Saturday, March 8, 2008

E E "Doc" Smith's "First Lensman" (novel, space opera): Lensman Series, Book 2 of 6

Quote from novel titled First Lensman by E E Doc SmithThis is chronologically the second book of this grand daddy of space opera series, but was published last among the 6 books.

This book is not to be read for enlightenment. But it's an entertaining light read.

Story summary.

Much of the story is about tracking down a gang of drug peddlers, as the first menace handled by "Galactic Patrol" - destined to be galactic scale non-democratic nominated-by-elite government of multiple species. It's effectively sponsored by god-like Arisians, who have a way of ensuring that only deserving candidates ever make it to Patrol.

Early in the story, we see the appointment of Virgil Samms, chief of Triplanetary Service from "Triplanetary", as the First Lensman - by Arisians. Members of Galactic Patrol will all be Lensmen - those who have in their possession a bracelet-like gadget with magical properties called "Lens of Arisia".

Only Arisians can grant the Lens. It not only serves as hacker-proof ID tailored to specific individual, it performs a lot of other functions too. The ones described most often are as a telepathic all-species communications device, & the ultimate code breaker.

Current owners of Lens recommend potential new recruits. They are sent to Arisia. If Arisians find them suitable, they grant the Lens. Arisians state many reasons for doing the favor - among them a sense of responsibility because the life in the galaxy originated from Arisian spores.

As the story develops, we see the development of "Civilization" - the community of good intelligent species of the galaxy. Arisians are their protectors. To make story interesting, there are bad elements too - aligned to Eddorians, the other god-like ancient elder race.

We will see conversion of one such bad world into good, & promise of their integration into Civilization - near the end of the story. We will also see effectively the end of familiar politics & government - on earth, throughout Sol, & with hints of its extension to other alien & human worlds. And at the heart of this new galactic order sits North America - the saviors & good guys of Civilization!

Political & social ideas in the story.

I found the political underpinnings of the story rather idealistic, or may be juvenile. That someone can identify good guys, & they offer the best way of governing our affairs & collecting our taxes. Anyone living in a democracy knows it stinks, but at least offer a better solution if you are planning to fix the rot?

Near the end of the story is US President's election campaign. One side is controlled by a crook. Other side by the good guys of Galactic Patrol - never mind the good guys grossly misuse taxpayer's money for this election campaign!

Also, the formally differential treatment of males & females in the story sounded awkward. I'm sure Smith was writing according to mores of his times & society, but they sound so alien today.

Note: Indexes below of things, characters, gadgets, etc are from first half of the book. I didn't have patience, when writing this post, to go over the marks I made in later half! Takes too long. Sorry.

Planets, alien races, other places, & related stuff.

  1. The Hill: Underground & heavily fortified headquarters of "Triplanetary Service" of "Triplanetary". At the beginning of this book, it is "the headquarters of the half-organized Solarian Patrol". By the end of this book, it would be the headquarters of the Galactic Patrol. Located somewhere in the US.
  2. Tellus: Earth. I didn't get why author renamed earth to make it sound alien!
  3. Tellurian: Of earthly origin, including humans.
  4. Arisians, Arisia, Eddorians, Eddore: See "Triplanetary" post.
  5. Civilization: Intelligent races, including humans, under the protection of Arisians.
  6. Rigel Four, Velantia, Palain Seven: Besides earth, these are the 3 planets Arisians care most about. During the story, first Lensmen will be recruited on Rigel Four & Palain Seven by Samms. Rigel Four is an extremely hot world, with twice the earth gravity; Palain Seven is utterly cold & dark.
  7. Rigellian: Aliens of Rigel Four. Their looks: "the oil-drum of a body, the four blocky legs, ... tentacular arms, that immobile dome of a head, the complete lack of eyes and of ears". And their communications are telepathic.
  8. Palainians: Aliens of "Palain Seven". They've long since colonized Pluto, & claimed it as their own. They are ultra-conservative, telepathic, and - hold your breath - four dimensional! So a human can never really visualize their shape.
  9. Aldebaran II: A human colony world 57 light years from earth.
  10. Procia: An alien world populated with "people as human as we are". Friendly to humans.
  11. Vegia: An alien world populated with people who would be as human as we are, "if it weren't for their tails". Friendly to humans.
  12. Procyon, Vega: Alien worlds "inhabited by highly advanced races", & friendly to humans.
  13. Boskone: Code name for the unknown bad guys world. They keep attacking earth, & are often referred to as pirates.
  14. Bennett: A human colony planet already inhabited with humanoids indistinguishable from us! In the story, this will serve as the secret spaceship fleet manufacturing world.
  15. Trenco: A very dangerous super-stormy uninhabited world whose vegetation is processed by bad guys into their very potent drug "thionite".
  16. "emmfozing": Palainian equivalent of having sex. No details are described, except a hint that it doesn't take long.


  1. Virgil Samms: He is a "Solarian Councillor" at the beginning of the book. Early in the book, he will become the First Lensman - founder & head of Galactic Patrol. Was in-charge of enforcing laws with inner planets (Venus, Earth, Mars) in "Triplanetary" - as head of "Triplanetary Service". He is the main hero of this story, if there is a hero here.
  2. Virgilia "Jill" Samms: 23 year old daughter of Virgil Samms; has a "doctorate in psychology". She will be denied Lens by Arisians because of her sex: "Women's minds and Lenses don't fit. There's a sex-based incompatibility. Lenses are as masculine as whiskers". But she will be with good guys of Galactic Patrol. Her primary job seems to be to seduce her dad's rivals to gain information.
  3. George Olmstead: A blood relation & look alike of Virgil Samms. Samms will personally penetrate the drug runners' gang, posing as George! George is also a Lensman.
  4. Ray Olmstead: Brother of George Olmstead, & a Lensman.
  5. Commissioner Roderick K Kinnison: Second person to receive the Lens. Number 2 in Galactic Patrol, after Samms, & in charge of its military operations ("Port Admiral of the Galactic Patrol"). At the end of the book, he will be the good guys candidate for US President, & win by misusing public resources for his election.
  6. Joy, Betty: Roderick Kinnison's wife & daughter, respectively.
  7. Master Pilot John "Jack" K Kinnison: Son of Roderick Kinnison, & himself a Lensman.
  8. Master Electronicist Mason "Mase" Northrop: Another Lensman, a friend of Jack, & lover of Virgilia Samms.
  9. Gharlane of Eddore: Number 2 in what can be called Eddorian government. He is their chief appointee to foment trouble in "Civilization".
  10. Drounli, Kriedigan, Nedanillor, and Brolenteen - all of Arisia: The four Molders of "Civilization". By telepathically fusing their minds, they become the "Mentor of Arisia". They are responsible, respectively, for 4 worlds: earth, Rigel IV, Velantia, and Palain VII.
  11. Dr Nels Bergenholm: A scientist of Norwegian descent, working at the Hill. His parents - father Dr Hjalmar Bergenholm & mother Dr Olga Bjornson - are both "nuclear physicists", & he is suspected to be a mutant. He is being telepathically controlled by one Arisian or another - to help protect humans, & via them the Civilization. He is the one who will get the idea that Samms should go to hitherto unapproachable Arisia - where Samms will receive his Lens & become the first Lensman. He is also the one who fixed the faster than light & inertia-less "Rodebush-Cleveland" drive that powered the ultimate human spaceships in "Triplanetary"; we are told that original version was a killer, until Nels fixed it. He often has no justification for his insights; they appear to be intuition. Always correct, since planted there by Arisians.
  12. Conway Costigan: Hero of "Triplanetary". He will play a substantial role in this story, & will be one of the Lensmen.
  13. Clio: Heroine of "Triplanetary", & wife of Conway Costigan in this book. The couple have two kids.
  14. Senator Morgan: Leader of the villains - will eventually be killed by his alien controllers. Kingpin of drug dealers, & is helping alien pirate raiders of earth. He wants absolute power, & Patrol is coming in the way.
  15. Herkimer Herkimer Third: One of the villains. Seduced by Jill to get information. Jill will once foil his plan to kill her dad. He will eventually be killed by Patrolmen when he will kidnap Jill & torture her to try getting information about the Lens. He is a close associate of Senator Morgan.
  16. Isaacson: Another villain & underling of Morgan - in charge of drug peddling.
  17. Knobos, Dalnalten: Two aliens that appear often in the story. Both Lensmen. I think former is Martian, later Venusian ("Venerian") - but it may be the other way round.
  18. Ossmen: A Venerian on the side of bad guys. Appears more than once in the story. Is involved in moving drugs around. His cover is as a "highly reputable merchant, with such large interests on Tellus that he has to spend most of his time here."
  19. Rularion: An alien from Jupitor, & a Lensman.
  20. Tallick: First Palainian recruited as Lensman by Samms.
  21. Dronvire: A Rigellian Lensman.

Lens of Arisia.

A bracelet like gadget. Only Arisians can make it. You must go to Arisia to receive your Lens. But going there requires a Lensman's recommendation - and still the gadget may be denied.

It's not granted to females. But we are told there will be a single woman in future who will receive it.

It can "identify any representative of Civilization, positively and unmistakably, wherever he may be."

It's "impossible of duplication, or even of imitation, to which end it must kill any unauthorized entity who attempts imposture. It must operate as a telepath between its owner and any other living intelligence, of however high or low degree, so that mental communication, so much clearer and faster than physical, will be possible without the laborious learning of language".

"No one man, or group of men, no matter who they are, can be trusted with" the amount of power that Galactic Patrol will bestow. Lens must make sure the wearer is incorruptible & won't misuse the power!

Lens physically looks like "a platinum-iridium bracelet carrying, wristwatch-wise, a lenticular something... It seemed to be composed of thousands - millions - of tiny gems, each of which emitted pulsatingly all the colors of the spectrum; it was throwing out - broadcasting - a turbulent flood of writhing, polychromatic light."

"It is ... endowed with what you might call a sort of pseudo-life; by virtue of which it gives off its characteristic radiation while, and only while, it is in physical circuit with the living entity - the ego, let us say - with whom it is in exact resonance. Glowing, the Lens is perfectly harmless; it is complete - saturated - satiated - fulfilled. In the dark condition it is ... dangerous in the extreme. It is then incomplete - unfulfilled - frustrated - you might say seeking or yearning or demanding. In that condition its pseudo-life interferes so strongly with any life to which it is not attuned that that life, in a space of seconds, is forced out of this plane or cycle of existence."

"A Lens cannot be brought into being except to match same one living personality; a short time after you pass into the next cycle your Lens will disintegrate." In a specific instance we see of wearer's death, the Lens simply ceased to be, no trace of it was left - it just vanished!

Also, "a Lens has no real power of its own; it merely concentrates, intensifies, and renders available whatever powers are already possessed by its wearer. You must develop your own powers and your own abilities".

Arisians guarantee that "no one will ever wear Arisia's Lens who is in any sense unworthy."

Lens also serves as a sort of remote monitoring device for Ariasians. So they can monitor the world around the wearers! Incidentally, this feature doesn't bother any wearer!

Other gadgets & "things".

  1. "thionite": Extremely potent & addictive drug the bad cross-galaxy drug peddlers of the story deal in. Chasing them is the main plot of the story.
  2. Story has commercial advertising messages on "low hanging artificial cloud"!
  3. Interstellar Spaceways: A legal front company under Morgan's control. Isaacson had unsuccessfully tried bribing Samms to have "our exclusive franchise extended to cover the outer planets and the colonies."
  4. Black Fleet: Patrol's name for the war machine of bad guys. Massive in size, alien in origin, & ultimately controlled by Eddorians. Through the book, it will attack earth twice - first to kill Samms, next to disrupt US elections!! Both attacks unsuccessful; later will, in fact, bring the defeated aliens into the fold of "Civilization". Murgatroyd is their commander.
  5. Chicago & Boise: Two of the big warships ("superdreadnoughts") of Samms' enterprise.
  6. Dillingham aka Dilly: An urban personal transport machine. A kind of car, but with only two "two fat, soft tires" - say an advanced version of Segway! Has a passanger cabin, as in a car.

Fact sheet.

"First Lensman", novel, review
First published: 1950.
Rating: B
Nominated for Retro Hugo Award in 2001 in novel category.
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).


Anonymous said...

Hi there,

i found your reviews & comments very interesting.

I have read all the books in the lensman series and also in the classic skylark series by e.e.doc smith. Personally i think these novels are superb from the perspective of grand space opera regardless of ones political views. i do wish there were authors out there today with the sheer vision of dr. smith.

EE Doc smith alos authored the Lord Tedric novels which (IMHO) were also very entertaining.


Jacob said...

Yes, you right that this book is an entertaining light read. I am enjoy reading it. It is good recommendation book to read.