Costigan moved over to Clio and slowly took off her armor. Then, after a flashing exchange of glances and a muttered word, the two officers threw off their suits simultaneously and fired at the same instant; Bradley with his Lewiston, Costigan with a heavy automatic pistol whose bullets were explosive shells of tremendous power. But the man in gray, surrounded by an impenetrable wall of force, only smiled at the fusillade, tolerantly and maddeningly. Costigan leaped fiercely, only to be hurled backward as he struck that unyielding, invisible wall. A vicious beam snapped him back into place, the weapons were snatched away, and all three captives were held to their former positions.
"I permitted that, as a demonstration of futility," the gray man said...
The Lensman is a series of science fiction stories written by E. E. "Doc" Smith between 1934 and 1948. 1934? I was skeptical at first; what entertainment value could a science fiction series of such antiquity have? It's just a bunch of old junk written by a dead person.
However, because some famous science fiction authors have spoken quite highly of this series, I decided to give it a try.
As I read, I find the writing to be of a pulp-fiction variety, and after all it is pulp fiction in origin. The stories were originally written for a magazine called Astounding Stories. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and in fact some of the more interesting and intriguing sci-fi was written for pulp magazines. And it was definitely far better than the crap being written for today's reading audience. The last new sci-fi book I read a few years ago I dropped into a garbage can, suspended dramatically between my flip-off finger and thumb before I let it drop, after reading just two chapters.
So for this reason among others, I do respect the Golden Age of science fiction. But 1930s sci-fi?
The first thing I noticed about the first Lensman book, called "Triplanetary," was not just the crude writing, but the mythological nature of the writing. The series technically begins two billion years ago when the Eddorians invaded our space-time continuum (which the author quaintly calls our "galaxy") after two galaxies merged thus creating billions of planets. The Eddorians are vastly superior in technology, but they are a cruel, power-hungry race seeking to conquer and dominate entire star systems in our galaxy.
Opposed to the Eddorians are a race of super-beings called the Arisians. The Arisians are beings of pure mental force, unlike the Eddorians who are physical in nature and extremely ugly to our eyes. The Arisians, realizing that they cannot oppose the invading Eddorian force on their own physical grounds, have used their collective mental powers to hide the fact of their existence from the Eddorians. Behind this wall of mental force, the Arisians plot to defeat the Eddorians by creating a group of defenders "volunteered" from the various threatened star systems. These defenders were genetically created through the careful manipulation of breeding beginning at the dawn of mankind and of other, alien races.
As I read these stories, I often find myself mentally 'rubbing my eyes' and re-reading parts because the writing style is so condensed. Entire histories are compressed into single paragraphs, I believe because of the nature of writing for a pulp magazine with its word count limits. The writing almost entirely lacks the descriptive aspect, and is limited to a more abstract, conceptual representation of events which makes for difficult reading. For example, the author gives us the idea that a certain woman is beautiful, but we are lucky if we are given the color of her hair or eyes. It's also important to note that the planet known as "Tellus" is Earth, although Smith neither points this out nor explains the reason for the name change.
On the other hand, these are pure adventure stories. While boring at times, because the denseness of the stories makes it difficult to decipher the plot or the nature of some of the characters (and they entirely lack any romantic or emotional aspect such as a love angle or family relationship as found in Star Wars IV - VI), Smith has a way of interspersing the stories with moments of pure excitement. For example, in the second novel of the series, an attempt is made to assassinate First Lensman Samms with multiple atomic bombs - not over a period of days or years, but all at once. And when I say "multiple," I mean hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of atom bombs detonated in a very short period of time in the same geographic location known as "the Hill." The Hill is the Lensman underground fortress, although what this is, is hardly explained or described until the moment of extreme peril arises.
And that's about as far as I've gotten with this series.