Monday, 16 November 1998

E.E. "Doc" Smith: Grey Lensman (1951)

Edition: Panther, 1973
Review number: 168

By the second Kimball Kinnison Lensman book, the fourth in the series overall, the path to the final conflict between the Arisians and the Eddorians is set. Each remaining book now contains the downfall of one or more of the races in the lower echelons of the Eddorian scheme of things, with Smith bursting his imagination to come up with every more spectacular weapons to destroy the planetary headquarters of these races. In Grey Lensman, these consist of a planet sized sphere of negative mass, drawn in ever faster by the frantic efforts of defenders to push it away and eating into the planet to leave rubble (none of the vast explosive release of energy which is actually the consequence of the interaction of matter and anti-matter); and a pair of planets released to crush Jarnevon, planet of the Eich, between them.

The ethics of such a destruction are taken entirely for granted, as was generally the case in science fiction of the time; the justification is the self-evident evil nature of the Eddorians and their henchmen (henchbeings?). Human beings are the only species in significant numbers on both sides (this is something that clearly worried Robert Kyle in his series of authorised Lensman sequels); all other species are either black or white as a whole, with no exceptions. The tendency to paint with a broad brush in this way is common even today; there must be many decent Serbs, for example, but we never hear about them and crimes are attributed to "the Serbs" by the media, as though they were all equally culpable.

One cannot really fault Smith for being of his time and not of now; and he does allow Kinnison a moment of self-doubt, for leading good men to their deaths. It is for the exuberance of his story-telling that people still read Smith's space operas, not for his moral philosophy.

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