent publisher and hopefully will find a new generation of readers.
Smith’s strength lies in his ability to convey the vastness of Time and Space, his premise being that billions of years ago a race of humanoids – The Arisians – was born in our galaxy and evolved far beyond the point at which humanity now stands.
They learned that by observation and the calculations of their powerful minds they could predict the future to a certain degree. They knew that a galaxy was about to pass completely through their own galaxy, and that the gravitational pull of suns against each other would produce billions of new planets, upon which Life would evolve.
They also knew that another ancient race, the cruel and tyrannical Eddorians, had plans to dominate both galaxies and sate their immortal lust for power.
The Arisians only advantage was that the Eddorians were not aware of their existence, and so was set in motion a plan which was to span millions of years, taking us through the fall of Atlantis, the Roman Empire and thus through the Twentieth Century and beyond.
In essence, this is an epic war of ideologies, in that the Arisians represent democracy and free will, while the Eddorians represent a system of Hierarchical totalitarianism, enforced by a militaristic regime (In this respect it is interesting to compare the physical description of Smith’s Eddorians with Heinlein’s Puppet Masters, who themselves are a metaphor for the forces of Communism. Both are sexless, emotionless amorphous creatures, who reproduce by binary fission, with each new half retaining the memories and skills of the original).
The Arisians’ secret weapon is a selective breeding programme which has been in operation on four different planets since intelligent life evolved.
Only one of the four races can go on to produce the super-beings capable of defeating the Eddorians.
Humans, of course, win the ‘race’ race and the couple selectively bred to give birth to the Homo Superior children are inevitably white and North American.
This idea of selectively breeding humans rather puts a dent into the concept of Arisians as benign Guardians of Democracy, and although one can argue that it was the Arisians’ only option, it is never really addressed as a moral issue within the text.
The Children themselves are four girls and boy who, in their late teens, have to conceal that fact that they are the most powerful – if underdeveloped as yet – beings in the Universe. We are led to believe that the girls will ultimately become the wives of their brother, and the mothers of the race that will replace the Arisians as Guardians of Civilisation.
An oddly incestuous episode also ensues between Kit (the boy) and his mother in a strange scene where she – in need of brain-restructuring and training, for want of a better phrase – allows the mind of her son to enter hers, rather than submit to mental penetration by the Arisians (of whom she has an incurable phobia).
The description of this act is oddly violent and not a little sexual, made worse by the rather stilted professions of love between Mother and son before the procedure.
But Hell, this is Pulp Fiction. It never pretends to be Shakespeare, and despite its political incorrectness I still find it a nostalgic and stonking good read.


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.


The Galaxy Primes – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1965)

The Galaxy Primes

‘The ship was called the Pleiades, and it was Earth’s first starship. It could travel instantaneously to literally anywhere in the universe – but that was just the trouble with it. For there was absolutely no way of predicting where in the infinities of space it would reappear when it winked out of the Solar System, and no way of knowing how to return.
it’s crew was two men and two women, each a Psionic Prime with mind-powers unparalleled in Earth’s history. The tale of how they pitted their powers against an entire universe is one of the daring adventure on the galactic scale such as could only have been written by science-fiction’s all-time great, Edward E. Smith.’

Blurb from the 1965 Ace paperback edition

A rather odd, late work from Smith in which he once more (as in his Skylark series) sends two couples off across the galaxy in a ship which, rather unimaginatively and improbably, has a Big Red Button. This, when depressed firmly, takes them to a random G-type planet in the universe.
No doubt in order to catch up with the times Smith introduces the tricky subject of sex into his Space Opera. There’s nothing raunchy about it. There’s a lot of talk about ‘pairing’. One couple eventually go off to a cabin together and emerge later for breakfast. In ‘Doc’ Smith terms, this is tantamount to porn.
The couple chosen for this voyage are the elite of Earth, a male and female ‘Prime’ (humans of high intelligence with telepathic, psychokinetic and teleportation powers) and two Gunther Firsts (as above, but with not so many powers).
They visit a succession of Earth-type planets in another galaxy, peopled by humans but with varying customs. Every planet is guarded by another race called the Arpalones who protect Humanity from various (and seemingly pointless) alien attacks.
Returning to our own galaxy after learning how to control the Big Red Button, they again find Humanity on many Planets, each with small numbers of Primes.
They set up what is essentially an ‘Interstellar Primes Club’ and return home to Earth where Belle Bellamy (the female Prime) deduces that the Universe is a vast living organism which has evolved the Arpalones as antibodies for one section of its body, while the Primes will do it in their own galaxy; ordinary Humanity being put in the role of blood cells, and evil aliens as diseases.
Once again, even at this late date, Smith throws in the quite agreeable (to all involved) concept of genocide, as when our heroic four help the Arpalones to wipe out a species of man-faced flying tiger which has been menacing the locals.
Also, quite absurdly, they save another world from Communism. Somehow, in this entirely separate galaxy, the Communist leaders have evolved Russian names.
From the author of ‘the Skylark’ and ‘Lensman’ series, this is a very sad point to which to sink.


Second Stage Lensmen (Lensmen #5) – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1953)

Second Stage Lensmen (The Lensman Series, #5)

‘Kim Kinnison, Number One man of his time, had faced challenges before – but rarely one as daunting as this. To him fell the perilous task of infiltrating the inner circle of Boskone, stronghold of galactic civilisation’s most deadly foe. Kinnison had to become a loyal Boskonian in every gesture, deed – and thought. he had to work his way up through the ranks of an alien enemy organisation, right into the highest echelons of power. Then it would be he who issued the orders – orders that would destroy his own civilization…’

Blurb from the 1973 Panther paperback edition

Kinnison’s wedding is rudely interrupted by Mentor of Arisia who enjoins him to ‘THINK!’ in big letters. The Patrol, of course, were a little premature in thinking that the forces of darkness (i.e. Boskonia) had been defeated.
Kinnison, having thunk, comes to the conclusion that the Earth will be attacked via hyper-spatial tube, and sets up defences in the nick of time. Then, following a zwilnik trail he discovers the planet of Lyrane, a matriarchy of powerful telepaths whose males are aggressive mindless animals.
Nadrek of Palain VII appears here, a character of whom Smith did not make enough use. As a child I was totally captivated by Nadrek’s outlook and philosophy, which was one of avoiding danger whenever possible.
Clarissa McDougall becomes a Grey Lensman and is posted to Lyrane to report on zwilnik activity.
There is another battle with the fiendish overlords of Delgon, some of whom are hiding out in Lyrane’s polar regions.
Kinnison, going undercover again, works himself into the retinue of Alcon of Thrale and eventually supplants him as head of Boskonian activities. However, behind Alcon of Prime Minister Fossten, who is revealed to be none other than Gharlane of Eddore.
What is interesting, given America’s recent policies on dealing with problems in the rest of the world is the Patrol’s idea of dealing with alien cultures.
‘Let’s civilize ‘em!’ as I think one of the military commandos puts it later in the novel. The US has, it seems, always been keen on forcing its culture on the rest of the world which, by the time of the Galactic Patrol, it has, since Earth has a world government which is very much US-controlled. Of course, one has to look at this from a historical and social viewpoint and not really expect Smith, revising and updating work from the Nineteen Forties, to be overly concerned with the future of the rest of the world, given that he considered his fan base to be young American men.
However, if one considers SF to be to a certain extent, the subconscious of the culture at the time at which it is written, it says a lot about the arrogance of US culture, an arrogance which sadly persists in some authors to this day.
The whole series, after all, is an ideological struggle between two cultural models, neither of which can tolerate the existence of the other. It doesn’t take Freud to work out what parallel models were in operation at the time.
It’s also worth noting that the Kinnison wedding is an unashamedly Christian one, the implication being that, with the exception of the alien Lensmen, all his human colleagues, family and friends are Christian also.
No Jewish Lensmen then?


Grey Lensman – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1951)

Grey Lensman (The Lensman Series, #4)

‘Duel to the Death in Outer Space

Somewhere among the galaxies was the stronghold of Boskone – a network of brilliant space-criminals whose hunger for conquest threatened the continued existence of all known civilisation.

But where was this stronghold? Boskonian bases were scattered across the universe – shielded by gigantic thought-screens that defied penetration. The best minds in the Galactic Patrol had tried. And failed. Now it was up to Lensman Kim Kinnison, using his fantastic powers, to infiltrate the Boskonian strongholds, find the location of the enemy’s Grand Base – and smash it forever.

But Kinnison didn’t know then that the power of Boskone reached further than anyone had dreamed – into the Galactic Patrol itself…’

Blurb from the 1973 Panther paperback edition.

Kim Kinnison is now an unattached Grey Lensman, uniformed in the stark drab grey that, paradoxically, appears to the rest of The Patrol (and seemingly the entire galaxy) to be the sexiest outfit known to sentient life. Smith doesn’t use the word ‘sexy’ of course, since the men of the Patrol are very prim and proper about that sort of thing. Oddly, his fellow Lensmen Tregonsee and Worsel, don’t appear to wear grey leather suits, or any other clothing for that matter, perhaps on the grounds that oddly shaped aliens would look a little silly visualised wearing a grey leather coverall.
Kinnison once more goes undercover to trace the drug-traffickers of the galaxy back to Boskone, which has now been discovered to be in the second galaxy.
There’s the return of the Overlords of Boskone, the usual space-battles, as well as a slightly cringey sub-plot where two senior Patrol Officers plot to push Kim and Clarissa into each other’s arms.
There is also a brilliant finale where the entire Patrol Fleet attack the Boskone base and then the planet of The Eich which is spectacularly crushed between two planets which are set into motion for that very purpose.


Galactic Patrol (Lensman #3) – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1938)

Galactic Patrol

‘Terror of the Space Raiders!

The space-pirates of Boskone raided at will, menacing the whole structure of interstellar civilization. mater-minded by a super-scientist, their conquering fleets outgunned even the mighty space cruisers of the Galactic Patrol.

When Lensman Kim Kinnison of the Patrol discovered the secret Boskonian base, it was invulnerable to outside attack. But where a battle-fleet would meet insuperable resistance, a single infiltrator might penetrate the Boskonian defences – if he had the guts to take on million-to-one odds. Kinnison had guts enough to take on the odds – even with the future of the civilized Universe riding on his shoulders…’

Blurb from the 1982 Panther paperback edition

I fell in love with, and subsequently married this series of books in about Nineteen Seventy-Three and have never regretted the union for one second. In times of dark depression or darker British weather I dust them off, close the blinds, put the light on and set off with the Galactic Patrol across the galaxy.
This volume introduces the central figure of the Lensman series, Kimball ‘Kim’ Kinnison who – as the novel opens – is graduating from his training and is presented with his Lens, the lenticular crystal set in a bracelet which is attuned to the wearer’s psyche and acts as both an identification insignia for members of The Galactic Patrol and as a kind of amplifier of the psychic activity of the brain, allowing the wearer to communicate with alien species, read the minds of evildoers and keep in contact with one’s fellow Patrolmen.
Kinnison is soon knee-deep in adventure and alien entrails, on the trail of the drug-pedlars of Boskone and in the process teams up with Worsel of Velantia, the draconian multi-eyed future Lensman. Together they overcome the fearsome Overlords of Delgon (creatures who have powers of mental compulsion and feed on the life-force of the dying).
Pursued by agents of Boskone, Kinnison flees to Trenco where he meets Tregonsee of Rigel, another of the four beings destined to become Second Stage Lensmen.
Once again Kinnison evades capture and returns to Earth where the Boskonians are repulsed and their base on Neptune destroyed.
Following a lead to Aldebaran, Kinnison bites off a little more than he can chew with the Wheelmen, beings who have evolved into a wheel shape in order, no doubt, to get around faster. He is seriously injured and ends up in the Patrol Hospital under the care of Clarissa McDougall.
Realising that he needs additional training, he returns to Arisia for a gruelling mental workout with the formidable Mentor of Arisia.
Some time later, fully fit and now more adept at the workings of his Lens, he finally intercepts another transmission from Helmuth of Boskone and is able to triangulate the point of origin; a star cluster outside the main body of the galaxy.
Giving the drug barons – quite literally – some of their own medicine, he floods Helmuth’s dome with Thionite, the most addictive drug in the galaxy.
The base is taken, but Kinnison then realises that Helmuth was not the head of Boskone at all but merely an underling. The real head of Boskone is someone, or something, else and is far far away.
It’s one of the most enjoyable books of the series, fast-paced, tightly written and full of cliffhangers and moments of suspense. This is Pulp Fiction at its best, at times unknowingly camp, at other times fast, exciting, and inventive, packed with extraordinary evil aliens, unexpected allies, crusty eccentric Admirals and, above all, the rather quaint notion of Nineteen Thirties American society being in charge of the running of the galaxy.


Skylark Three – EE ‘Doc’ Smith (1930)

Skylark Three
‘In this exhilarating sequel to The Skylark of Space, momentous danger again stalks genius inventor and interplanetary adventurer Dr Richard Seaton. Seaton’s allies on the planet Kondal are suffering devastating attacks by the forces of the Third Planet. Even worse, the menacing and contemptuous Fenachrones are threatening to conquer the galaxy and wipe out all who oppose them. And don’t forget the dastardly machinations of Seaton’s arch-nemesis, Du Quesne, who embarks on a nefarious mission of his own. Against such vile foes and impossible odds, how is victory possible?’

Blurb from the 2003 Bison Books edition.

Once more Seaton, Crane, Dorothy and Margaret set off across the galaxy following a visit from Dunark of Osnome. The Osnomians are under attack from a warlike race of the Third Planet in the Green System and Seaton’s help is needed if the Osnomian race is to survive.
However, the Osnomians and their enemies are forced to unite when the Skylark encounters a greater threat, the evil Fenachrone, humanoid reptilians who have a master plan to conquer the entire universe.
Seaton, employing his new ‘zone of force’ to slice up the Fenachrone vessel like an interstellar salami, then captures its Captain and using his brain-recording device, learns that the Fenachrone sent a message to their home planet before it was destroyed.
Seaton has only a few months to track down the older races of the Green system and learn the secrets of their technology in order to defend the galaxy against the evil Fenachrone.
Duquesne and his new henchman ‘Babyface’ Rawlins are for the most part absent from this book. They themselves have attempted to negotiate with the Fenachrone and are captured. They are thought to be dead by the end of the novel.
As usual this is a well-paced adventure, only slightly marred by some of the exchanges between Seaton and his wife, which read almost like a parody of an American conversation of the time.
There is a certain ‘cosiness’ to the Skylark itself, even to the fact that they bring along their cook, Shiro, to ensure that at least some of the customs of civilised life are adhered to.
Smith also here repeats his casual attitude to genocide. The Fenachrone are finally defeated and their planet destroyed, but it transpires that one ship escaped with a large number of Fenachrone families aboard, headed for a distant galaxy. Ruthlessly Seaton tracks them through intergalactic space and, after a climactic battle, destroys the last of them, thus having wiped out an entire species.
This concept is also revived in the Lensman books, since several races are wiped completely out, the premise being that since these races cannot co-exist in the same galaxy, one of them has to be destroyed.
Smith is at his best when describing his ships, the minutiae of their construction and devices and the terrible and awful forces they unleash. Even though there are intimations of what his future work would be like there is little here to suggest that Smith would go on to write the Lensman saga, possibly the definitive work of Space Opera of the Twentieth Century.
This Bison edition continues an introduction by Jack Williamson, a friend and contemporary of Smith’s who adds some personal reminiscences and insights. Smith’s much touted doctorate, for instance, was actually in Food Science where he specialised in doughnut mixes.
One lives and learns.
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