Thursday, February 28, 2008

E E "Doc" Smith's "Triplanetary" (novel, science fiction): Lensman Series, Book 1 of 6

Quote from novel titled Triplanetary by Edward E Smith aka E E Doc Smith, first book of his Lensman SeriesThis is addictive stuff - at least the last two thirds. Juvenile, not very sane, but when in mood for light reading that doesn't require any thinking, it's addictive.

This story (& may be rest of the series too?) is not only the grand-daddy of all space opera, but a lot of other genre fiction too. There are just too many things mentioned here that are found in so many genre stories. I'm not sure Smith was first to talk about them - I've not read a lot of really old fiction - but this aspect alone makes this book important.

This is a complex story, with a lot of threads - including many irrelevant threads.

Full text of this story is available for download. I've not read this online version. Since there have been at least two versions of this story - original, & revised to make it part of Lensman series, I'm not sure how far this online version will match my post.

A note on first third of the story.

First third not only goes all over the place without really starting the story, it contains too much of "Americans are the best" & things related to European history. Depending on where in the world you are from, you might find it ok to irritating, but probably not great.

A note on Lensman series.

I checked web about the series only when writing this post. Looks like the original Lensman Series is books 3-6. #1 & #2 are sort of prequels, published after rest of the series. This #1 was an older story adapted into this universe; #2 was written as sort of link to connect #1 & #3.

Commonly suggested reading order is #4-6, then #1-2. Since I'm already past #1, I guess I'll go in chronological order rather than the recommended one.

"Coalescence" event.

2 billion years ago, two galaxies collided. Not so much of a collision, as passing through each other - since most of a galaxy is empty space! Question: I thought galaxies are moving away from each other? How did they collide?

Before the collision, neither galaxy had many planets. After that, there were just too many planets in each. One of the galaxies was Milky Way. Other will eventually be called "Lundmark's Nebula" by human astronomers, & is also referred to as "Second Galaxy".

Arisians - the good guys.

Before collision, Milky Way had a single race of sentient beings - Arisians; other galaxy had none. There is a mention of "Arisia"; I suppose this must have been their world. They were an immensely ancient & advanced race. And they communicated with telepathy - even over galactic distances! They are equivalent of devs of Indian mythology.

Eddorians - the bad guys.

There is another ancient race - Eddorian. They are also telepathic, about as powerful as Arisians, & equally long lived. But they are not of our universe!

They are nomads of "space time continuum", & a power-hungry warrior race at that. They just happened to enter our universe at the time of galactic collision, & see all the new planets being born. Now they can lord over all new creatures that these planets will eventually have!

I didn't understand why the immensely powerful beings would bother with creatures yet to even happen, but that's the story. They are equivalents of danavs in Indian mythology.

Arisian/Eddorian first contact.

Both races used to think they are the only sentient beings. When Eddorians entered our universe, Arisians telepathically figured out all there was to know about them.

And Arisians conclude Eddorians are a threat. While Arisians can hold them for a while, the warriors will eventually wipe them out.

So Arisians plant a kind of jinx in Eddorian minds - that Eddorians forget about the existence of Arisians! Reminded me of Durvasa's curse to Shakuntala in one of the
Kalidas' poems.

Arisians' plan is to hand hold & develop new races of intelligent beings over geological times so these child races can defeat the Eddorians!!! These ultimate victors will then be the new guardians of the galaxy; Arisians will then leave our space-time!

Story is essentially about the clash of these two races - good Arisians & bad Eddorians. I suppose good will eventually win in the last book in the series. In this book, the bad cause a lot of pain, but otherwise the battle lines are wide open.

How Atlantis sank?

Eons have lapsed. Eddorians control most planets in both galaxies; Arisians only 4 - among them earth (sometimes called "Tellus" in this story; so earthlings are "Tellurians"). Existence of Arisians is still unknown to Eddorians because of ancient jinx. Mid-way through this story, the jinx will be broken & battle lines will move in the open.

Eddorians have noticed these 4 planets are not really behaving in expected ways. They've assigned Gharlane to bring them in line.

Earth now has advanced civilizations all over, with Atlantis the crown jewel. Due to Eddorian machinations, a nuclear war will break out - wiping out the civilization & sinking the Atlantis! A man named Captain Phryges will try to save Atlantis (& the world) along with a woman named Kinnexa; both will die & world will be gone too.

Arisians will later clean up the nuclear mess. This story of Atlantis is a tangent one, & plays no further role in the book.

End of Roman Empire.

Another irrelevant thread. Somebody named Nero was apparently a historical figure in the last days of Roman Empire & a sort of villain. We are told Nero was being telepathically controlled by Eddorian Gharlane.

We are treated to gladiators, killings, etc.

World War I.

Next irrelevant episode. We are given some glimpses of the fighting in some part of Europe, via a US military man named Captain Ralph Kinnison.

Ralph Kinnison's second innings.

An interesting story, even if still an irrelevant tangent. Another war is looming, Ralph is now an old man & not wanted by military.

He will get hired by "Entwhistle Ordnance Plant", quickly rise, discover some corruption in armament manufacture (with presumably Gharlane behind it, but I don't recall if he is explicitly mentioned), & will eventually get fired from the job.

Next War.

This story was published before World War II but apparently the political situation suggested a looming war; so we are given glimpses of the next war that involved nuclear armament.

Hero here is Ralph Kinnison's son, Theodore Kinnison. He is a fighter & will die during a battle.

This is about a third way through the novel. Time to begin the main story - set hundreds of years later.

The Triplanetary Service..

Earth, Mars, Venus, Jupiter, & Neptune all have intelligent beings of their own! First three have a common government called Triplanetary. Of the two organs of this government, one is Triplanetary Service (TS), headed by a man named Virgil Samms, & headquartered someplace in the US. Other organ is "Triplanetary Council" (I think); this doesn't play a direct role in the story.

TS is kind of administrative wing. Their primary role in the story is related to military & police operations, & espionage.

We are given some background about the wars Triplanetary have fought in the past with Jovians. But all is peace now, except for space pirates here & there.

Mystery of the disappearing ships.

Two big spaceships - Dione & Rhea - have recently vanished, I think somewhere between Mars & Jupiter (but I'm not sure).

"Interplanetary liner Hyperion" is currently on some voyage. This will be attacked & taken by "pirates" - with not many survivors.

An agent of pirates on board Hyperion will first add a poisonous gas called "Vee Two" to ship's air supply. A lot of people will die. But among the passengers is First Officer Conway Costigan of TS; he will save a 19 year old girl named Miss Marsden, warn ship's officers, & kill the saboteur. Romance of Costigan & Marsden is sprinkled through rest of the story.

Through this adventure, a team of 3 will form - Costigan, Marsden, & Hyperion's Captain Bradley. They will be one of the two human teams that will pay a key role in rest of the story.

Pirate ship has little trouble taking Hyperion. They tie the whole ship with a "tractor beam", & carry it off to their base.

The Pirates' base.

This is a planetoid invisible to humanity's instruments. And has amazing defense & offense weapons.

The place is run by a man name Gray Roger - who in turn is telepathically controlled by Gharlane! The place has a lot of robots & humans - later either zombies or otherwise made to do bidding of Roger.

Primarily with the heroics of Costigan, our team of 3 will make a daring escape in a craft stolen from the base. While there, Costigan has made enough detailed observations of the place to help scientists back home duplicate similar machinery; he will beam them home after escape.

Kidnapped the second time!

Just when the 3 escapees think they are safely on their way home, they find themselves kidnapped again, along with their ship! This time, by aliens from a world called Nevia.

Nevians are amphibians from their water world that also has other intelligent & warring creatures like "fishes" of the deep! Their main energy source is "allotropic" iron - they have a process to disintegrate its atoms! But their own iron supply is very limited - far more limited than our gold.

The Nevian ship, under the charge of Captain Nerado, has been exploring the stars for sources of iron. It apparently didn't find them in outer reaches of Sol nor in various outer planets. And deep inside Sol, it happened to be passing by our escapees' ship! Of course, ship has iron! Nevians take the 3 humans as curiosities to take back home, plus all their iron.

But our hero Costigan will end up closely observing both their systems, & battle about to happen. And will manage to send all this data back to earth - so earth can build a super-warship to take on the bad guys.

Our 3 friends will have many adventures on the alien world, including their being treated as biological test specimen, & zoo animals! They will make daring escape twice! Second time, after killing a city-full of Nevians!

They will be caught by Nerado on first escape. On second escape, just as they are cornered by Nerado's ship on one side & the second Nevian ship returning its loadful of iron on the other side, there will be just in time rescue by human supership.

The Nevians.

While our 3 friends were being taken prisoner & also after their escape, detailed information about the location of pirates has been sent to TS headquarters on earth. A large military contingent is now heading towards the pirates' planetoid - with some new weapons that can hopefully meet the pirates' versions.

Before the fight breaks out, we are introduced to first member of the second human team that will play a crucial role in rest of the story - a scientist named Lyman Cleveland, "probably the greatest living expert in beam transmission". Both these are great theoreticians & can also put together amazing machines. We will meet the second member later.

During this military operation, the ship Cleveland is on ("Chicago") will be converted to a kind of war photography center. Cleaveland will quickly put together a gadget to gather the battle details. But his ship will be far from battle place.

Conflict takes place near Roger's planetoid. Roger's fleet takes casualties. When TS is coming under attack, the Nevian ship appears in the vicinity & decides to collect all the iron! Roger, with 4 assistants, will be able to escape. Everyone on his planetoid as well as the entire human fleet will go. Among the iron collected by Nevian ship will be the iron inside the bodies of people manning these fleets!

Having had its full cargo of iron, the Nevian ship heads back home. It has also sent a message home that this place is full of iron - other Nevian ship is on its way to collect more.

After the carnage, Cleveland's ship will come to the place of conflict & discover the aliens' fondness of iron. This investigation will also feed the making of human supership.

Human supership's trial run.

Cleveland's ship is heading back home to earth. His friend & fellow scientist, Frederick Rodebush - "the nuclear physicist" , has been working on supership.

Turns out, our superscientists have worked out how to use iron for fuel, build energy shields against iron-fetchers so human passengers will be safe, inertia-less drive, a ship that practically travels at infinite velocity, as well as the attack & defense weapons till now only in the arsenal of Roger & Nevians! "Boise", this magical ship, is now ready for its trial!

Only Cleveland & Rodebush will be on board during trial. After some tense action, we will learn that trial is super successful.

Second Nevian ship.

While Boise is on its trial run, second Nevian ship has arrived at "Pittsburgh", & has been collecting all the iron it can! There is a lot of loss of life & property, & human military is utterly impotent against it.

This is when Boise returns to base. Its duo learn of the situation. Take the original planned crew, & immediately go to the scene of the battle! There they will defeat the alien ship, & chase it while it's escaping.

Somewhere in deep space, there will be a battle again as Boise attacks. In the process, Nevian ship escapes, & Boise is severely damaged.

Roger's second base.

Boise can be fixed, but needs a solid planet on which to land for repairs; habitability of the planet is not an issue.

They will locate a nearby rocky planet, land, & fix the ship over the coming days. Just as they are taking off, they will learn that this place is the new base of Roger!

We are told of some of the adventures Roger went through after escape, & how he made this planet his base. Now seeing TS ship again, he comes out for attack. Roger, but not his telepathic alien controller, will be killed in this battle along with his team, ship, & base.

Our adventurers take off again out looking for the escaping Nevian ship.

The final war. And peace.

This is when the 3 human prisoners on Nevia have been making their second escape. Just when they are cornered by the two Nevian ships, Boise arrives - destroying its original query, rescuing the 3 humans, & chasing Nerado's ship.

During this chase, suspicious behavior of Nerado suggests Nevia is preparing for their welcome. They leave Nerado & rush to Nevia before the world is ready. Here they will utterly destroy one of the Nevian cities.

Now Nerado arrives. Negotiations. A peace treaty is signed - with hints that there won't be any more conflict between Triplanatory & Nevia.

See also.

  1. Alfred Bester's "Adam and No Eve": A rocket propulsion system for moon travel that ends up starting a chain reaction of nuclear disintegration of iron - with disastrous consequences for earth.
  2. Henry Kuttner & C L Moore's "The Iron Standard": Another story where iron is precious commodity among aliens.

Fact sheet.

"Triplanetary", novel, review
First published: As a 4-part serial in Amazing magazine, January 1934 to April 1934 (?). Am not sure about the last issue.
Rating: B
Lensman Series: "Triplanatary" (B); "First Lensman" (B); "Galactic Patrol" (not read); "Gray Lensman" (not read); "Second Stage Lensman" (not read); "Children of Lens" (not read).


Mitchell said...

Galaxies do actually collide, within local clusters and superclusters, just because of gravity. It's only on the very largest scales that they are all moving apart.