Thursday, 16 July 1998

E.E. "Doc" Smith: Triplanetary (1948)

Edition: Panther, 1973
Review number: 88

This, the first of the Lensmen series, is a real classic of science fiction. In common with Smith's Sklyark series, it set far wider horizons for SF than readers were used to; not just interplanetary, but interstellar and intergalactic in scope.

In many ways, the series defines science fiction as the genre it is considered to be by outsiders: it is not great literature, but it is exciting; it uses space travel and the idea of war in space; it is more interested in technology than people.

Triplanetary itself is really a prologue to the main part of the series, and consists of two major parts. The first explains the background to the whole series, a huge war of mental power between the evil Eddorians and the benevolent Arisians, carried out through the history of an oblivious humankind on Earth. Smith takes five defining events: the fall of Atlantis (through a nuclear war), an attempted coup in Rome against the Eddorian-controlled Nero, the First and Second World Wars, and, finally, a nuclear Third World War. In each of these periods he tells part of the story of the two families who will be of immense importance later on, and who will produce the two people who are the culmination of the human genetic pool, Kimball Kinnison and Clarissa MacDougal.

The second part, which was originally published as a magazine story, takes up the tale after civilisation has been rebuilt with the covert help of the Arisians. Mankind is beginning to reach out into the solar system, setting up colonies and fighting a war with the Adepts of North Polar Jupiter, only to face a new menace. The Nevians are the ampibious dominant race of their planet, many lightyears distant from the sun. The planet is desperately short of metals, and a spaceship sets out to try to obtain more - say from an asteroid. Instead, they find the ships of the Triplanetary Service (Earth, Mars and Venus in alliance) at war with the fleet of a surviving Adept; from ships and men every atom of free or combined iron is taken.

This means the death of every person in the fleet, and is followed by the same action taken against the Earth city of Pittsburgh. It is up to one man to save the human race, one of the three captives taken alive by the Nevians as zoological specimens.

I've always enjoyed the Lensmen series; they're something to read on an evening when half asleep.

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