Saturday, 5 May 2001

David A. Kyle: The Dragon Lensman (1980)

Edition: Bantam, 1983
Review number: 815

Many science fiction fans, myself included, have something of a soft spot for the novels of E.E. "Doc" Smith. This is despite their obvious failings, and is because they have a grandeur of vision and convey a sense that the writer is excited by his own story. Since Smith's death, there have been several attempts to continue some of his series. The best known of these is probably Stephen Goldin's Circus of the Galaxy series, which has the two advantages of being based on lesser known Smith and of being published under Smith's name.

Of all Smith's writing, the seven volume Lensmen series is easily the most famous, and it is inevitable really that the Smith estate should have sought to add to it. The Dragon Lensman is the first of three volumes described as a continuation, though in fact they fill in a gap in the original series. They also concentrate on lesser characters than Smith's hero Kinnison; these are the other three "Second Stage" lensmen, and in this case the reptilian Worsel of Velantia.

The plot of the novel, set between Second Stage Lensmen and Children of the Lens, is rather confusing. Basically, several crises occur simultaneously, which gives them the appearance of being connected. These include the development of intelligence by machines on the Planetoid of Knowledge, the galactic museum; the novel begins with an attack by them on Worsel (the motivation for the attack being the feeling that machines have been subjugated by biological entities). This coincides with a psychic attack on a nearby spaceship, in which a call for help from Worsel appears to be part of the attack so that it seems possible that he has become evil.

One of the successful aspects of Smith's writing was to balance cosmic ideas against a simple plot; the main Lensmen story is just a series of battles between good and evil, gradually increasing in scale. In this and in several other ways, Kyle shows himself not to be Smith, despite the endorsement from A.E. van Vogt that the writing says that Smith is back.

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